Yes, this is it, the final Jak game we'll see come to the PlayStation 2. In fact, it's the last Jak game we will ever see. Jak and Daxter was a hugely fun title and it's sequel Jak: Renegade, though radically different was too a great platformer. Jak 3 delivers the same great formula as 2 but throws in a few new punches and says it's final good bye to all the Jak fans out there. It may not be anything too new to the series but what we get is a rollicking fair end, and in doing so it's sad to see it go.
The original Jak and Daxter> was an innocent 3D platformer with an unmistakable friendly charm. It told of how a couple of friends inadvertedly managed to get themselves involved in mysterious forces beyond them which ultimately lead them to saving the world. For mere moments they became heroes then disappeared into bright white portal. Jak 2 picked up from here setting a more gritty tone by having Jak be imprisoned for several years and being exposed to violent experimentations authorised by the twisted Baron Praxis. The portal led Jak and his humourous Ottsel (half-otter, half-weasel) sidekick Daxter into the future where a once relaxed carefree tropical jungle becomes a communist policed urban jungle. The eventual turn out of the game was that Jak, as you'd expect, saved the day from Baron Praxis and the greater evil Kor and went on to become celebrated heroes in Haven City. Unfortunately due to the void of leadership other various violent factions turned the streets into a battleground in hopes of becoming the new tyrannical ruler of the city. This prompted the people of Haven City to point the finger at Jak and his buddies as the cause of the turmoil and proceed to banish him into the harsh desert wasteland for certain death. Being a hero isn't always a good thing it would seem.
As the sun scorches Jak and Daxter's passed out bodies they're picked up an outcast band of Mad Max-like warriors led by the excellent Damas. You're taken back to a desert town where you're given refuge after proving yourself in a battle arena, from here you'll get missions from Damas and a range of other outlanders while still getting the chance to meet up with familiar faces from the previous two games and get missions from them. For a game dubbed as a kids game Jak 3 has a very strong and in-depth plot and pulls the entire game along really smoothly yet at a brisk pace. Told through in-game cinematics, humour, drama and intrigue are all voiced with great tenacity.
Grand Theft Auto III clones come a dime a dozen these days but a good one comes only on a much rarer occasions. Last year a Blue Moon rose and Jak 2 leaped out onto PlayStation 2 shelves, an excellent free-roaming title that let you go anywhere and do anything in a living, breathing, and all too believable cityscape. Jak 3 follows suit but stretches out the limits of a city to the desert and a large citadel at it's summit. Between missions markers will appear on your game-map letting you know the locations of new missions, and it's up to you how you get there whether it be by dune buggy or hopping lizard. The lizards serve as great and speedy transport within the desert city and help evoke an abandoned and down-trodden feel the city represents amongst it's drab detailing and stone walls.
In terms of gameplay Jak 3 is almost identical to 2. A lot of the missions are of a similar nature and your tactics and actions you employ are essentially the same. Since Jak and Daxter there has been present the spin, dash punch, double-punch and the Mario-esque butt-stomp. Hailing from Jak 2 is the addition of weapons, the different types of which are still the same but now boast upgrades so that now each weapon be it the gattling gun, shotgun, peacemaker or rifle has two other modes each with unique and devastating effects. For instance your shotgun can be charged up to let out a wave of red energy that send all enemies nearby off their feet and down for the count.
The result of the years of torture in Jak 2 was the ability to transform into Dark Jak, a sort of Mr. Hyde complex where Jak would become super-strong and incredibly capable in a close combat situation. The mirror to this is the addition of a Light Jak transformation ability which you'll acquire early in the game. In this mode Jak can slow down time and grow heavenly wings to fly for a limited amount of time. The general appearance of Jak in this form is actually quite remarkable and whether there be a towering spire or a legion of enemies on screen you can't help but admire how pretty the effects on Jak look. Returning from Jak 2 also is the Hoverboard which allows for speedy transport and an added advantage in some of the more platform based missions. This allows for a diverse, rich and everytime unique experience as you can mix and match between modes, weapons and actions making the multifarious missions fun every time.
Jak 3 is not your traditional platformer. Doing away with the slightly annoying hover vehicles from Renegade Jak 3 introduces heavy dune buggy vehicles for wasteland roaming. Each vehicle has it's own advantages and unique weaponry which is excellent as each vehicle will be better suited to a particular mission although using other vehicles may have their own distinct but life-saving usefulness. Such is the diverse range of Jak 3's gameplay, you'll find yourself one minute of a Hover board, the next in a Dune Buggy, then piloting a hang-glider into a volcano and manning the turrets of a competition based shooting range. If you want to be continually surprised in a neat and tidy platform based action adventure title then Jak 3 has it covered.
Cursing throughout this diverse game will come quite frequently, however, not from the game itself of course but from your own mouth. This game is hard. From the outside it may appear a kiddy-title but it is anything but, if you're expecting to waltz in and clean up each mission first try then you'll need to re-evaluate your gaming skills. Even for the seasoned gaming veteran the difficulty is high but it's not so bad in the sense that you'll be throroughly annoyed and forced to use the Jak 3 disc as a coffee coaster for revenge, you'll actually notice the method to the madness and your tactics and skills will improve. Once you finish that mission you re-try so many times you will feel rewarded as any hard mission delivers a fantastic cutscene worthy of your patience, and the lives of any lost controllers.
At it's core this is a truer sequel to Jak 2: Renegade than Renegade was to Jak and Daxter, and because of this it is remarkably similar. Still a fantastic game it just borrows heavily from it's predecessor in terms of animations and sounds, it's general look and feel is also compellingly alike. But Jak 2 was a good game and Jak 3 is an improvement on that good game making it a great game. Though longer than the first, it is shorter than the second, Jak 3 should last you a solid 12-15 hours but doesn't offer much in the way of replay value as completion will offer you the chance to replay any level you so please via a level select menu. There are a few unlockable secrets like bring able to listen to commentaries over cutscenes and view many pages of production art but none of it is impressive enough to warrant the extra couple of hours hunting them down.
Does Jak 3 look stunning? Tenfold. For the first time since the opening level of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has a PlayStation 2 title actually made me say wow with a dropped jaw. This is still the same robust engine as Jak 2 and is still looks remarkably similar but it's the design of some of the environments and creatures which will literaly make you say wow. The first time I got into the Citadel, something just made me think how incredible it looked, and the first time I saw an oversized dinosaur-like sand creature run past me whilst dwarfing my dune buggy I just said to myself wow. Every mission will have you doing something unique in an equally unique looking place and will always be beautiful to look at. There is a slight issue of vertical tearing but it happens so rarely and detracts in no way of the gameplay that it becomes acceptable, especially seeing as how the games framerate runs incredibly smoothly, never speeding up nor slowing down. The finest achievement of the visual presentation which Naughty Dog delivers is the exemplary animations given to each character in-game and especially during cutscenes. Without such life the game would lose a lot of points to a lack of charm, seeing Daxter wave his eyebrows around is incredibly fluid and very humourous, all the animations are handled with such skill that you half expect those cutscenes to be pre-rendered video cinematics.
Sound effects are pretty much Jak 2: Renegade's roster with no sparkling new additions which is fine to a certain extent seeing as how Jak 2 offered such excellent sound design but it would've been nice to have a revamped audio track and even a few new sounds thrown in. Where the sound does excel however is in it's voice-work, long gone are the days of the original Resident Evil for PlayStation 1, Jak 3 sports a hefty amount of dialogue which is executed with a professional finesse and comes packed with a decent amount side-splittingly good humour. Music here is pretty fantastic too but there is no single track here which you'll hum to yourself in the shower as the chances are you'll forget them immediately after play. They set the tone and atmosphere really well, but just aren't too special.
So here we are, at the end, no more Jak. This title is justifiable proof that this is one series that needn't be put to rest. But perhaps it's best to quit while you're ahead so as to not create some sort of calamity of a sequel and tarnish this amazing series. No matter what level of a Jak fan you are you are going to miss the crude dude and his snappy mouthed sidekick. Does Jak 3 deliver enough goods to be deserving of being the final installment in the series and more importantly is it the most memorable and the most excellent Jak game ever made? Yes, this is it.