Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier Preview: Air Combat, Of Course

When I think of Jak & Daxter I don't think of flight combat. But if that's going to be 40% of the new game, so be it. It's fun.

What Is It? Jak & Daxter is an October PSP game set after the events of the console Jak & Daxter trilogy (that racing game doesn't count). It's in development at High Impact Games, the creators of a couple of Ratchet & Clank PSP adventures.

What We Saw At a Sony showcase in New York this week, I got a Sony producer to take a break from demoing Uncharted 2 to show me a PSP with the new Jak game on it. I tried a platforming level made dangerous by the presence of instant-death lava. And I tried a flight combat level that I expected to think was silly and unneeded.

How Far Along Is It? The game is set for October release, but it's got a bit to go. A couple of glitches in the game had the producer telling me that it wasn't as far along as, say, Uncharted 2. But I see no reason for the game not to be in good shape by release.

What Needs Improvement? Camera: The game's camera simply isn't optimised yet. The platforming sections, which have Jak running around, hopping and needing to use guns and special powers, sent me into a few too many spills into lava. Some of this was due to my famously poor gaming skills. But some, Sony's producer pointed out, were because of non-optimized camera work. For example, the camera was too level with the ground in an spot where an elevated view would have allowed me to better judge whether my jump would land me on safe ground or magma. The camera can't be tilted up and down to adjust, though I could swivel it left and right.

More Interesting Platforming: Can developers make platforming as interesting as it used to be? Or do we gamers just have to get used to it and move on, so new players who haven't jumped over lava pits or skipped over collapsing bridges can feel that such features are new. There isn't much novelty in platforming for old-timers like me. Jak has nice moves, including a jet-pack-kind of jump and the ability to build bridges, but his running, jumping and shooting didn't feel fresh.

What Should Stay The Same? The Engine: High Impact knows how to make smooth-running, good-looking PSP games. The studio's experience with the system shows, and results in games that look and run as well as most on the system. That's not to be ignored.

The Air Combat: Yes, I liked this a lot. Good thing, since I'm told it will comprise some 40% of the game. Jak is in a plane of sorts. He has missiles, a machine gun and a vulcan cannon. The mission I played had Jak flying amid a mountain range, trying to take out a massive flying pirate cruiser. The big enemy ship had propellors and guns and all sorts of targets I could lock onto and shoot. Enemy fighters swarmed the scene. With the press of a button I could produce a big square targeting reticule that would allow Daxter to leap from Jak's fighter to an enemy fighter — that would trigger camera-close-ups of Daxter dismantling the plane and a series of mini-games to get the thing taken apart. You do that to both reduce the enemy count and to produce parts that repair Jak's plane. The visual of Daxter leaping from fighter to fighter, with a tether attached so he can get back, was great. Daxter's a real hero.

Final Thoughts I didn't get much time with the new Jak & Daxter, but what I played put the needle between solid and promising. I didn't see anything special in the platforming stages, but the air combat was great fun. I'd like to play more.


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