It’s hard to dislike the concept of an HD collection. Even if the cynic in you screams “it’s a cash-in” every time you hear about another trilogy getting the HD treatment, there is very little to hate. At times when a developer makes absolutely no effort (for example, the Splinter Cell Trilogy from Ubisoft) with the compilation, you still end up with a set of great games that look good and come at a price that is cheaper than the average six-hour military shooter made today. And if you have never played those games, then it becomes an absolute no brainer.
So we have the Jak trilogy. If you’ve never played any of these in the PS2 era, you are in for a bit of a surprise, especially if you play through them chronologically. Naughty Dog weren’t afraid to experiment, and the first and third games almost feel like different genres. My journey through the series on the PS2 was in random order (2 followed by 1, and then 3); the order wasn’t really dictated by choice, but by availability. And having played it chronologically now, it’s amazing to see how the series evolved to reflect gaming as a whole last gen.
Built on a similar blueprint to Super Mario 64, Jak and Daxter had you collecting power cells (instead of stars) while navigating through different mini worlds. To access certain areas, you need a specific amount of power cells. Plus, there are some interesting progression options involved. If you accomplish a specific task in one area, it opens up navigation options in other areas. It might not sound like much, but it’s an excellent example of doing the basics right and ending up with an amazing game. Aside from minor camera issues, there isn’t much to complain about as it is bright, colourful, charming and one of the best platformers on the PS2.
The second game takes the series in an entirely different direction. Ditching the platformer collect-a-thon for an action-adventure setting, the game is like a mixture of Ratchet and Clank and GTA (which had just become a phenomenon at that time). The story becomes complicated and the tone takes a darker turn. Gone is the colourful playfulness of the first game; we are now down to serious business. Nowhere is this reflected more than in Jak himself. From a happy-go-lucky guy, Jak becomes an angsty, reluctant cliche hero.
Replaying Jak 2 is an odd experience. I really quite liked the game the first time I gave it a go, but trying to play it again now, the whole game reeks of a developer trying too hard to ride on the coattails of GTA. Filled with annoying driving sections, bad combat, a poor checkpoint system, and dull mission design, the game feels like the perfect example of a sequel trying to chase a bigger audience and ditching what made it good at the core. Daxter adds some much needed charm and humour to the game, but it’s still a mixed bag to put it mildly.
The third game continues down this path and now the series is firmly in the action-adventure camp. Thankfully, it’s a far more refined outing than Jak 2. The driving sections are almost the central focus of the game, but the driving itself is leagues ahead of Jak 2. The checkpoint system is also slightly more forgiving and the difficulty a little more manageable. The combat feels a little more fluid, but it’s still not in the league of Ratchet and Clank. It might not be as good a game as Jak and Daxter, but it’s an improvement on Jak 2.
The changes in gameplay in the second and third game also bring about some annoying design flaws. The camera becomes an almost consistent problem, especially in the parts where the series tries to be a third-person shooter. The games lack the fluency of the Ratchet and Clank series when it comes to controls. Instead, you are stuck with an auto-aim system that is finicky at best and unreliable at worst. And while open world might seem like a good idea at first, navigation through it is clumsy and annoying, especially when all you want to do is pick up a mission or report that its finished.
It also brings up an interesting point. Should HD collections present the games as they were or should they be used to fix the flaws those games had? The Jak series has always had camera issues and it gets worse as the series progresses. Something a simple “center camera” button could have helped with immensely. The games also come from a generation where asking for regular checkpoints made you a sissy and some parts will make you want to put your controller through the TV screen. Generally, I am against altering classics (and I use that term loosely for the last two games of the series), but surely these small alterations could have been made without changing the core feeling of the game too much.
What the HD collection does change is the visual fidelity. As a direct comparison, the only game I still have from the trilogy on the PS2 is Jak 3 and running that on an HDTV, I honestly think the PS2 version holds up incredibly well. I am fairly certain the same should be the case for the other two games. That is not to say the visual upgrades are pointless. They indeed give the game a facelift, but games that rely on art style instead of realism always seem to look good regardless of resolution. Having said that, the first Jak game has some incredible vistas and some of the cutscenes from Jak 3 look absolutely gorgeous in HD.
The frame rate seems rock solid and I didn’t run into any issues with it. The audio is also perfect. For those that have a 3D capable TV, the game also supports that. There is Trophy support too with each gaming having its own Platinum trophy. Loading times are minimal and technically there is very little to complaint about. As far as HD collections go, it’s a decent effort. What is missing though is any extra content aside from the games. There are no “making of” videos, no artwork to unlock, etc. You get the games and that is it. Some bonus features might have added to the collectible value of the series, but its sadly missing.
That brings us back to the original point. Even with the bare minimum effort, I still have a hard time not recommending this. If you haven’t played the Jak series before, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t pick this up. Personally, Jak and Daxter alone would justify a full price tag. If you have played them before, it offers little in the way of collectible value, but it’s still worth dipping into again for the sheer nostalgia.