“Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (TLF)” has no business being as entertaining as it is. It’s a Sony PSP port for the PlayStation 2, for God’s sake. To an eye accustomed to the PlayStation 3’s rich visuals, TLF’s graphics seem boxy and crude.
And yet, TLF is great fun, with solid gameplay, an interesting storyline, and a surprisingly compelling soundtrack. It features platforming, environmental puzzles, combat, lots of side quests and mini-games, and high-flying aerial missions that have you zooming around in the dogfighting plane of your choice.
TLF is the first game in the franchise to be developed by High Impact Games instead of Naughty Dog, and it has a slightly different flavor and focus than its predecessors. Gone are most of the familiar characters and locales from earlier entries in the series, as our intrepid heroes venture farther afield than ever before.
TLF opens with Jak, Daxter, and Keira (the only other character who has appeared in previous games) searching uncharted territories for eco, an energy source whose current inexplicable absence is creating storms that threaten the world itself. Find more eco, save the world.
As in previous installments, through the course of the game, Jak acquires weapons and abilities that bring a lot of variety to the gameplay. Instead of just retreading old territory with eco-based powers from previous games, however, this game brings a whole slew of new toys, including a weaponized ball of energy you can throw at enemies, temporary eco-crystals you can grow to change your environment at strategic locations, an ersatz jet-pack, and the ability to slow time (okay, that one was from previous games). The weapons are largely familiar, though High Impact Games has added a powerful grenade launcher that ends up being the game’s most useful weapon.
TLF also offers a number of mods, hidden as treasure throughout the levels or available in mini-quests, that allow you to upgrade your armor, weapons, and planes.
While most of the gameplay mechanics are familiar to fans of the series, in TLF, Jak has lost his ability to turn into the eco-powered Dark Jak or Light Jak. To make up for that, you now get some Dark Daxter segments in which Daxter, the fuzzy little sidekick, falls down a tunnel, gets doused with dark eco, hulks out, and has to navigate his own mini-levels. Unfortunately, these sections are the weakest part of the game, with no camera control, dull environments, and no integration into the rest of the story.
Speaking of camera control, the forced camera perspective in several spots in the game is an annoyance, particularly when navigating an especially tricky platforming section, or when you want to look around for extra goodies. Fortunately, some camera control is available most of the time.
TLF has a surprising amount of replay value in Hero Mode, which becomes available once you have finished the game. As you play through the levels again, you may notice environmental cues that you missed the first time through, and that lead you to secret rooms and hidden areas filled with loot. And if you don’t notice them, the game gently clues you in by sending a small, ethereal blue light to guide you to the goodies when you get close enough.
While it shows its PSP origins in its crude visuals and frequent lack of camera control, “Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier” for the PS2 is still more satisfying than many snazzier-looking action-adventure games for the PS3.