Even though Naughty Dog may be more concerned with new franchises, that hasn’t stopped High Impact Games, responsible for Secret Agent Clank and the PS2 port of Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters, from taking it upon themselves to continue the Jak and Daxter franchise Naughty Dog created back on the PlayStation 2. If there’s anything the PSP could use, it’s a good platformer, and the Jak franchise seemed like the perfect candidate. Unfortunately, thanks to a lackluster story, extremely repetitive gameplay, and wonky camera issues, Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier does little to convince you this type of game is enjoyable on a PSP.
While it’s true the Jak series hasn’t exactly been known for its engaging and intricate story, Lost Frontier’s plot is shoddy even at its best moments. Apparently, Jak, Daxter, and Kiera are flying around trying to find a solution to the world running out of Eco. Along the way, you’ll meet up with sky pirates, amnesiac scientists, and discover the secrets of Dark Eco. There are a few twists, concerns about Eco, some decent one-liners, romance, concerns about Eco, mystery, and intrigue, but despite High Impact’s best efforts, none of it is particularly engaging. Have I mentioned that there are concerns about the dwindling supply of Eco? At nearly every turn, you’ll be reminded that your goal is to find more Eco, or acquire the means to finding more Eco. Listen, it was pretty clear from the beginning that the whole quest this time around was going to revolve around resolving the world’s Eco issues. Beating players over the head with needless exposition that only serves to fill up space since it’s not telling us anything new is not just annoying, it’s a bit insulting. Even if the person playing the game is in a younger age bracket, I’m sure that they’ll be able to comprehend the dilemma at hand. Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh, as the actual character moments in the story aren’t all that bad. There’s just nothing particularly memorable about the plot, and that could have helped this title stand out just a bit more.
Lost Frontier’s gameplay is easily broken down into three segments. The game starts out with some basic platforming where you’ll play as Jak. Gone are the Dark Eco powers given to the character in previous installments, and in their stead are a ton of new powers you learn from Precursor Idols scattered across the game at key locations. Jak will be able to slow time, create new platforms to access otherwise inaccessible areas, or jump higher, to name just a few of the powers you can earn. With those abilities also comes the opportunity to gain bonus upgrades by trading in Dark Eco to earn upgrades like stronger melee attacks, additional health bar spots, and faster power recharge. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that earning all the minor upgrades on one playthough would be impossible, there are so many that you’d have to spend way too much time grinding in locations you’d already beaten to earn enough Eco. Jak’s also got a multi-tool staff, which can earn gun upgrades like a shotgun or machine-gun attachment. The combat is pretty decent when the camera doesn’t get in your way, but the lack of a lock-on or the ability to strafe makes larger conflicts a bit of a struggle. You’ll constantly find yourself having to run away from a group of enemies just so you can turn around to aim at them properly. It becomes a bit tedious after the first few hours of the game. As do the flying portions.
Somewhere along the line in the development process, someone decided it would be a good idea to implement flying combat segments into Lost Frontier. I’m not saying that person should be fired, but perhaps everyone else at High Impact would do well to not listen to that person anymore. The flying controls well enough. You’ve got machine guns and missiles linked to the bumpers, and evasive maneuvers tied to the d-pad, and everything actually works the way it should. The big problem with the flying levels is that they go on for way too long, and they don’t do enough to differentiate themselves from one another. The stand-out flying level which really put me over the top in my distaste for flying was a mission where I had to disable three massive turrets, each with a handful of smaller turrets. Not only do you have to take out all three turrets once, but you’ll also have to take them out a second and third time, with the only difference being an increasing amount of opposition. Thankfully the game makes use of plenty of checkpoint auto-saves so I didn’t have to restart the whole thing every time I died. Which, for the record, was a lot.
No Jak and Daxter game would be complete without a few levels devoted to playing as Daxter, and in that regard Lost Frontier keeps the tradition alive. The Daxter portions, however, are responsible for some of the least exciting moments in gaming this year. Occasionally, in what has to be one of the most ridiculous interactive loading screens ever, Daxter will slide down a sewer pipe full of Dark Eco, and land in some creature infested power plant beneath the area he and Jak were previously exploring. Once there, he’ll have to flip a bunch of switches to unlock doors and throw spiders, which explode into webs when they land, in order to traverse “huge” gaping holes in the ground, and throw Dark Eco at enemies. There’s not really much more to it than that, and other than serving as a reason to break up the more interesting and fun Jak platforming, there’s little reason these sections should exist. They’re not difficult. They’re virtually indistinguishable from one another. Most importantly, they’re just poorly implanted distractions to lengthen the game instead of making it a more complete experience. I actually may have liked this game more had these levels not been included at all.
The most redeeming quality of the game comes in its presentation. Graphically, the game doesn’t really compare to something like God of War: Chains of Olympus, but Lost Frontier is certainly no slouch either. The worlds are varied, the colors vibrant, and the characters all well modeled. Though the sound design is a little spotty, the voice work is very good, and the cut scenes are extremely well done. Facial animations in particular are strong, even though there isn’t much detailing, and there’s a surprising amount of NPCs populating many of the game’s locales. They don’t do much other than walk around, but they’re there nonetheless. Depending on how many of the Precursor orbs you find, you’ll be able to earn some secret unlocks like Big Head mode or a goatee for Jak. Collecting them all will take you quite a while, and you’ll at least get some mild enjoyment out of searching for them. There are some side quests in the game, which will help earn you even more orbs, but once you realize they’re basically the same over and over again, you’ll grow tired of them quickly.
I wish Lost Frontier had been better, only so that more platforming games with my favorite forgotten characters could get made. Sadly, due to the lack of a compelling narrative, the frustratingly boring gameplay, and the poor camera, Lost Frontier becomes a forgettable experience almost immediately after playing it. Perhaps coming out so close to LittleBigPlanet PSP is a good thing. Now you know you’ll be able to use your money for that game instead.