Opinion: Why nothing on PS4 will compare to Jak & Daxter
- Posted November 3rd, 2013 at 21:50 EDT by Lee Millington
It doesn't need saying that PlayStation 4 is going to be a technical showcase. We've been impressed by the silky-smooth graphics of launch title Killzone: Shadow Fall, which will doubtlessly raise the level of immersion that the game can provide. However, I posit that Shadow Fall, or any game that will be released on the PS4, will not be able to provide an experience as beautiful as that which I found in Naughty Dog's Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy.
I was smitten with Jak and Daxter from the outset. As a child of the '90s, I was, of course, familiar with the developer's famous PlayStation series Crash Bandicoot--those linear, carefully crafted, cartoony platformers. I'm not sure that I initially appreciated the stark difference Jak's quasi-open world provided to Naughty Dog's earliest outings, but upon returning to the game, as I stood on the first island's beach and looking out at a vista of temples, homes, mountains, and more, I was imbued with a sense of the adventure Crash Bandicoot had, but that Jak & Daxter perfected in its own way.
What's extra special about the game is that world traversal isn't accompanied by loading times. Naughty Dog told Gamasutra that their aim was to "immerse the player in one big expansive world" and explained the clever techniques that they used. I can't say I noticed these techniques, and even since seeing low-res distant textures in the HD trilogy, I can't say that I care. There are other imperfections, such as the world not seeming fully realized (e.g. characters not having varied routines, very few NPCs around, etc.). However, sheer ambition and the sense of living out an epic tale totally outweighed these.
I adore Jak II and 3, but they couldn't have the same impact on me. They were--nay, are--visually stunning, and some moments of awe come to mind, such as walking out over Haven City en route to the Baron's palace in Jak II. However, Jak II and 3 seemed to lack a clearly defined endpoint. A traditional narrative structure, with clearly defined acts and climaxes, might seem simple, but simplicity works, hence the popularity of zero-to-hero Hollywood films. A physical journey is a representation of the metaphorical hero's journey, where an average person becomes someone or something of importance. The hero's journey is a form of wish fulfillment, and combining that with the overcoming of a physical battle and the natural desire to explore is a potent method of engaging the player.
With that in mind, the variety of Jak's original journey keeps the player involved. Running along stunning Sandover Beach, accompanied by soothing music, is later followed by dark clouds over Rock Village and an occasionally ominous tune. The atmosphere of each area breathes life into the game. It isn't the fun (though, unoriginal) gameplay. It isn't the intricacies of the story, of which there are none. It is the world and the hero's journey; who you are fighting, and what you're fighting for, barely matters.
It's true that I haven't talked much about the visual aspects of the game's beauty. It has aged well for the most part, and that is because of the art style; cartoony games tend to look better than their realistic-looking contemporaries. However, that element of the game's beauty is only part of the package.
The end of Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy proves to be the game's most beautiful moment. The journey is over. I've defeated the great evil. I don't even care that there is a cliffhanger (which, as we know, leads into sequels). There I am, standing atop Gol and Maia's citadel, as I have been for five minutes, and I can see my whole journey reflected in the incredible, ever-reaching landscape below me. I can look down to beaches below that I've visited, and others that--because they're merely visuals--I never will. And the idea that they are there--and yet, unexplorable--pierces me. With so much imagination in a single adventure, the idea that I can't visit everything Naughty Dog is showing me tears me up inside.
It might sound ridiculous--it even feels ridiculous--but I've got butterflies in my stomach and tears in my eyes thinking about being there again.
Jak & Daxter struck a chord with me that its developers probably couldn't have predicted. In its grand scope, it tapped into the fear of death and the passing of time. As a boy approaching teenage years when I first played the game, these themes were burgeoning concerns in my life. The quiet towns, the abandoned Precursor temples and artifacts, and the world's solitude remind me of the lack of permanence in everything I held and hold dear.
PlayStation 4 games will continue to be visually beautiful. Some will achieve the tall order of strong narratives, prominent themes, detail in every space, and an undeniable sense of a truly living, breathing world. Yet, despite all that, I can't see any game recreating the magic Jak & Daxter wielded, as to recreate imperfection is the tallest order of all.----