The third and final installment in Naughty Dog's Jak & Daxter trilogy takes the series even further from its roots as a traditional platformer. This time, the game offers more driving, fighting and combat sequences than ever before, along with more traditional platforming elements. The game isn't nearly as bleak as Jak II and has a more expansive feel thanks to its desert setting. It's not nearly as hard as the last game, either. The non-platforming elements have been enhanced by tighter controls and more varied missions, making for a better game overall. It's not perfect, but Jak 3 is a solid game. Read our review and find out why this is an excellent finale for fans of the series.
At the start of Jak 3, our protagonists Jak and his sidekick Daxter find themselves exiled to a vast desert wasteland by the residents of Haven City, which they tried to save in the last game. While this seems to be a bleak fate for our heroes, there is always hope and they find themselves rescued by the denizens of another city, called Spargus that is located in the furthest reaches of the wasteland. Spargus' population consists of those who have escaped or been purged. The new setting is far more dangerous than the somewhat sheltered urban confines, giving Jak 3 a wider more open setting. The first thing our heroes have to do is prove themselves to the king, Damas. In order to do this, they must partake in battles in the city's arena, a deadly combat zone where they face off against dozens of elite warriors. This is quite intense, as the enemies come at you in relentless waves. This helps you to learn the basic techniques, which come in quite handy later in the game. The arenas are quite dangerous and platforms frequently sink below the molten lava surface - contact with this burning liquid causes instant death so you need to get out of them quickly when you here the warning sirens go off. Jak's combat skills and techniques are pushed to their limits throughout the game, but he has a variety of moves and weapons to use. He can hit enemies using his traditional moves such as spinning and jumping. He can also fire his weapons or call on his dark eco powers to destroy them.
Once he's beaten the seemingly endless waves of foes, he's allowed to wander the city surroundings, where he encounters a variety of characters. These include a group of mysterious monks who have found some ominous warnings hidden within the ancient Precursor technology. Jak and Daxter also run into a crusty old soldier who allows him to access his off-road vehicles. Once he's in the vehicles he can perform a variety of missions such as killing the MetalHeads, rescuing stranded Wastelanders, and gathering pieces of the Precusor technology. Jak will also be able to compete in lapped races and deathmatches with other vehicles in the game. You'll also be able to ride hoverboards, take control of racing vehicles called Zoomers and will even be able to pilot giant robots later on. Additionally, scattered around each city are small lizard-like creatures that he can ride on as well. These different transportation modes give Jak 3's gameplay plenty of variety. Between racing missions, Jak will also find himself called back to the city frequently to perform missions for the king, usually involving collecting items or ridding the Outland of foes and pests. While the game gives the player plenty of freedom during the missions, the order in which you complete them is quite rigid; making Jak 3 a much more linear experience than you'd expect it to. The upside to this narrative-focused gameplay is that it enhanced the underlying story. This is a good thing, since Jak 3's plot is engrossing and the locked-in approach moves the storyline forward at a fast pace. The variety of missions and tasks you'll have to complete in Jak 3 is one of the game's strongest points, giving the gameplay an immersion and depth that's rare in modern titles.
One of the more interesting twists in the game occurs later on, when Jak acquires his new light eco powers. These new abilities compliment Jak's dark powers perfectly and allow him to slow down time, heal energy, and even float above the levels. This comes in quite handy during combat, especially during some of the more intense boss confrontations. This is a cool feature, and goes a long way towards giving the player insight into the plot. As the game unfolds, the storyline begins to unravel the mysteries of the precursors, giving the player strong motivation to keep playing. Jak 3's early levels set the stage, but the later missions really challenge the player. Fortunately, the developers have learned from their mistakes in the last game, and the learning curve this time is much less steep and more forgiving. Another area that has seen vast improvement are the controls, which are remain responsive and fluid in the platforming areas, but have gained a lot of polish in the vehicular sequences. For example, the off-road dune buggies are incredibly responsive and allow for tighter turning and cornering that any of the vehicles in the last game. Some of the returning vehicles, such as the hoverboards and zoomers, have also been refined with better controls. This makes for a much more enjoyable game that won't frustrate players nearly as much. The developers at Naughty Dog have also increased the number and variety of mini-games this time around, and have even included several sequences where players can control Daxter. Jak 3's puzzles aren't incredibly difficult to beat, but they make a nice change of pace from the otherwise relentless action. This makes for an even deeper and more satisfying experience, with many elements present that you'd never expect to see in what began as a simple platformer. The game's ambitious design is quite impressive, and keeps throwing different things at the player, however, none of it seems gimmicky. Each new element feels organic to the storyline and consistent with the game world. It's a huge, varied experience with many facets, giving Jak 3 an expansive feel more in line with Halo or Grand Theft Auto than more traditional platform titles such as Crash Bandicoot or even Ratchet & Clank.
With such an expansive area evident throughout, it's a good thing that Jak 3's production values ore more than up to the task of matching Naughty Dog's grand vision. The game's aesthetics are excellent and highly polished throughout, transporting players into a believable and consistent world. The player's suspension of disbelief is carried along by some impressive cinematic approach, which sucks you in with elaborate cinematic cut-scenes. However, the game creates an acceptable balance between action and story, so these sequences never overwhelm the gameplay itself. Both of the cities you'll explore in the game feel very much alive, with dozens of characters wandering the streets and alleys, along with an array of creatures. Jak 3's level of detail is rather astonishing, with a large number of environments and locations to explore. Most area maps are quite large as well, giving the game an impressive scope and scale. The quality is just as impressive as the quantity, with most characters showcasing an impressive level of fluid animation and movement throughout. From the smallest characters, to the large lumbering MetalHeads, every living thing in the game feels authentic and realistic. Jak 3's racing sequences are an integral part of the game, and the settings amongst desolate dunes and sand storms are perfectly realized with sand storms, light sourcing and an excellent frame-rate pushing the PS2 to its limits. The soundtrack fits the epic feel of the game perfectly, blending in the background when needed, accenting battle and racing sequences while never getting in the way. The voice-over acting is excellent as well, with both main characters expertly performed and extensive scripts for secondary characters that fill in the background and information nicely. This is one of the sleekest looking adventure titles we've played, and the evocative design effectively brings you right into the center of this intriguing world.
While you can make the argument that the Jak & Daxter series may have gone a bit too far astray from it's platforming roots with its emphasis on hoverboard, racing and other action elements, the game's overall design cuts the teeth out of this approach. To be honest, there are certain points where you find yourself trapped in what seems like a never-ending series of mini-games but, Jak 3 never fails to be entertaining or engaging. Jak 3 starts off seemingly hapharzardly with you bouncing from racing, to combat, to standard collecting missions. It will probably take awhile for players to get used to Jak 3's structure. Some areas in the first few hours begin to get tedious, since you feel like you're playing a bizarre hybrid of racing game and action/platformer, but the game really takes off once you get deeper into the adventure. This is especially true once you acquire the light eco powers, which add plenty of depth and strategy to the gameplay while not making things overly complex. The added elements definitely give Jak 3 a different feel from most platformers, but the intuitive vehicle controls make these sequences easier to play. Naughty Dog deserves many kudos for creating such a large, varied and challenging experience. Throwing in so many elements into the mix is bound to alienate some of the hardcore gamers out there, but for the most part, Jak 3 succeeds at creating an impressive and intense gaming experience. This series may have started modestly, but as each subsequent installment adds more to the mix, it actually makes for a more appealing game overall. The game's polish, depth and expansive variety makes Jak 3 a satisfying conclusion to the series.