Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier Review

jak&daxterJak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (Available on the PSP and PS2)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: High Impact Games
Release Date: November 3rd, 2009

After what felt like an eternity, Jak and Daxter are back!  Naughty Dog is busy with the phenomenal Uncharted series on the PS3, and Ready at Dawn has moved onto other pastures, but the dynamic duo has returned to action.  This time J&D hit the PS2 and the PSP on the same day!  Who saw this coming?  Right now, you can head to your favorite game shop and decide upon a version.  The PS2’s features slightly better graphics and easier controls, but the PSP’s is portable.  Content-wise, the games offer an identical experience.  This review accounts for both.  We put the two side by side and determined it was safe to write a combined piece.

Lost Frontier picks up after the events in Jak 3.  For some reason, the world’s Eco has gone missing, and only Jak, Daxter and Keira can find out why.  If you don’t remember, Eco is the life-force of special abilities.  Harnessing Eco allows ships to fly, force fields to generate and much more.  Because of these troubling times, Jak can no longer transform into Dark Jak, his destructive alter-ego from the last two J&D games.  There’s not enough Dark Eco left, what a shame.  That’s not the only difference.  For starters, LF has more in common with The Precursor Legacy thanks to all the platforming.  Everything else: gun fire, vehicle driving, comes after.   Let’s finish off the story though.  It doesn’t have the scope or epic feeling the second and third games had.  In fact, the story is all over the place.  I couldn’t tell if Jak and Keira are still an item.  I didn’t care why pirates and the gang were working together, and important characters were brushed aside until the end.  The bottom line: the story gets you from point A to B.  I always remember the original trilogy having a more impactful storyline, but perhaps that was my younger mind playing tricks.

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With Dark Jak now absent, High Impact Games mixed things up so Jak could have new powers.  Right at the onset, there’s a clear focus on platforming, as mentioned before.  Weapons are present, but they take a backseat.  Make note of that; it’s extremely important.  If you’re a big fan of Jak II and 3, you may not be into Lost Frontier.  That’s both a blessing and curse.  On the PS2, you realize just how fun games like this are, even today.  Controlling the camera with ease brought back many great memories of Precursor Legacy.  You know, before Jak completely flipped out.  On the PSP, things aren’t quite so pristine.  Without a second stick, camera shifting never feels fluid.  The view can be moved around Jack, but it never feels like you’re in total control.  This is obvious in respect to the shooting portions.  Platforming is the meat of the meal, but there are still countless enemies to take out.  Without lock-on or strafing, running and gunning is a real chore.  Combat is much better on the PS2 thanks to the second analog stick, but even then it’s not quite as cohesive.

One new element is piloting your very own fighter jet.  You dog fight in the Hellcat at the beginning, and it’s extremely slow and sluggish.  Before too long, customization options open up, and the aerial combat completely changes.  Each plane you acquire bears several weapon and ability slots.  Say your ship runs slow.  Increase its speed in one of the ability slots, and away you go.  Want homing missiles?  No problem, they’re available.  Best of all, every upgrade can be removed and installed on another plane.  Thanks to this, you’re likely to try new setups not attempted before.  There are no penalties, so every upgrade you buy is a worthwhile investment because it can be used on any plane you own.

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All this comes together to form a unique J&D adventure.  Unfortunately not all is great in the Eco-barren world.  For one, the pace is way off.  The story is the same, but you have to repeat gameplay sections incessantly.  I won’t spoil anything, but this applies even to the final boss fight.  We’re accustomed to playing one sequence a few times over.  When three or four times are necessary for completion, the experience turns ugly.  It’s almost as if High Impact Games didn’t know when good enough was just that.  Think of a boss fights the same way across four different forms.  That’s what I’m talking about, except with entire gameplay sections having that problem.  They quickly grow tiring and repetitive.

Another big question mark is the Dark Daxter segments.  At a certain point, Daxter is laced with Dark Eco and suddenly becomes an eight foot monster.  These portions simply don’t mix with the rest of the game.  Sure you can throw Dark Eco balls at enemies, use brute strength to destroy everything, but it just doesn’t feel like J&D.  I found these sections to be plain boring.  It would have been far better to feature Dark Jak with all his wicked powers than a somewhat generic Dark Daxter saying ridiculous things while in his Hulk-ish monster mode.  Sorry, but it didn’t work.

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Even without Dark Jak, Eco plays a significant role.  Every defeated enemy drops Eco orbs, which can be taken to Keira.  Collecting enough allows you to unlock all kinds of special powers across four distinct categories.  After finishing the first time, which amounts to ten hours or so, those categories won’t be filled.  This was done for a reason: Hero mode, which presents the opportunity to play again on a tougher difficulty and all your items and power-ups brought over.  It works something like Ratchet & Clank’s Challenge mode.

Finally we have side-quests, the best of the past two entries.  In Lost Frontier, expect about every other person you meet ask for help.  Side missions aren’t as varied as before, but they provide a nice break from the regular missions.  I enjoyed helping a DJ eliminate an incoming caravan of ships, but as I pointed out above, doing it four or five times is ridiculous.  Still, it was entertaining to visit a new city help its citizens.  More variety would have gone a long way though in cutting that nagging feeling I kept having of too much of a good thing.

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There’s no question visually that the PS2 build sports sharper textures and an overall less muddy look.  However, the smaller PSP screen allows that version to appear more detailed in some sections.  Regardless of your choice, most of the cities appear barren compared to the last two Jak & Daxters.  Citizens are there, they just lack life.  The environments are also extremely basic.  Thankfully the level and art design are top-notch.  There’s quality use of color throughout the game, but the dark and gritty feeling of the last installment is long gone.  That’s a shame because I loved Jak 3.  Jak doesn’t look like a natural part of this new world.  In Jak 3, he really was a result of his surroundings.

The audio is also a bit bland compared to past games.  Voice acting is solid, though nothing special due to overused one-liners.  For the first time in a long time, I even found Daxter to be a little annoying.  Perhaps Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time spoiled me.  The PS2 version has far cleaner audio, but that could be thanks in part to the surround sound speakers I have.  Effects are well-rounded and fit perfectly.

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Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier was a long time coming, and while I appreciate the PS2 port for ease of play and better visuals, the bulk of my time was spent with the PSP version.  The option to take a J&D game wherever I go is enticing.  For those with a PSPgo, the game can be downloaded from the PlayStation Network Store.  Whichever pick up, know this; Lost Frontier is a throwback to the long-lost days of platforming, mixed with a healthy dose of modern gameplay.  Had a few more elements: locking onto targets, strafing, Dark Daxter’s removal, been taken care of, LF could have really been a reboot for the series.  As it stands, those already familiar with the franchise would likely walk away a little disappointed, where as newcomers might expect more.

Scoreboard:

Story: 5/10

Gameplay: 7.5/10

Controls: 7/10 (PSP) 8/10 (PS2)

Graphics: 7/10 (PSP) 7.5/10 (PS2)

Sound: 7/10 (PSP) 7.5/10 (PS2)

Value: 7/10

Overall (Not an average): 7.5/10

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