Reviewed: November 11, 2005
Released: October 18, 2005
Naughty Dog seems bent on taking all of their franchises into the realm of racing, at least once. After putting PS1 mascot, Crash Bandicoot into a kart racer in Crash Team Racing it was only a matter of time before Jak and Daxter met a similar fate.
Jak X: Combat Racing borrows on the story of the existing trilogy and gameplay elements that were introduced in Jak 3; namely the driving portions of that game. Suffice to say, if you didnít like driving those 4WD buggies around in Jak 3 then skip this review and skip the game.
The game opens with a fantastic (and funny as always) movie that has Daxter telling exaggerated tales of their racing exploits to a group of disinterested bar patrons. In a nice visual twist the game intermixes Daxterís storytelling with what appears to be flashbacks of the race, but we soon learn that Jakís speeding through town is happening simultaneously as he crashes into the bar and rescues Daxter from the angered gang members.
The story setup has Jak returning to Kras City for the reading of Krewís will. Krew was the gang boss from Jak II and Jak was the one who killed him so itís just a little odd that he was included. But an unsuspecting Jak ends up at the meeting only to find he and everyone else (Ashelin, Keira, Samos and Torn) has been poisoned and the only way to obtain the cure is to race in the Kras City Grand Championship.
So, itís a race for your life as you take part in more than 100 events spread across 24 tracks, choosing from 12 customizable cars. Tracks wind through jungles, along beaches, through cities, over cliffs, and across snow and ice just to name a few. The cars are reinforced buggies, similar to the designs in Jak 3 but a lot sturdier and with a lot more firepower.
Combat Racing offer a massive story mode as well as the traditional quick race and multiplayer options that allow you to sample the massive array of race modes like; Circuit Race, Turbo Dash, Death Race, Time Trial, Deathmatch, Sport Hunt, Capture, Artifact Race, Assassin, Freeze Rally and Rush Hour.
Controls are simple with analog steering and the X button used for gas and the circle for braking. The shoulder buttons control selecting and firing the various weapons as well as turbo and even a jump, which is more of a bunny hop.
Weapons are a simple enough affair. You run over yellow icons for primary weapons and red icons for special weapons. When you run over any of these icons the various weapons will start to cycle like a slot machine and you select the weapon you want with a tap of the corresponding fire key. Often, this selection can be a bit random during the heat of racing.
Special weapons include an auto-aiming turret that rotates to fire in 360 degrees, mines, grenade launchers, and assorted shields. Primary weapons include machine guns, rockets, and guided cruise missiles just to name a few.
Picking your weapons is an interesting challenge, often determined by your place in the pack of six racers. If you are in the lead you will want shields and rear-firing weapons while forward-firing weapons are useful to blast opponents out of your way to earn the lead.
There are also health icons and blue boost icons scattered about the levels. Boosting is imperative for keeping up with the pack and clearing the massive jumps in many of the levels. These bursts of speed also come into play in the other game modes like racing toward artifacts, and Turbo Dash races will have you holding down the boost button almost the entire race.
Deathmatch has you racing around an open area collecting power-ups much like the race events, only your goal is to blast the competition into oblivion. The racer with the most kills at the end of the timer wins.
Death Race combines the elements of circuit racing and deathmatch by not requiring you to cross the finish line first but rather blow up as many AI racers as you can while going around the track. There are certain scoring goals required to earn the bronze, silver, and gold medals.
The Artifact Race is perhaps my favorite event and blends Deathmatch with capture the flag, but you really arenít required to kill anybody. Pyramid shaped artifacts will randomly spawn around the levels and you must race to that location and drive through the icon to collect it. There are often multiple artifacts on the level, so there is some strategy involved in determining whether to go for the closer one or the one that nobody else is racing towards. All the while youíll be picking up boost icons and the primary and special weapons to blast your opponents before they get the artifacts.
Freeze Rally is one of the more challenging race modes and requires you to complete races under a certain time Ė a time that would be impossible to beat without collecting numerous ďtime freezeĒ icons of various denominations.
Track design is awesome, with two-dozen unique locales that are host to some impressive tracks and arenas, complete with multiple paths, shortcuts, and secrets. Tracks will host numerous race events, and itís amazing to see how the various race modes play out so differently on the same track.
There is a robust customization engine that allows you to trick out your ride between events. You can update your steering, chassis, brakes, and engine as well as several cosmetic options to make your buggy as stylish as it is dangerous.
Youíll need to budget your prize money since later in the game you will be maintaining a garage with multiple cars that all require periodic upgrades to remain competitive. Still, the game doesnít force you to race any particular vehicle so itís easy to fall into a rut of having a favorite vehicle and playing it almost exclusively.
Computer AI isnít terribly smart, but it is quite challenging. The cars all maintain proper racing lines and use weapons aggressively. Much like Mario Kart there is an ďultimate weaponĒ that seeks out the car in first place and hits it. There is no defense other than to not be in first place, which can lead to a bit of tactical strategy, especially on the final lap.
Artistically, the game blends colorful comic-style backgrounds with some detailed car models that really show their stuff when they explode and break apart in fiery crashes, all in slow motion. The game is lightning fast and displayed with a flawlessly smooth framerate, even when the screen is burdened with colored lighting and massive explosions.
The plot is delivered through an ongoing sequence of stunning cutscenes that are as funny as they are gorgeous. The exchange between the sports commentator and his co-anchor, Pecker, are hysterical. There are also numerous plot and character evolving movies that are good enough to serve as rewards for doing well in the races.
Combat Racing supports widescreen and progressive scan but for some reason the game will not save those settings so you have to remember to go back into the options every time you restart the game and turn progressive scan back on, and yes, the game looks infinitely better on an HDTV.
The music blends hard rock, techno, and even some heavy metal to create a Mad Max atmosphere. Oddly enough, there isnít a whole lot of music selection but even after 30 hours of gameplay I canít say I was ever annoyed or even noticed any repetition.
The sound effects are powerful and quite immersive with a Dolby Pro Logic II mix that is THX certified. Speech and voice acting are just as good as always, and Daxter is guaranteed to have you laughing 30-seconds into the opening movie. Thereíll be plenty of other dialogue to keep you laughing after that.
Combat Racing is massive. There are four cup races and each of those includes dozens of races and other challenges, each more difficult than the last. Just completing the game proper will take a week or more of solid gaming, and when you throw in countless upgrades and unlockable bonus items, this is one game that you will be revisiting well into next year.
Jak X is also the first game in the series to go online, supporting up to 6 players at once, so all of these exciting game modes just got a whole lot better. Another first is the ability to link Jak X with the upcoming Daxter for PSP. Synch these two games together for all sorts of unlockable secrets.
Online modes will also allow for two-players locally playing split-screen and online, and with ranking systems, scoreboards, and voice chat for trash talking, this is one of the best online racing games of the holiday season. Hopefully, a lot of people will pick this up so the online community can explode with new racers.
Jack X: Combat Racing blows the doors off traditional race games with some entertaining and challenging games modes that might surprise a lot of conventional racers. There is a bit of luck involved and when skill does factor into the mix itís not always racing skill but more about timing and strategic weapon use.
While I doubt this game can compete with the popularity of racing giant, Burnout: Revenge, Jak X is loaded with more humor, story, and explosive racing action than any other racing game in recent memory. This is easily one of the most addictive games I have played these past few weeks and is a must-own title, especially if you have an online connection.