It seems like only a year ago that Naughty Dog released the second game in the Jak & Daxter series. Hang on a minute - it was bloody well only a year ago! That kind of quick turnaround on a platform game doesn't usually bode well for innovation, and indeed, if there's one big criticism to be leveled at Jak 3, it's that it really is more of the same, with a particular emphasis on vehicle-based missions and the same old problems that hit the second game in the series, especially when it comes to wildly spiraling difficulty levels. Overall, it's actually not a hard game to complete, and with a lifespan of anything between ten to fifteen hours, it's also somewhat on the short side. Gamers who want to see how the trilogy of titles finally resolves itself will get a fair amount of both fun and frustration out of Jak 3, but for many other gamers you won't get more than about 20% into the title without starting to feel just a tad bored. It's not that Jak 3's a bad game per se; it's just a title that really struggles to stand out in any really memorable way.
Those who have played through the original Jak & Daxter and Jak 2 will be champing at the bit to find out how the whole story plays out, and from that perspective we've got few complaints - without spoiling too much, you'll learn pretty much everything you needed to know about Jak's past, his future, the true nature of the precursors and quite a bit more besides. As with Jak 2, the game's cut scenes are quite entertaining, not least in part due to the wisecracking nature of Daxter, who also gets a fairly solid block of platforming action this time around.
As the game starts, however, you're a long way from any kind of plot resolution, instead finding yourself banished to the wastelands outside Haven city, allegedly for causing the destruction of Haven City's palace - although, as always, the truth is rather more complicated than that. Left to die in the desert, Jak is discovered by a tribe of exiles, and taken to the desert stronghold of Spargus, headed up by the mysterious overlord Damas. From there, Jak will have to fight his way into acceptance, make his way back to Haven city, and eventually deal with, as could be predicted, a dire force that threatens the very existence of the world itself. Along the way, plenty of familiar faces (if you've played Jak 2) will pop up, along with a whole lot of rather familiar gameplay.
One of the things that always sold the Jak games was some rock-solid (and often rock-hard) platform action, enhanced a touch in Jak 2 with the inclusion of heavy weaponry. While those sections are still present, they're by far in the minority. Perhaps as a result of the shortened development cycle, or perhaps in some kind of half-hearted attempt to market the series to a wider audience, developers Naughty Dog (minus head loon Jason Rubin) have instead concentrated fairly solidly on vehicle based action. Indeed, for the first half of the game, you'll start to wonder where the platform action went, as you perform mission after mission on dune buggies against enemies who are largely bereft of intelligence. It's nice to try to include everything - and by extension, include all types of gamers - but only if you do it well, and Jak 3's non-platforming sections come off as average at best.
The other major issue with Jak 3 is something that Jak 2 was guilty of as well, and that's having wildly varying difficulty levels. On the whole, you could quite safely describe Jak 3 as an easy game, and indeed there are plenty of missions you'll sail through on the first attempt. Then there are the key missions that'll have you tearing out hair - especially one gun course, one hoverboard level and especially a mission much later on that sees you defending against a tide of enemies from a gun platform. It's one thing to be handed a stiff challenge, and another entirely to be handed a challenge that says, in essence, that the developers didn't have many good ideas left, so they just threw in some really tough enemies in order to artificially lengthen the game.
Jak 3 also doesn't really help its case with the improvements made to Jak's offensive arsenal. There are a few new gun types, but to be honest, they're not enhancing, but excessive, and it's more than likely that most gamers won't use all of them. It's even conceivable that you could finish the entire game without using certain gun types at all. As with Jak 2, Jak's got powers granted to him by dark Eco, and these are contrasted later on in the game by light Jak powers that give him healing, shielding, flight ability and the seemingly inevitable slowing down of time -- is time slowing this year's equivalent of the tacked-on stealth sequence, or what? The light powers are kind of cool, and they do give you a certain amount of flexibility in your approach to certain tasks, but only the most dedicated gamers are likely to come back to some missions more than once just to try them out.
Jak 3's overall feel is of an average title that clearly suffers for having too short a development cycle; it's relatively easy for the most part, making it a game that some gamers will clear in less than ten hours, which also impacts on its total value. Certainly, if you're itching to know how Jak & Daxter's story works out, then it's worth playing through, but given its length that's something you could do within a reasonably short rental. Only truly obsessed Ottsel fans should actually ponder buying Jak 3, at least at full price.
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