Jak X: Combat Racing Preview
By: Andy Levine

With the conclusion of the Jak and Daxter adventure series in November of 2004, fans of the lovable duo were left out in the dark—until now. The tag-team is back with Jak X: Combat Racing, an arcade-style racing game filled with high-speed chases, deadly explosions and, of course, Daxter’s big mouth. Expanding on some of the driving elements seen in Jak 3, Jak X pits the gamer in a series of races stationed throughout a variety of beautiful environments for one hell of an exciting ride!

Jak X: Combat Racing is far from your typical racing game, instead it is filled with zany features and adrenaline inducing speeds that easily puts it in its own bracket. In most of the race modes, the various weapons scattered across the game world are the most essential part of the race. Even if an opponent can virtually taste victory, a heat-seeking missile or surprise landmine could easily put him at the end of the pack. The two basic grouping of weapons are distinguished by their color; yellow pickups include projectiles that can be launched forward, while the red pickups will certainly cause danger to those racers in your rearview mirror. The yellow weapons include lock-on missiles, and machine-gun ammunition—and during circuit races it’s even possible to unleash a storm of fury on all racers ahead of you. The red pickups involve landmines, releasing a smog-type gas, shields and, in the deathmatch mode, you can also deploy turrets!

Considering all the available weapons you can come across during an entire race, it is hardly fair to consider Jak X as just another racing game. However, it does still contain its fair share of in-depth driving elements, including the 12 fully customizable cars that can be unlocked throughout the game’s story mode. Just like the previous Jak titles, the storyline here will be well played out through the entire course of the game with over 45 minutes of cinematics between races. PSP owners will also have something to rejoice over if they decide to purchase the upcoming release Daxter for their handheld device. Jak X: Combat Racing will be able to interface with Daxter, and the PSP will unlock exclusive game content for PSP owners. With all of these features and more in the final release of Jak X, gamers everywhere can be certain that this title will be something to talk about.

In our preview build, there were four different race modes that varied slightly from each other. The first one we tried was the seemingly typical Circuit mode—or so we thought. The general mechanics appeared much the same as in any other circuit mode; the first person to complete a certain number of laps deemed the race victor. However, these races aren’t exactly carried out in the same manner as most others. From the start, engines are revved up as racers battle to pick up the initial selection of turbo boosts just around the first bend. Turbo boost are gained by soaring high off a jump or by smoking your tires in a power slide, but sometimes picking up turbo boosts will also help solve maneuverability issues. Using the regular brake doesn’t come in handy too much, but using the emergency brake to power slide around corners to gain a turbo boost for instant acceleration can be much more effective. The courses contain shortcuts that be can used, obviously, to shorten the overall distance traveled. Before you get all excited, the computer A.I. knows a thing or two about the environment too, and as a result you can expect to see a proliferation of landmines throughout the shortcuts. Weapons are abundant in any level, and it can sometimes be frustrating to be winning a race by a wide margin only to suddenly find a nuclear warhead screaming up behind you. Still, using the proper jumping and turbo techniques can protect you from even the most perilous of situations. Overall, the circuit mode is simply a blast that novice and hardcore gamers alike will thoroughly enjoy.

The other racing mode available was the Artifact race. Two artifacts at a time are placed randomly within a battle arena, and the first person to collect ten artifacts is the winner. The best part about this mode is that there is never a designated path, so the free-roaming possibilities for racing chaos are endless. Having two artifacts available at a time helps to solve issues of crowding, but if there is ever a need to clear some space then the weapons will always come in handy. To make things even more interesting, the terrain isn’t just a wide-open plain allowing artifacts to be obtained easily, but instead there are many environmental obstacles. Often, it will take the performing of an astounding leap over a river canyon, or the brave navigation of a hidden cave in order to be first to the artifact. Luckily, most objects in the world are destructible, so you won’t have to worry about any inanimate objects getting in the way of your artifact racing.

The other two modes, Deathmatch and Death Race, involve the use of heavy artillery. The death matches take place in arenas, just like in the artifact races, except moving from point to point is no longer necessary. Instead of rewarding the player who survives the longest, Jak X rewards the player with the most kills. The first player to obtain ten kills by any means available wins the gold medal. By incorporating enough brute force to your strategy, while still saving up some turbo to avoid missiles, you can prove yourself a success in this action-packed mode. The Death Race mode is fairly uncommon to mainstream videogames, but we can assure you that the developers, Naughty Dog, have done an excellent job here. In such races, target cars infinitely spawn in front of the racer as he uses missiles and his mini-gun turret to blow all of them to pieces. These races take place on a regular circuit track, and the racer must maintain a consistently fast pace or the targets will simply drive away. In order to obtain the gold medal, hundreds of targets must be destroyed in only a matter of minutes. As a result, you can expect both death matches and death races to be filled with bountiful explosions.

Like any other game in the Jak and Daxter series, Jak X: Combat Racing carries an impressive production value. The graphics are visually stunning; it’s still hard to believe the PS2 is capable of creating something this gorgeous. The environments are amazingly detailed with vibrant colors that create a lifelike atmosphere. Even minor details, such as swaying grass ridges in a cliff, add an unparalleled sense of realism. As if all of this isn’t enough, the lighting effects are also incredibly accurate; seeing the sunrise over the horizon on a coastal map was a truly memorable moment on the battle arena. Special weapon effects and the ensuing explosions are teeming with glowing colors that are shocking to witness. In addition, there are no rough edges to speak of, the character models exude an authentic cartoon appearance, and the game plays steadily with absolutely no notable frame rate drops. The sound here is also top notch, and you can still expect to hear the obnoxiously cute voice of Daxter as he gets himself into a bunch of messy situations. The vehicle engines have a believable roar, but the key feature here also pertains to the explosions. A rapidly approaching missile will declare its prominence before turning your ride into a massive fireball. Hearing the crackle of the fire that was once your car is eerily satisfying, but trashing someone else is much more rewarding. Tons of humorous moments can also be found in Jak X, but the most noticeable parts include the character and announcer commentary during races, which are sure to brew up a few laughs. Overall, the audio and visual presentation in Jak X: Combat Racing will clearly set the standards for future racing games.

Even though we weren’t able to try the online play for up to 6 people, the split-screen chaos was certainly enough to impress. The same game modes were all available, except this time around the A.I. can be replaced with a friend. The multiplayer experience is just as fun, if not better, than the single-player campaign. Holding a local party filled with nonstop exploding mayhem is sure to be a hit, but the online mode is also going to be incredible. Voice communication will be available for the online mode as well, so the trash talking doesn’t have to stop within the confines of your household. Taking the havoc of Jak X racing and allowing for multiple human opponents is definitely a surefire recipe for success.

In conclusion, Jak X: Combat Racing clearly deserves to be a highly anticipated arcade driving title for the PS2 this fall. With its breakneck speeds, innovative gameplay, and astonishing presentation value, it will be difficult for any gamer not to enjoy this title. You can expect Jak X: Combat Racing to hit store shelves October 25th, 2005.