Jak X: Combat Racing
Without a doubt, the Jak & Daxter series have redefined platform gaming and brought the genre back up to speed. With Jak 3, the so-called Precursor Legacy came to an immensely satisfying end. That, of course, meant bad luck for Sony, as every new part in the series sold well and received great reviews. Enter Jak X (or Jak X: Combat Racing in the U.S.), a spin-off of the venerable series. In a way that is reminiscent to its Crash Bandicoot franchise, Naughty Dog reunites the two heroes in an arcade-style action racing game. Can it live up to its Precursors?
No, it can’t. But wait, there’s more…
Strictly on its own merits, Jak X is a pretty amusing car combat game. In a genre that’s been done a million times before, the game still manages to float and we have Naughty Dog’s excellent craftmanship to thank for that. Oh sure, Jak X doesn’t add anything specifically new to a crowded genre, but it somehow manages to perfect a tried-and-true formula.
The game features a pretty bland storyline that pales in comparison to that of Jak 3 (and especially Jak II). Here goes: Jak and his big-mouthed sidekick are invited over to Krass City to view the will of Krew (the big tub of butter you killed in Jak II). Once there, they find out that they’re poisoned and have to participate in the Krass City Grand Championship in order to receive an antidote. All of the characters you’ve known and loved from the previous games (such as Sig, Ashelin, Samos, Torn…) return in Jak X, but the stars of the show are still Daxter and Pecker.
Their hilarious one-liners really spice up the cutscenes and provide a real incentive to keep on playing. While they aren’t as legendary as say “Maybe he’s a mute, Jak, like you once were.” (from Jak II), they’re still head and shoulders above the competition. Just watch (and listen to) the great dialogues between Pecker and GT Blitz (a talk show host) and you’ll see a superb example of how humour in a game should be done. As always, the voicework is amazing -as are their lines-, thanks to the varied and gifted cast.
The racing itself feels solid. The many different cars all respond very well to the controls and all have different handling models. The smaller cars usually accellerate faster and cut corners better, while the bigger ones have higher top speeds and better armour. It’s up to you to find out what suits you best. Every car can also be upgraded. With the money (i.e. orbs) you’ve earned, you can choose to improve you cars Engine (top speed), Gearbox (accelleration), Armour and Turbo. After several upgrades, you’ll definitely notice the cars’ improved performance. You can also change your car’s appearance with new bumpers, wheels, paint jobs etc. It seems like every racing game these days has to have some kind of ‘Pimp My Ride’-ish elements in them. Anyway, in most races, you’ll also pick up power-ups (both offensive and defensive), health spheres and Turbo boosts. The offensive weapons range from missiles, chain guns and lightning bolts to more “up yours” weaponry like some overpowered weapon that kills every opponent instantly. Defensively, you can use power-ups to deflect missiles or set traps for your competitors.
Jak X offers a lot of gameplay variety. As the story progresses you’ll be invited to tons of different events, such as Circuit Races (first over the finish line wins), Artifact Races (grab 10 artifacts, scattered over the map, as fast as you can), Deathmatches (self-explanatory), Death Races (shoot the specified number of drone cars), Freeze Rally’s (time-trial in which you must grab tokens that stop the clock for a few seconds) and many more. All this variety can keep you busy for a while, but occasionally you’ll get a feeling of ‘been there, done that’. The game is actually quite lengthy, as it should take you north of fifteen hours to finish the game and unlock everything. All modes are also available in a smooth online multiplayer component for up to six players. While the MP certainly isn’t an unforgettable experience, you can get quite a few hours of enjoyment out of it, as the servers are relatively well populated.
The only drawback of Jak X is its sometimes quirky A.I. and balancing system. As is akin to the genre, once you fall behind, you’ll get more powerful weapons to gain some ranks. This is good, since you’re always in the running to win, but it can also turn against you. It’s not rare to find yourself ahead of the pack for an entire race, only to find yourself killed in the last stretch and seeing another guy take the win. Needless to say, this causes a lot of frustration. It’s much easier to just hang around third place and taking the lead in the last few corners than trying to defend your top spot. When in the lead, you feel a bit overly hunted. Nevertheless, after one or two retries you’ll usually win.
Graphically, Jak X does a satisfying job. Thanks to the formidable engine that drove the series for a few years now, the game runs ultra-smooth, with no sign of framedrops. The environments look very sharp and detailed, but you won’t see the work that’s been put into them, since you’ll be flying by. That’s probably the reason why I think Jak II and 3 looked better. Still, the rich and colourful environments that have marked the series from the beginning are still present. One of the coolest things about Jak X is the spectacular slow-motion sequence you ofttimes get to see when you kill an enemy or when you get blown up yourself.
Jak X is a great combat racing game that combines all the best things in the genre and wraps them in a Jak & Daxter setting. There aren’t any major flaws in the game, but the occasionally picky A.I. can sometimes get on your nerves. Its biggest drawback, however, is the fact it had to walk in the footsteps of one of the greatest platforming series ever. And that’s one hell of a legacy to fulfill. It’s still Jak & Daxter, Jim, but not as we know it.