Naughty Dog has done the racing genre before, and done it loud and proud. Crash Team Racing was their first foray into mascot racing that even gave Mario Kart a run for its money. So fast forward a few years, and they're at it again – this time with their new mascot hero, Jak. Then again, the Jak series bent a broke a lot of conventions in the mascot realm and Jak X: Combat Racing is no exception.
Initially, you'll be expecting a kart game – something with a bunch of characters from Jak's realm coming together for some arbitrary reason to toss goofy items at one another. Such is not the case – as it has been with the platformer series, Combat Racing continues down the path of darker, more brooding overtones. Not to mention the story ties straight into the aftermath of Jak 3. Our heroes are forced to compete in a death-dealing racing tourney, or else a poison they've been infected with will kill them all. The only way to obtain the antidote is by winning the competition. Nasty.
The racing itself is just as nasty, offering a wide range of events: standard races, time trials, a grand prix as well as a few "violent" modes labeled Deathmatch and Death Race respectively. Deathmatch is an intense contest where you must eliminate your opponents and rack up the most points to achieve victory. Death Race is a jaunt through a track, with the emphasis on reaching a certain point total, tallied by destroying bots on the track and using multipliers and combos to up the final score. There are scores of other modes which put a twist on the main Race/Combat veins of the game; all of it is frightfully addicting.
As if you needed a reason to swim through the mounds of events available, Jak X takes a page from 90% of games out there with – you guessed it – unlockables. Be it extra racers, ornaments for your ride or simply fine tuning a car's performance, completing races will unlock some new content while earning Orbs from said events can be used to purchase other items.
Leave it to Naughty Dog to include two weapon slots; one for forward attacks and the other for rear-end weapons and defensive items! It may seem silly to get giddy over this sole aspect, but it's what balances Jak X's gameplay so well and keeps the pace frenetic to boot. Of all the modes, tracks and unlockables available, none of it would be worth a mention if the game got dull or tiresome. In fact, aside from all the mode variations, you will return to a lot of the same venues over time, and it's the fast, on-your-toes gameplay and dual weapon wielding that will keep you coming back for more. So when you've traversed the Wastelands for the tenth time or are simply trying to earn enough Orbs for that cool new helmet, it'll never feel like a chore.
So we have a coherent story that ties in with the franchise, an addictive gameplay format and the overtly darker tones that gamers find so mature these days. Are we missing anything? How about some synth pseudo-metal riffs blasting in the background? Hard-ass one-liners from the racers? Good voice acting during fun to watch cut scenes? Yeah, Jak X has those, too.
In fact, it's quite difficult to peg anything Naughty Dog has missed or has done wrong; the only minor gripe is that going up in Class ranks reveals cars that were just like the ones before it, albeit with all the tune-ups lost. So the practice of tweaking out a vehicle, only to start over again (no, you can't use cars outside of their ranks) feels a might defeatist.
To be honest, if it takes nitpicking and splitting hairs to really find a flaw in a game, it only speaks volumes for the game's greatness. Jak X does what it does right without ever slowing down, and even when things seem repetitive from a design standpoint, you really won't care when you're behind the wheel. In the end, all that matters then is staying alive and finishing first.