(Naughty Dog for the PS2)
by Mike Delano
Man, why did video game characters have to get personalities? Remember the days of those stoic Contra soldiers, distinguished from one another only by their red and blue apparel? Even Mario and Luigi were indistinguishable until Super Mario Bros. 2 when Mario became a medium-sized beer-gutted plumber and Luigi became a tall beer-gutted plumber who kicked his legs in the air like a little girl when he jumped.
But now everyone from Solid Snake to the Grand Theft Auto cast seem to’ve been group-tested and assembled into either a kid-friendly cartoon or a teen-baiting, gloomy tough guy. With Jak and Dexter, you get the worst of both worlds. Jak, with his frat-boy goatee and unaffected grunts, is offset with the wisecracking, talk-to-the-camera antics of Dexter, a hyper little marsupial muppet. They’re a thoroughly annoying duo, a pair only those aged 12 and under or with infinite patience are likely to relish the thought of spending a dozen or so hours with.
Luckily, the third (and supposedly final) installment of the Jak trilogy is a strong enough title to warrant the forgiveness of a main character who appears plucked directly out of a Mountain Dew/snowboarding ad. Its mash-up style of gameplay, a spin-the-wheel variety of racing, platforming, and other assorted tasks, are a breezy, non-committal blast. And for anyone chompin’ at the bit to see how the boggling storyline of the “precursor legacy” plays itself out, rest easy, because there are enough explanatory cut scenes here to make many a happy nerd.
Graphically, Jak continues to be outstanding. The waterfront village introduced in the first portion of the game is stunningly constructed and fun to explore, and having the sun rise and set is an always-welcome touch. That’s just home base, though, and the various other locales, from lush green tropical settings to the amber halls of dim stone temples, are similarly impressive.
The game plays well also, although the sheer variety of the missions will come as either a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective. It’s an action game first and foremost, so whatever the task, rest assured it’ll be fast-paced and smash-happy. As with any title that tries its hand at so many styles, some certainly work better than others, but the majority are fun and often short, with the only real endurance tests popping up during the Crash Bandicoot-style platforming levels.
That variety comes with a price, however, as Jak 3 lacks any sort of real identity when it comes to gameplay. It throws so many disparate tasks at the gamer that it sometimes feels more like a plot-driven session of Mario Party than a showcase for one truly fresh and developed style.
So yeah, it’s a Frankenstein, but when there’s this much fun to be had, it hardly matters. Racing fans, platforming fans, and shooter fans all know where to go if they really wanna cut their teeth on some of the hardcore, but for a supremely satisfying adventure through all sorts of genres, Jak 3 is a buffet.