I am probably one of the few editors in the industry that didn’t get hooked when Jak and Daxter made their debut on the PS2. At the time, I considered these characters to be too soft and flat to pique my interest. Perhaps I was just a tad spoiled by the conventional 2D platformers that once populated the market. Admittedly, Jak II offered bolder, rugged look but alas, I skipped over that particular chapter as well. Now I am singing a different tune altogether, thanks to the three-level demo that recently landed on my doorstep last week. While the experience was pretty short and sweet, it offers a relative degree of variety and enjoyment to rekindle my interest in the first two adventures.
The story picks up a year later where Jak II left off. Although I am unfamiliar with all the significant details from the second installment, I’ve gathered from the Jak’s flashbacks in the intro that his heroic efforts in Haven City didn’t fare too well. Blamed for the Metalhead incursion, Jak is exiled to the unforgiving wastelands where survival of the fittest is the law of the land. Aided by his loyal companions, Daxter and Pecker, Jak sets out on a perilous quest to clear his name and ultimately prevent his homeworld from being eradicated by the dreadful powers of Dark Eco.
Jak 3 embellishes a much bolder, dynamic look in addition to a larger diversity of compelling gameplay mechanics that excels beyond the conventional platforming formula. The first level for example, puts you behind the wheel of a rugged 4WD off-road vehicle, equipped with a high-load machine gun with which you must take out four Metalheads storming throughout the sandy dunes of Spartus City. Using the radar at the bottom of the screen allows you to pinpoint the exact location of each Metalhead and gun them down on sight. Very straightforward stuff here that can easily be completed in a matter of minutes. Although the level was fairly brief and straightforward, it definitely served its purpose of giving gamers a glimpse into the other forthcoming mini-game levels that will be offered in the full version.
Thankfully, the second level proved to offer a much longer, challenging experience. Set within one of the old, abandoned caves previously used to extract the elements of Dark Eco, players get to try out some of Jak’s new abilities including a powerful dash punch. Of course, Jak always comes packing with some serious firepower which can be equipped at any time using the L2 button. Players can optionally toggle between the available weapons using the directional pad which include laser-mounted rifles, machine guns and my personal favorite - the powerful blast cannon (or whatever Naughty Dog officially calls it). This weapon also shows off the all-new ragdoll physics which offer a much more realistic approach to how enemies react when they’re blown away. It definitely gives you a tingling, sensation of satisfaction as you collect the deposits of eco they leave behind. Jak can also unleash his Dark Eco abilities and make use of a few new Light Jak techniques including the ability to render himself invisible or slow down time.
The third and final level of the trial demo offers a time-based challenge to escort a bomb train safely to the designated destination where it can safely be detonated. To do this, you’ll have to activate several switches to lower the tracks and allow the train to cross over chasms without exploding, lest the game is over. The trick however is being able to quickly and safely do this without getting harmed in the process from the bevy of airborne enemies that seem to attack from every direction. And to up the ante a bit more, there’s a few areas where you’ll have to show off a bit of grinding skills ala Back to the Future using Jak’s hoverboard. Very cool stuff, but there just wasn’t enough instances of this feature which I hope will offer something more significant than a novel presence to drive the gameplay.
Based on what I’ve played, Jak 3 is definitely shaping up to be an remarkable, compelling adventure that fans and newcomers will enjoy. Although rumors have pointed to future adventures based around the universe of Jak and Daxter, I certainly hope this isn't the last of their digital adventures. And you can bet with my renewed interest in the series that I’ll be eagerly looking forward to the full version’s release next month.