This home console generation’s jump from standard-definition to high-definition not only changed the way we enjoy gaming, it brought with it the opportunity to experience some of the classics in a brand-new light. For the most part, I think HD remasters are great; they give gamers a chance to play any high-profile games they might have missed, with more shine than they’ve ever had, all for a budget price. And when reviewing HD collections, it boils down to two things: how good do the games in question look in high-def, and how well have they withstood the test of time?
The Jak and Daxter games revolve around the two protagonists – fittingly named “Jak” and “Daxter” – as they take on whatever comes their way in order to do what they think is right. That’s actually one of my favorite aspects of the Jak games, as Naughty Dog chose to place the two characters in the moral grey zone, especially in the latter two games. It’s not always about what’s right, or what’s ethical, it’s about what’ll get the two out of trouble at the moment; kind of like Aladdin and his pet monkey, Abu. It suits the more serious, surprisingly violent world of the Jak games.
At the beginning of Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Daxter is accidentally transformed into the furry little brat we know him to be. Being what I always thought was one of the most iconic PlayStation 2 mascots, Daxter brings the comedic relief to the series, and he brings it hard. Even taking into account all the diabolical plans, lies, deceit, murder and general up-to-no-goodness of the villains in the series, the whole thing feels like a playable Saturday morning cartoon, a compliment much credited to Daxter’s character alone.
After all these years, the writing is still fresh, witty and entertaining, especially towards the third game in the trilogy. Sometimes I smiled, sometimes I even laughed out loud, which, given how unfunny most video games that try to be comedic are, is one of the highest praises I can give the cut-scenes and dialogue in these games.
Starting with the first Jak, which is a pretty drastically different game than the second and third, I was able to see first-hand just how far Naughty Dog has come since their Crash Bandicoot days. And just like Crash Bandicoot, the first game in the trilogy has, well, a few issues. First off, Jak 1 doesn’t look nearly as good as the second or third games, which is understandable since it was one of the earlier PlayStation 2 titles. However, what’s not as understandable is the control over the camera, or lack thereof. I cannot tell you how many times I had to sit there and watch the camera try to reposition itself for a few seconds so that I could actually see Jak on-screen again. Even when the camera is “normal,” there are still a bunch of times where I missed jumps and ledges because the camera angle was totally working against me. And boy, did I die a lot.
You go through the game collecting “power cells” from everyone and anyone. It’s the reward for literally every quest in the game, and they’re even scattered across the world for you to collect. In Jak 1, you don’t really know what you’re collecting them for, or even why, you just do it. Mix in some annoying checkpoints, a story that doesn’t exactly achieve outstanding originality, and some poor vehicle segments and you’ve got a few reasons to see the first Jak game as a little bit of a tough pill to swallow. It’s not all bad though, because, like I said, the writing is good throughout the series, and Jak 1 has arguably the best (and, in my opinion, most memorable) level design out of all three games. If this is your first time playing it, you’ll enjoy the game; you just won’t love it too much.
Jak 2 takes things to a whole new level, both figuratively and literally, as the series formula switched from a “point A to point B” world, to a city hub that you end up questing in throughout the whole game: Haven City. Among some of the major changes to the series at this point is the clear jump in production value. Voice acting, graphics, storytelling, cut-scenes, all took a rather large step up from the first game. To put it into perspective, if you’ve played the Sly Cooper games, it really felt comparable the jump from Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus to Sly 2: Band of Thieves.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows though, as Haven city quickly turned into one of my least favorite parts of Jak 2. It’s simply too big and frustrating to navigate though, since you’ll do most of your getting around by stealing hover vehicles from NPCs, which attracts attention of city guards from time to time resulting in annoying chase sequences. Missions have a complete lack of checkpoints, which, when paired with the game’s surprisingly high difficulty, literally led to me walking away from the PlayStation a few times. Difficulty aside, the story and gameplay remain fun and engaging throughout.
Jak 3 is, I’m happy to report, the most functional of all three games. Sure, it’s the latest in the trilogy, so it makes sense, but Naughty Dog really learned from the previous two games and cut out most of the fat while delivering an absolutely stellar experience. I’m not kidding when I say that Jak 3 looks better in HD than a lot of games released today. Jak 3 may or may not be the fan-favorite in the trilogy, but believe you me, it not only withstood the test of time, but it remains one of the best character action games to grace the PlayStation 3 to date.
Naughty Dog ditched Haven City for this one, bringing in a new – way more functional and fun to navigate – city hub. Characters are way more interesting, and not only do the missions finally have efficient checkpointing, but they’re extremely varied. Jak 3 always gives the player something new to do, new weapons, abilities and more, keeping the game fresh throughout. Seeing it in HD, I think Jak 3 warrants the $40 asking price alone.
You may think I’m pretty down on the first two Jak games but, trust me when I say this, they are in no way bad games. All three Jak games excel in their own areas and depending on what you like, you very well may have your own preferences or qualms with the series. Jak 1 is a more than competent — yet at times frustrating — platformer. Jak 2 is the darker, grimmer take on the universe; it definitely evolved the franchise, however, some aspects of the gameplay feel frozen in time, making them mildly frustrating to deal with. Jak 3 is a culmination of everything learned from the previous two games, and more. It’s not perfect, but it aged fantastically and is still a great game by today’s standards.
The games look great, sound great, and even have newly added stereoscopic 3D support. For those of you that care, this collection has 3 platinum trophies that are relatively easy to acquire so long as you don’t mind exploring environments to collect precursor orbs.
So if you’re at all interested in the replaying the Jak games, or if you’ve never played them before, this collection is a good investment; it’s a great way to experience these benchmark PlayStation 2 titles. It would have been nice to see either Jak X Combat Racing, Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier or Daxter make it into the collection, but like I said before, you’re already getting your money’s worth with this one.