Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier
It’s easy to feel a little bit sorry for Jak & Daxter; where they once stood shoulder to shoulder with stable-mates Ratchet & Clank as unofficial Sony mascots, in recent years they’ve seen that position slip – Sackboy arrived on the scene, original creators Naughty Dog shifted their attention to a certain Mr Drake and Ratchet & Clank got starring roles in no less than three Playstation 3 titles. Jak and Daxter, on the other hand, have had to make do with a racing spin off (Jak X: Combat Racing, 2005), a PSP platformer (Daxter, 2006) and a guest appearance for Daxter in PAIN on the PS3. It’s fair to say then that as a series, Jak and Daxter has lost its way somewhat, so High Impact Games have taken on the challenge to rectify this with Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier.
In recent months, Sony has made great strides in re-invigorating the PSP’s library, with titles such as Gran Turismo PSP, LittleBigPlanet PSP and Motorstorm: Arctic Edge all proving that in spite of its age, the PSP remains a very valid platform, capable of churning out Playstation 2 (and borderline Playstation 3) quality experiences. On the face of it, The Lost Frontier continues this trend; from the opening cinematic onwards, the production is slick, the visuals strong and the gameplay full of variety. The problem is that as the game unfolds, it becomes apparent that it treads dangerously close to being a ‘Jak’ (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves!) of all trades, master of none.
The game’s plot is not very compelling – The Old World is facing a shortage of the vital resource ‘Eco’, resulting in storms that threaten the planet’s very existence; thus our heroes Jak and Daxter embark on a quest for The Eco Core, that will enable them to identify and resolve the cause of the problem. While the quality of explanatory cutscenes is undoubtedly high, it’s fair to say that progressing the narrative will hardly be a priority for most gamers.
Without a strong underlying narrative, The Lost Frontier needs to rely on the robustness of its gameplay, and in this respect it’s something of a mixed bag. At heart, it is a platform game in the mould of the first few Jak games, wisely ditching the not entirely convincing open-world sandbox formula of Jak 3. Controlling Jak is slick enough, but can be lacking in thrills, often feeling perfunctory rather than massively gripping. Whether shooting enemies with a range of weapons or fighting them with mêlée attacks, there can be little sense of impact, and the basic move set is uninspiring. Piloting aircraft during the many flying sections can also be pretty dour; the mechanics are all there, but a lack of speed turns what could have been thrilling dog fights into sluggish drudgery. Warhawk this ain’t!
The lack of verve in the action is disappointing, especially in light of the visuals, which retain much of what made the series great – Jack and Daxter has always had a way with environments, and this is no exception. Enemy design is also nice enough, with one saw-blade wielding boss in particular winning us over (think a more angry – and possibly more charismatic – Bumblebee from Michael Bay’s Transformers). This being said, the game’s visuals rarely raise themselves much above ‘nice’, and certainly never achieve ’spectacular’.
The Lost Frontier can also be a fairly frustrating experience, mainly due to an often woeful inadequate camera; precision platforming can be difficult when you can’t see where you’re landing, and you’ll often find yourself shooting at enemies you can’t actually see, relying far too heavily on the map/radar to locate your foes. For a series of such heritage, this type of issue shouldn’t really raise its head and though a small niggle, the frequency with which it can disrupt the flow of play is disappointing.
Jak can no longer transform into Dark Jak from Jak 3 (it’s the unstable Eco you see…), but Daxter has assumed the ability. The Dark Daxter sections see the game flip to an isometric view and play like a beat ‘em up blended with Warner Bros’ Taz the Tazmanian devil. While adding another string to the game’s bow, the forays as Dark Daxter add little to the game, but luckily the plod through button mashing combat and unsatisfyingly vague puzzling are brief enough to not outstay their welcome too much.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, with The Lost Frontier showcasing some good ideas; though often derivative, it is packed with a variety of game mechanics frequently blending concepts to great effect. Take for example Jak’s ability to slow down time – though hardly original, its implementation leads to some genuinely invigorating platforming, as whirring machines are set into slow motion giving you a small window of time with which to traverse them. Teleportation and construction abilities are also used to good effect, forcing you to survey your environment to search for the solution to environmental puzzles.
If we’re being overly harsh, its mainly because we expected and hoped for more – the series has a great heritage and developer High Impact Games have already produced some solid efforts for the PSP (namely Secret Agent Clank and Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters). However, ’solid’ is about the highest praise that can be laid on The Lost Frontier; it’s competent but lacking finesse and falls some way short of ‘must-have’ status. Fans of the series will no doubt relish the opportunity to spend some more time with the duo, and even those not so enamoured with them will still find something to enjoy – that is if they are able to put up with its shortcomings.
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