Sometimes it seems like a successful franchise character will spin off to another genre, especially when that character is considered to be the mascot for a console or an entire company. Mario is probably the most common example with his kart, golf, baseball, party, and now dance games. Sonic, the Pokemon characters, and soon Samus (of Metroid fame) are characters found in pinball games.
While Sony had Crash Bandicoot as an “unofficial” mascot for a while, they created a trifecta of series that defined the platforming on the PS2. Those are the Jak series, the Ratchet and Clank series, and the Sly Cooper series. While Sly is getting his own sequel this year, Jak and Ratchet are getting their own spinoffs. We’ll be taking a look at Jak X: Combat Racing.
Jak X: Combat Racing throws you into the world of Jak and Daxter. After being invited to celebrate and toast the defeat of Jak’s nemesis Krew, he finds out he has been poisoned from the toast. To get the antidote, Jak is force into the Kras City Race. Jak must win the races and complete the missions to save himself and the others in the celebration party. This won’t be easy, but Jak and the crew are provided with racers, and he’ll earn upgrades along the way.
Jak X is a great looking game. The cars are nicely shaded, the explosions are big, and vehicle parts fly everywhere when a car explodes. The accurate motion-blurring gives Jak X a sense of speed which really gets your heart pumping. The environments are varied. While Jak races deep in some ice caverns for one race, he’ll go through lush jungles in another, and then combat against other racers in a dirt arena. The particle effects of explosions, boosts, and eco pods glow with the right amount of brightness. Jak X also supports progressive scan which does help the look of the title.
The power of the PS2 bogs down the score of Jak X unfortunately. The polygon edges aren’t as smooth as they could be. Also, some areas are a bit dark, so it is difficult to know where to go sometimes. So while Jak X is a great looking game, it isn’t an excellent one.
The music drives a hard rock beat, which is something that really gets your heart racing. While some games don’t include music during the gameplay, Jak X really cranks it up. The music makes it feel like something from The Road Warrior set in the Jak universe, with heavy drums and guitar. The music slams hard into your face.
While the music slams, the sound effects are merely adequate. Granted, some of the weapons are very similar to each other, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the sounds similar weapons make. The engine noise isn’t very noticeable either. However, explosions have some strength to them, and Jak X supports Dolby Pro Logic II.
The voice acting is superb. Each of the characters’ voices sound like they belong to the character. Daxter sounds as annoying as ever, and Pecker comes onto the scene in spectacular fashion. Special notice must be mentioned for the pompous announcer, G.T. Blitz. At first, the voice reminded me of Zapp Brannigan from Futurama. However, G.T. Blitz is voiced by Phil LaMarr, who also voices several other characters in the game. While Phil LaMarr voiced Hermes in Futurama and not Zapp Brannigan, I can’t help but to feel that he got inspiration for G.T. Blitz from Zapp.
Jak X has controls that work well with a racing game like this. Steering is handled with the analog stick or left and right on the D-pad. Up on the analog stick or X accelerates, and down on the analog stick or Square decelerates. Circle hits the handbrake, and Triangle shows the rear view. R1 fires yellow eco weapons, while L1 releases red eco weapons. R2 hits the turbo boost, and L2 hits the jump jets to get an extra boost in the air.
Controls are tight, and you’ll need it in this game. The combination of boosting during long stretches and powersliding during turns requires some finesse. The PS2 doesn’t have any analog triggers to fine-tune the speed though, and there were a couple of times that it would have been nice to be able to have better control over the speed. Even with that fault, however, Jak X controls extremely well.
As mentioned previously, a group of characters is celebrating the defeat of Krew with a toast. In a last act of vengeance, Krew had poisoned that group with a poison that takes one year to take effect. This forces Jak to become a member of an elite racing team provided by Krew and win the Kras City Race. However, they don’t call it “combat racing” for nothing. Jak dodges, attacks, and speeds to the finish.
Jak X has a couple of modes. Adventure mode follows Jak’s path from the beginning, starting with few vehicles, and working his way up to Kras City Grand Champion. Exhibition lets you race against friends through a two-player split-screen mode or over a LAN. You can also play online with up to six players. The Secrets Shop holds information that was unlocked through purchasing it or from scanning save game files from the original Jak games, Ratchet: Deadlocked, or Daxter for the PSP.
Throughout the game several different races with different objectives become available. Circuit race is the typical race to the finish line. Turbo Dash has Jak pick up Power Cells that shoot off after being charged from the Turbo. Freeze Rally gives Jak a time limit to make a certain number of laps. Picking up Time Freezers stops the clock for a specific number of seconds during the race. Death Race has Jak racing competing laps and destroying drones to get a specific number of points. Rush Hour speeds Jak through heavy traffic. Time trials let you see how fast you can complete a course. In Deathmatch, Jak tries to kill as many drivers as you can in a closed arena. Sport Hunt has Jak tracking down targets in heavy competition and gaining points. Capture finds Jak with other teammates grabbing a power cell and getting it to your base. Artifact Race tests Jak by having Jack look to be the first to get 10 Artifacts. Finally, Assassin randomly has one player chosen to be the target which everyone goes after. The one to kill that enemy becomes the new target.
Progress in Jak X is similar to Burnout 3. Jak races in four different locations. Each location has different races to complete. Completing an event can earn you a bronze, silver, or gold medal. Once certain events are completed, other events in the location are added. Once you earn enough points in one location, you can move on to the next location.
Completing events also gives you other bonuses. After completing an event you are awarded a certain number of points. These points can be spent to increase the Engine for more top speed, Gearbox for faster acceleration, Armor to increase strength, and the Turbo for more turbo capacity. Occasionally new vehicles and new vehicle parts are unlocked as well. This is useful when you are trying to get that gold medal for a specific event. Eventually you can redo that event with the new vehicle.
The races are challenging, but never to the point that you get frustrated with them. The weapons are varied, so you need to employ different strategies with each event, and the type of event you are in. It doesn’t appear that the computer cheats. You may end up back a few places from an attack, but I never felt the computer cheated to get further places. Power sliding and boosting are a crucial to winning events, so learn to use them wisely. Getting hit doesn’t take you out of the race completely, but it will slow you down.
The story mode of Jak X takes a while to get though. Each location takes several hours to complete. Jak X never feels boring because of the variety of the events. Also, getting stuck at a certain event never means that you are stuck there forever since other events can be finished and upgrades to current vehicles can be made, with new vehicles unlocked occasionally.
At first, very little will be opened up as far as cars and tracks go. As you progress through the game, these cars and tracks are opened up. If you buy or rent the game with a buddy and expect to get a large number of tracks and vehicles to use, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is one disadvantage to the game.
The multiplayer options are nice. You not only have LAN options, but online broadband options as well. You can choose the type of event, the location, the number of human and CPU racers, and what kind of vehicles can be used. Clans can be set up and specific slots can be set up for clan slots. Unfortunately, Jak X only supports two players in split-screen mode. Jak X would have been even better if it supported four-player split-screen with the multitap, and its omission is disappointing.