I feel like its 1999 all over again. After having three successful character-driven platformers Naughty Dog is now bringing a racing game featuring said characters. They did the same thing with their Crash Bandicoot series on the original PlayStation; of course all four of the previously mentioned games were excellent so taking a trip back is not a bad thing. Thankfully history seems to be repeating itself as Jak X Combat Racing is the most fun I have had with my PS2 in quite a while. Mix a little Twisted Metal with Mario Kart, throw in the characters from the Jak universe and you have an incredibly solid racing title that is even playable online, gentlemen start your engines!
The storyline is of the typical variety; basically Krew has lured Jak & Daxter in to the Kras City Grand Championship by poisoning them with fine vintage and forced them to compete and win for the antidote. Sure it’s been done a thousand times before, but a game like this isn’t supposed to draw its audience with a compelling back story. This game is all about the fast paced action of the racing, of which this game certainly isn’t lacking.
While the storyline may not be imperative Naughty Dog has certainly spent some time on telling it. As you progress through the single-player game you are awarded with superb cut-scenes that nicely progress the story without ever seeming to interfere with the action. The single-player campaign is also massive, spanning four cups with varying degrees of difficulty and sporting tons of challenges to keep you entertained for hours upon hours. Needless to say, if this is Naughty’s last PS2 game, they really are going to go out with a bang.
In addition to the standard single-player experience Jak X offers a bevy of multi-player modes for up to four players split screen or you can even take the action online if you own the Network Adaptor. There are plenty of modes to keep you occupied including Circuit Race, Turbo Dash, Deathmatch, Death Race, Sport Hunt, Capture, Artifact Race, Assassin, Freeze Rally and Rush Hour. There is simply a ton of modes and ways to play Jak X, so I can guarantee there is something for everyone. If all of this wasn’t enough, you will also find a ton of unlockables throughout the game including vehicle upgrades and even new modes of transportation.
The tracks in Jak X are some of the best we have seen in a racing game of this type. Sure you have the usual suspects including the token snow, lava, and jungle tracks, but the best part is that they all possess stand out features and landmarks from the Jak series. The downside though, is that there is very little interaction on the course. Sure there is a shortcut or alternate path here and there, but ultimately there is one path that will almost guarantee victory each time making the others pretty useless.
For me though the biggest problem with Jak X is the rubber-band AI. Gaining the lead early means absolutely nothing, in fact holding the lead most of the race will usually result in a broken controller as just inches from the finish line you watch as your vehicle explodes in slow motion and the computer takes the checkered flag. This is done mostly to keep races close and interesting, but it also frustrates players who spend the time planning strategies only to have them overrun by a cheap last second rocket.
Thankfully this only plagues the racing modes of the game. Taking all of these weapons into say a deathmatch will usually just end up in a frantic fast-paced frag fest, which is what deathmatch is meant to be. While not the most balanced game ever created Jak X does keep you from ever getting too bored or frustrated which is always appreciated in this age of gaming.
Overall Jak X is an extremely solid game, especially online where we experienced little to no lag on almost all types of games. For the PS2 this is a blessing as their online library is lacking outside of a few key titles. With tons of extras to unlock, superb track design, and a truly enjoyable multi-player mode, both online and off, Jak X: Combat Racing is a worthy purchase for fans of the car-combat genre or anyone craving some multi-player action on their PS2. Plus it gives us all a reason to dust off that network adaptor.