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What it could have been...
on 29 August 2014
Having grown up in the 90s but having been a Nintendo-only kid meant that I would miss out on a lot of quality games. Back then the rules of the house meant that me and brother could only have one game console (so we went for Nintendo). So sadly I missed out on such classics including Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper and Ratchet and Clank. Now, no longer constricted by the rules of my childhood I finally got around to getting a PS3 and Vita and decided to see these classic games I had sadly missed out on. When I was presented with a choice of getting it for either one of those consoles the choice was easy seeing as I was always more of a handheld guy anyway. That said, I cant help but feel a little dissapointed about this trilogys quality when compared to its PS3 counterpart.
Its three, fundamentally well designed games in one package, developed by one of the greatest developers in recent gaming history. Jak 1 (Jak and Daxter the Precursor Legacy) reminds me of the earlier 3D platformers, similar to the likes of Super Mario 64. Its a phenomenal game that has a lot of charm and made my heart beat with nostalgic joy. Jak 2 decided to go for a more dark aspect. The gameplay shifted and the game got a lot harder. And the third tied up all the loose strings nicely and elegantly; it was truly a great finish to a great trilogy.
The games and their stories have been discussed at various points and there is enough information throughout the internet to fill books and since I would never be able to do these games' story justice by writting about it here I suggest, if you have any more questions, you look up the Jak and Daxter wiki.
Where to begin? Right off the bat, when you start playing Jak 1, you will notice some framerate issues. Now, I am by no means a framerate expert but I can tell when a game doesnt run at 30 FPS. For those that dont know, most Vita games run at 30 FPS, which is what most people percieve as smooth gameplay. Sadly, Jak 1 runs at what I can only guess is about 20 FPS during the entire course of the game. Considering how much weaker the PS2 was in comparison to the Vita it seems ludicrous that a game that ran at 60 FPS on the PS2 cannot manage more than 20-ish frames on a 2012 Handheld device (mind you, games like Killzone, Uncharted and Persona 4 run beautifully on the system). In all fairness, this is a disgrace. The saving grace in Jak 1s case is that the game at least runs consistently at 20 FPS. This gives the player the opportunity to get used to this issue and develop their play-style to accommodate for that. After about an hour of solid playing I barely noticed these issues anymore and I was able to enjoy the game to its fullest.
Jak 2 on the other hand may run at a higher FPS, on average, but its inconsitency makes it difficult to play well. See, when you are inside buildings or narrow corridors the game actually manages to pull off 30 FPS without an issue, its only when you head outside to the giant world of Haven City that the framerate crashes down to Jak 1s level. This is especially infuriating because of Jak 2s difficulty. Mind you this is one tough game. And the new gameplay features require a lot of precise platforming and aiming. Without a consistent framerate this makes the game very difficult to enjoy thoroughly. Especially around the 60% mark, when the missions become increasingly difficult the framerate tends to be all over the place making the already difficult to control Jak. The JET-Board (a type of skate board you can use at your will) is especially infuriating in this regard. Oh and speaking of controls: they are horrible. But more about that after my impressions on Jak 3.
Jak 3 is my favorite game of the series. It has a much more balanced feel to it, with tighter vehicle controls, better weapons and much more intriguing campaign (at least story wise), and it didn't drag on like Jak 2 did. In this game the framerate is somewhat of a mix of Jak 2s best parts and Jak 1s consistency. Where Jak 2 runs at 30FPS at maybe 30% of the game, this game runs at a solid 30FPS at roughly 70% (with only some of the later levels truly affecting the framerate). The very few sections of slowdown (Haven City and Spargus) are places you don't have to spend much time at, especially when compared to Jak 2. Overall, from a technical perspective this game is the best of the three but not by a long shot. The entire Trilogy is, from a technical perspective, in pretty bad shape.
I have already said the controls are horrible and I stand by that. It is important to note that Jak 1 is left out of this statement. Jak 1s controls were tight and well thought out. Jak 2 and 3 however have one common enemy: the rear touch pad. See, when Jak 2 and 3 came out on the PS2 a lot of their gameplay functions were tied to the L2/3 and R2/3 triggers/sticks. That worked fine in the case of the PS2 (and im guessing the PS3) but the Vita simply doesn't have so many buttons/triggers. Since these triggers had very important tasks assigned to them (such as getting out your JET-Board or transforming into Dark/Light Jak) they couldn't just be left out of the game, so for each game four different inputs have been assigned to the rear touch pad AT ONCE.
Picture yourself holding the Vita. Now put your middle finger on the rear touch pad (or whichever one you would use during gameplay). While you are NOT in a vehicle the top left section of the touch pad is responsible for switching to Dark/Light Jak. Right beneath that is a section which brings up the HUD (which shows the health you have etc). On the top right side you can take out your board and on the bottom right side you switch to first person mode (in which you cant move nor shoot). This may sound good on paper but requires a lot of practice and precision. And as every Vita owner can attest: the rear touch pads sensitivity is wonky at best. Couple that with different rear touchpad commands when in a vehicle, the difficulty of Jak 2, and the game being incapable of actually telling you which section does what (it shows a rear touch pad icon but doesn't really specify where) and you can quickly see what a mess these games are.
Granted, with enough practice these things can be learned but they are by no means intuitive or optimal solutions.
This was my first ever experience with Jak and Daxter and the storyline alone made this a worthwhile purchase. Looking back on it I may have been better off getting the PS3 version. Overall however, I really enjoyed all three of these games (even the infuriating Jak 2) despite their issues. It should also be noted that the ones responsible for the quality of this port are not Naughty Dog but a small studio named Mass Media (which are also responsible for the Ratchet and Clank Trilogy and the crashing issue of R&C2). Sadly, Mass Media has not decided to patch this game yet and it is doubtful that they will ever. I am hoping that they either clean up their act (which, looking at the state of the aforementioned R&C2 is doubtful) or Sony doesn't hire them anymore.
PS: This review is based on the physical US release, according to various internet sources/forums there are no reported differences, be it content or performance, between the versions.