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16 Feb, 2010

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier Review

PS2 Review | The final frontier?
Long ago, while the era of the Playstation was coming to an end and the era of the Playstation 2 was just beginning, Naughty Dog let go of Crash Bandicoot, one of the Playstation's most iconic mascots. While we mourned, for Crash has not appeared in a decent game since, Crash's sacrifice gave birth to a hero and a half: Jak, and his ottsel friend Daxter. The first game in the Jak & Daxter series was a sumptuous-looking platformer which was notable for the fact that you could move from the first area of the game to the last without so much as a loading screen. When the army of GTA clones surfaced in the years following Grand Theft Auto 3, it was surprisingly Jak 2 that most effectively appropriated the free-roaming mission structure popularized by Rockstar's crime epic. Jak 3 was perhaps the least memorable of the trilogy but a solid title nonetheless, taking Jak 2's structure to a Mad Max-styled badlands setting.

Unfortunately, Naughty Dog hasn't produced a proper Jak & Daxter game since, (apparently too busy with some Indiana Jones nonsense called Uncharted or something) though Ready At Dawn churned out the quite reasonable PSP spin-off Daxter back in 2006. This time though, the franchise rests with High Impact Games, a studio made up of former Insomniac and Naughty Dog employees whose résumé includes two Ratchet & Clank spin-offs, namely Secret Agent Clank and Size Matters for the PSP.

While Ratchet goes on to bigger and better things on the Playstation 3 however, Jak remains stranded in the realm of the PS2 and PSP. The Lost Frontier continues with the series' 'Eco' plot device, being a substance which provides for life and power on the planet. Eco is so scarce now though that the world's inhabitants have taken to aircraft to expand their search for the precious substance, which is a pretty neat way of explaining this game's fairly prevalent and mostly decent flying mechanic. The story sees Jak, Keira and Daxter searching far and wide for the stuff and encountering a bunch of air pirates. Adventure ensues. The plot is perfectly serviceable and both the dialogue and voice acting is decent, though the game does virtually nothing to illuminate the backstory of the series, which won’t bother fans but may put off newcomers. While we’re mentioning audio, the game’s music is surprisingly good, with some epic orchestral pieces during aerial dogfights.


Take down ships of all shapes and sizes.

Take down ships of all shapes and sizes.
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We reviewed the Playstation 2 version of the game, and were disappointed to note that The Lost Frontier actually looks inferior to previous Jak titles. We can only assume this is because the game was developed specifically for the Playstation Portable and ported to the Playstation 2 and not the other way around. The cutscenes look bright and crisp, but in-game everything looks a little bit muddy, as if the PSP image was simply blown up to accommodate a larger screen. That said there are some nice visual details, there’s plenty of colour and the design, which has been strong across the series, continues that trend. Though this game most likely looks more at home on its native platform, we suspect a Playstation controller will feel a lot better in terms of control.

As with Jak 2 and Jak 3, the gameplay is structured around a core hub from which you’ll trigger missions. The core Jak gameplay of platforming and shooting remains intact, though the distribution between the two seems to more evenly favour platforming as opposed to the last two Jak titles. This is just as well, because shooting is unfortunately one of this game’s weak points. Jak has some neat upgradeable weapons but the aiming system is horribly archaic. Jak can essentially only aim in the direction he’s facing, with no ability to lock on to enemies, to strafe or to dodge. If you’re just charging down a couple of weak enemies this is no problem at all, but if you find yourself surrounded by three or four enemies it becomes a nightmare where the most effective way to fight is to run in circles shooting and hope for the best. The simple ability to strafe and dodge would have made a huge difference to improving the combat. Fortunately boss fights do lock the camera to the boss, thereby eliminating most of the combat problems.


Jak must have been one of those annoying kids at school that had laser pointers.

Jak must have been one of those annoying kids at school that had laser pointers.
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Not helping in the combat-stakes is a fairly shoddy camera. You’ll find yourself being attacked by enemies half or completely off-screen regularly since you can’t strafe around them or lock onto them. You can pan the camera with the right analogue stick, which is a painful necessity in combat. Particularly bad is the glitchy camera warp that sometimes occurs when a door opens from one area to another. It’s a long way from the seamless world of the original Jak & Daxter.

If you have more fondness for Jak’s more talkative sidekick, fear not. Much like Clank often has his own stages in Ratchet & Clank, so too does Daxter in this game. Daxter finds himself covered in Dark Eco and undergoes a transformation to the musclebound, angry Dark Daxter. These top-down sections involve enemy bashing and some basic puzzle solving, with a mechanic where Daxter has to spin Taz style into dark eco crystals to keep his Eco levels up. These sections are eminently playable and at the very least help break up the gameplay.

As mentioned earlier, the game includes regular flying sections. These control well and are quite satisfying to play. One innovation introduced to this section sees you launching Daxter onto a rival ship to sabotage it with a mini-game that removes key components from the craft. The d-pad is your best friend in combat, with the ability to roll left or right, perform a loop de loop or do a very helpful 180-degree turn. What is especially good is the array of upgrades you can obtain for up to five different ships. Each ship has a variety of slots for weapons and defence and it’s up to you to pick which upgrades to put in those slots. Do you want more speed or more firepower? Better defence or better maneuverability? Of course, the best part is taking the ship out and seeing your modifications in action. Though there's always the danger of additional modes like this feeling tacked on, The Lost Frontier makes flying feel like an important part of the game.


Brings back fond platforming memories...

Brings back fond platforming memories...
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Jak himself can be upgraded too with the Dark Eco you’ll find, which can be converted into different forms to improve different areas of Jak’s abilities. Jak has also picked up a couple of new tricks that contribute both towards combat and puzzle-solving, like firing off a large ball of energy that can be detonated with a manual shot to destroy either enemies or the environment, or causing a green stone to rise out of the ground as either a helpful platform or a smart defence-mechanism. There are plenty of other neat unlocks to be had should you choose to seek out the game’s many hidden precursor orbs. We were delighted to find that three of the early unlocks all relate to giving Jak different facial hair. He looks so much more heroic with a full, robust beard.

Ultimately The Lost Frontier is a title to be regarded with ambivalence. On one hand it enjoys many of the same qualities as the previous games; an enjoyable setting, sound mission structure and satisfying platforming. The flying segments have a particular charm to them too, especially because of the customisation aspect. But ultimately this was a AAA licence handed down to a substitute developer, and that shows a little too often in the combat and camera. That effervescent sheen of quality that comes with Naughty Dog titles isn’t here, and it just makes you wonder what could have been if this had been a PS3 title direct from Naughty Dog; we wouldn’t even have minded if Nolan North had voiced Jak. There are enough enjoyable elements here to make The Lost Frontier worthwhile, but it looks like we’ll be waiting a little longer before the next true Jak title.
The Score
Though let down its by haphazard combat mechanics, there are enough positives to The Lost Frontier to make it worth checking out for both fans of the series and of platforming games in general.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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9 Comments
4 years ago
Please please please Naughty Dog, take a break before Uncharted 3 and give us a true next-gen Jak game on PS3.
4 years ago
NEED a PS3 Jak and Daxter, however, its hard to determine whether i would want it more than Uncharted 3, its probably the best gamei i have played on the PS3 system.
4 years ago
the doag wrote
NEED a PS3 Jak and Daxter, however, its hard to determine whether i would want it more than Uncharted 3, its probably the best gamei i have played on the PS3 system.
My thoughts exactly. Both games would be awesome.
4 years ago
I agree too, altho I would almost prefer a Jak game. While Uncharted is easily my favourite series ever, I'm worried that constantly focusing on that and nothing else might make it a little stale. They should follow Insomniacs example of Resistance/Ratchet/Resistance/Ratchet to keep both games creatively fresh.
4 years ago
Djfuzz wrote
Please please please Naughty Dog, take a break before Uncharted 3 and give us a true next-gen Jak game on PS3.
Meh to Jak. Only decent only was game 1.


New franchise or uncharted 3 please~
4 years ago
THEMAN wrote
Djfuzz wrote
Please please please Naughty Dog, take a break before Uncharted 3 and give us a true next-gen Jak game on PS3.
Meh to Jak. Only decent only was game 1.


New franchise or uncharted 3 please~
I'm gonna slap the taste out of your mouth for saying that icon_razz.gif icon_lol.gif



Anyway as much as I love Uncharted if I had the choice of playing Uncharted and Jak, I would pick Jak.

We've already had 2 Uncharted's in the last couple years so I would be much more interested in the next proper Jak game.
4 years ago
I have to agree with THEMAN, the first Jak game was the best. Jak 2 was great, but too different from what I loved about the first game.

The original Jak felt like a pure platformer, it was certianly up there with the likes of Mario 64 and the Rare classics.
4 years ago
^My thoughts exactly. I'll always remember spending christmas day 2001 playing the original. Mmm now I feel like playing through it again. Perhaps a HD remake of J&D 1/2/3 for PS3? Pretty please...
4 years ago
i read somewhere that they where handing the right to some other studio ?
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  15/11/2009 (Tentative)
Publisher:
  Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  1

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