Review by Aaron_Haynes
"Top-notch form and function, but missing something crucial. It's boring in spite of its quality."
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy is a bright, colorful, well-made action/adventure game. The voice acting is sharp, the character designs are top-notch, the platforming physics are solid and fun, it's polished and professional....and boring.
By all rights, it shouldn't be. But by the time you've hunted down your 54th scout fly and 312th precursor orb and seen one of those congratulatory power cell animations for the 39th time, it has all the appeal of document collating. It's doodad farming on methamphetamines, and while the gamer generation has been trained to feel that Pavlovian thrill when collecting meaningless objects, it wears off under the weight of hours of bell-ringing. All the mechanics are here, everything should click, it just doesn't seem to have that crucial piece that makes us care.
We open on an archetypal fantasy world littered with the ruins of a race who came before our present-day elf-monkeys. When I say littered, I mean there's Precursor junk everywhere, ruined towers and cities and machines packed as densely as the wood huts of our less advanced civilization. Our wise old expository character is Samos the sage, who's interested in studying and learning about the precursors. He talks at length about how awesome and mysterious they are, but the sheer amount of material available to him resembles an archaeological dig in a combination dinosaur museum/tropical paradise. It's kind of weird that no one's found out more than the player by this point, who learns about the precursors by jumping around and hitting buttons. I think you are never out of line-of-sight with some piece of Precursor technology or another in the entire game; wouldn't these villages be built further away, or some of this stuff cleared out? Who builds a city in and around the ruins of an older city? But I digress.
With the archetypal fantasy world comes archetypal fantasy concepts, and the mysterious energy "eco" fits the bill perfectly. Different colors affect Jak in different ways, changing the gameplay mechanics accordingly: blue makes you faster, yellow gives you projectiles, green refills your health, and red...well, red's kind of useless, to be honest. There's also dark and light eco, which are mostly plot-oriented (dark will kill you if you touch it during gameplay). It's the dark stuff that begins the adventure, transforming human sidekick Daxter into furry animal sidekick Daxter during the opening cutscene.
The master plot is fairly simple, discover what happened to the sages and turn on a bunch of precursor devices, and hope that the dark sage can change Daxter back to human (well, the characters do, I don't think any of the players prefer human Daxter...he's just odd). Samos's daughter Keira serves as quest-giver for the player and proto-love-interest for Jak, and along the way you meet a number of exaggerated characters who just so happen to need favors for which they're willing to trade power cells, the currency to advancing the game. And so you go from section to section of the game, collecting all manner of objects that eventually are traded in for power cells, opening new areas where you do it all over again.
The problem here is twofold: first, seeing Jak and Daxter do a little dance upon getting a power cell gets old quickly when you begin to realize it's the only real reward you get for progressing through the game, because second, almost every cutscene in the game is an excuse for a character to give you a new "collect more doodads" task. The two sequels would put you in the middle of a dystopian rebellion and galactic struggle and give you incremental tasks that made you feel like you were making a difference. But The Precursor Legacy is unfocused, single-mindedly devoted to its precious collectible trinkets, and the plot scraps it throws you amount to "a complication happened and now we need even more". For a game as good-looking as this was in 2001 (the character models and animation have aged considerably compared to the sequels), your role in working through it feels thankless. Even the ending revolves around how many objects you've collected, ending on a truncated "hmm, guess we don't have enough to use this machine" moment if you didn't 100% the game.
In a form and function sense, this is a good game, but it comes at a nexus between simple, non-linear goal-oriented fun (e.g. Mario 64) and more narrative/player task integration (Jak 2 and 3), and it suffers by not taking advantage of that approach. It has the cutscenes and characters, but they feel more like ciphers that exist to tell you what to do next. The snarky character interaction feels like pretense for telling you how many doodads to collect to fix the doodad machine to get to doodad mountain and find the next collection of doodads and ultimately defeat Emperor Doodad. The Precursor Legacy is an especially appropriate title; the game feels like a prototype for the real adventures to come.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 12/06/11
Game Release: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (US, 12/03/01)
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