This is all becoming familiar territory for Naughty Dog. After slowly transforming a magnificent platforming title into something it wasn't, Crash Bandicoot is now but a shadow of its former self. As it would appear, the Jak series is going down an all too familiar course. Starting out as quite possibly one of the most enjoyable platforming titles ever created, to now where we are left with a 'bad arse' imaged Jak blowing up things in his ride. Enter Jak X: Combat Racing. While the platforming aspects are gone, Naughty Dog have managed to create a solid racing game that stays true to the series, showing that change doesn't always mean a bad thing. With a nice mixture of Jak-styled humour, and the promise of kart-styled carnage, Jak X: Combat Racing not only comes as a welcomed surprise, but stands firm as being one of the better kart racing titles available for the console.
Despite having a radical change of genres, the story picks up after the events of Jak 3. Jak, Daxter, and the crew (Keira, Ashelin etc.) have been asked to come to Kras City for the reading of Krew's will. Despite being long dead, Krew is up to his old tricks. In celebration of his death he asks that everyone toasts and drinks a vintage wine from his own personal collection, which ironically is poisoned. For the gang to find a cure to this deadly poison, Jak must take up arms and become the new Kras City Grand Champion. While the story isn't anything spectacular by any standards, it does a decent job of producing a solid basis that'll keep gamers motivated throughout the game's adventure mode. As gamers progress, the game's main story will slowly unravel revealing why Krew is wanting this championship, and the threats that stand in your way.
Jak's latest adventure develops throughout the game's adventure mode, consisting of four different cups, of which are comprised of twenty different competitions each. At first, a lot of the tracks are locked, but only after acquiring medal points for finishing first, second or third will further tracks and modes be unlocked in the single-player adventure. In addition, further points can be acquired that are measured by the amount of enemies you take out, how much hang-time you have, and where you place in each race. These additional points can later be used to customise your vehicles or unlock a number of fascinating extras, such as new characters, vehicles, 'the making of' videos and a lot more goodies from the game's secret shop.
One of the more disappointing aspects of most kart racing games is the lack of variety. However, Jak X's adventure features an uncanny amount of additional modes aside from your typical race to the finish. These include racing modes that'll have you racing against the clock, while others will have gamers trying to pick-up more turbo power-ups than your opponents. Other modes, such as Artefact Race, has gamers running around a circular course trying to find the artefacts that spawn within the map. In addition, there's a Sport Hunt mode that plays a lot similar to Mario Kart's battle mode, in which gamers will do anything in their power to destroy their opponents in the set amount of time. Overall there are roughly ten different racing modes that can be played.
There are a total of 24 different tracks and seven arenas, with mirrored tracks also available. Each of the game's tracks are incredibly rich in detail, and feel much at home within the Jak world - including factory, mountain and even snow environments. The only downside to these tracks is that, throughout your progression of the main story, gamers are merely re-racing in the same tracks, or tracks that are combined with one another. In most cases though, the length and difficulty of each track tends to make up for this small shortcoming.
Much like Mario Kart, items are the key to winning. Rather than Mario Kart's limited capacity of items, Jak X features several slots that allows you to boost, items you can shoot forward and others that can be dropped behind you. These items are acquired through the different coloured Eco across the courses. Green and blue Eco are used to replenish health and some much needed turbo boosts, respectively. The Yellow Eco is used to obtained weapons that can be fired forward from your vehicle. These include machine guns, homing-missiles, grenade launches, and even an item that wipes out the player in first place instantly (a.k.a Blue Shell style for Mario Kart fans). The Red Eco is, however, used for obtaining weapons that you can shoot out of the back of your car or acquiring defensive items. Items you can shoot out the back of your vehicle include mines, oil slicks, stationary turrets, and even defensive shields that, when in contact with an opponent, can destroy them. The Red Eco items more often than not work towards defending your position. For instances, if you're targeted by a homing missile, these Red Eco items can be dropped to destroy these projectiles from making any damage to your vehicle.
However, some of these items can often raise an issue of balancing. There are several items in the game that can be used to regain your position fairly quickly partly thanks to these unbalanced items. There's one item that can be shot that completely wipes out the top positioned player, while there's another that can wipe out every other player on the track if you're in that bad of a position. There are often ways to work around these items to avoid being hit by them, but the reoccurrence of these items is unfairly shown.
One of the most blistering problems with Jak X though, is the game's difficulty. It is unfairly balanced throughout the entire game. The first three cups are incredibly easy, making the challenge of acquiring gold medals on each course fairly simple. However, once venturing off to the last cup you're welcomed to courses that are fairly hard to win, luck being the only way to win in most cases. Sure, it's understandable that the last cup is suppose to be hard, but there is no real change in difficulty leading up to the last cup that makes you expect the change.
Jak X uses a lot of features from Burnout too, which tend to give out mixed results. While the speed of the game is great, and when you receive a boost the screen blurs, but Jak X also features the Burnout-esque crash scenes, which ruins the pace of the entire game. Not only that, but these crash animations cannot be skipped, making you watch your fiery deaths over and over again until you're finally brought back into the race. Destruction of your vehicle isn't short-lived either. The physics involved in the game aren't too good. Taking a boost around corners will more than often result in a crash against the walls. It is often impossible to control your vehicle perfectly in the much more tighter and faster courses also, which means that you'll soon become familiar with the slow-mo crash sequence.
The music, for the most part, is quite satisfying. The character voice-overs are nicely done, and well acted. The music throughout is put together nicely also. There a number of Queens of the Stone Age songs, a band that I don't particularly like in general, but the tunes do a fantastic job of fitting in with the context and intensity of the game. Graphically, the game does all the right things. Naughty Dog have done a splendid job on all the games in the series, and thankfully, Jak X is no different. Sporting a number of satisfying cinematics and detailed environments, the game moves exceptionally well throughout the entire game - an area that Naughty Dog should be congratulated for.
Jak X isn't short of length either. The game will take most gamers anywhere between 10-15hrs of game time to complete the adventure mode, while there are additional modes to experiment with thereafter. After acquiring a 100% completion in the adventure mode, a new difficultly will be unlocked. There's also other modes where gamers can replay any of the levels in any of the racing modes in single or two-player mode, there's also unlockable content. Jak X also features an online mode for up-to-six-player multiplayer. The action during online is incredibly smooth, and is great to play some of the game's modes against human opponents. Players can communicate to other players via headsets, or text through the game's online lobby. The online mode doesn't stop there either, gamers can join clans, form their own buddy lists, and the game even tracks your overall stats. The online mode adds a lot of depth to an already satisfying experience.
While Jak X: Combat Racing falls short of rivaling Mario Kart's fame anytime soon, Naughty Dog have a winning formula. Despite the game's minor shortcomings, Jak X: Combat Racing does enough to ensure a thrilling ride for Jak fans.