Jak X: Combat Racing Preview

We hit the track with Jak and friends in the upcoming combat racer from Naughty Dog.

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Jak X: Combat Racing
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Jak and Daxter's platforming career may be on hold, but their racing career is just getting started. And it's shaping up to be one heck of a start indeed, with all the speed, stunts, crashes, and explosions in Jak X: Combat Racing. Based on our time recently spent with the game, it looks like Jak X could easily be one of the top racers this holiday season.

The game begins with Daxter in a bar in Kras City, telling stories of his and Jak's exploits to a tough-looking group of patrons who keep trying to kill him. Turns out, Jak and Daxter haven't come to this rough-and-tumble town for a vacation. They came to Kras City for the reading of the will of Krew, the recently deceased gang lord. As Daxter is explaining this, we see a really slick intro scene that shows Jak in a violent, crash-filled race against a pack of gangsters, all to the tune of "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire" by Queens of the Stone Age. After all that excitement, Jak and Daxter go to the reading of Krew's will, where they meet up with some familiar characters, including Ashelin, Keira, Samos, and Torn. They also meet Krew's daughter, Rayn.

Before she activates the hologram will, Rayn offers a toast to her father with a special reserve he saved specifically for the occasion. When the reading of the will begins, you learn that Krew's one unfulfilled goal was to win the Kras City Grand Championship race. Krew then explains that the wine the group just consumed was laced with a slow-acting poison. Yes, the evil Krew even poisons his own daughter. The group must win the race in order to receive the antidote, and so begins Jak and Daxter's combat-racing career.

The two main racing modes in Jak X are adventure mode and exhibition mode. In exhibition mode, you can choose an event type, location, number of opponents, and class, and participate in a single race. Adventure mode is a single-player story-progression mode in which you compete in a wide variety of races to unlock prizes like new cars, parts, tracks, and characters.

Jak and Daxter retire from platform adventures to pursue a career in...combat racing? Sure, sounds great!
Jak and Daxter retire from platform adventures to pursue a career in...combat racing? Sure, sounds great!

Adventure mode starts off with a tutorial that will teach you how to drive, shoot, boost, jump, and powerslide like a champ. Upon completing the tutorial, you're given two cars, the quick but flimsy Road Blade and the slow but sturdy Basher. Most of the races are locked in the beginning, so you have to start small and work your way up to the more advanced courses and event types. There are tons of different race types in Jak X, which helps to keep things interesting since each race type requires radically different strategies.

Circuit Races are straightforward races in which you try to be the first person across the finish line. Deathraces have you racing around a track, killing as many drones as possible within a set time limit. In turbo dash races, you'll pick up power cells that you have to charge up by using turbo, and you get points for each power cell you fire. Freeze rally is a timed race in which you can run over colored icons scattered throughout the track to "freeze" the lap timer for 2 to 10 seconds. Rush hour races are similar, except there are colored cars rushing in your direction, and each one you hit adds time to your lap.

In addition to all these track races, there are arena races that take place in large, open stages. There's deathmatch, which simply requires you to get the most kills to win. There's a sport hunt, which has you destroying creatures like huge construction robots. Whoever kills the most wins, but you also have to watch out for other players, who will steal your kills if you don't keep them in line with a few well-timed missiles or grenades. Finally, there's an artifact race, which requires you to race around the level picking up artifacts. Whoever collects the most artifacts within the set amount of time wins the match. Whether you prefer arena races or track races, there's plenty of variety in the game modes to keep you satisfied.

The chaotic combat and breakneck speed of this game make for one exciting racing experience.
The chaotic combat and breakneck speed of this game make for one exciting racing experience.

The stages we played also offered a good deal of variety. The courses are divided up into themed areas, but each course is arranged differently, depending on what kind of event you're participating in. We raced in Spargus, Kras City, Haven City, the Icelands, and in the Grand Prix event. Some of the courses are quite long, taking well over a couple of minutes to complete a lap. There are also shortcuts and branching paths in just about every level, as well as destructible objects like fences and explosive barrels. Some paths are more difficult than others, but are often more rewarding because they offer better pickups and bonuses.

There are also plenty of huge jumps and boost panels on the tracks as well, which definitely adds to the thrill of the race, but the jumps can be treacherous as well. In fact, there's a lot of stuff on each track that will kill you or send you flying off the track. In one level, there are huge cargo transporters moving around and getting in your way; in another level, you have to keep an eye out for giant snowballs that go careening down the mountainside. And this stuff is all piled on in addition to the other racers, who are doing everything they can to destroy you. Needless to say, the races can get pretty chaotic.

Pimp Your Ride

As you race on each course, you'll pick up ecos, which are power-ups that give you weapons, armor, or boost. The green ecos repair your vehicle, the red ones give you rear weapons, yellow ones give you forward weapons, and blue ones fill your boost meter. Depending on the race, you'll have to choose your path based on what you need most, which can be a tough decision since you'll usually need everything. Forward weapons include machine guns, targeted missiles, grenades, and lasers. Rear weapons include mines, oil slicks, smoke screens, shields, and sentry machine guns that will automatically shoot anyone who gets close to you. Mines can also be used as a countermove. When you are targeted by a missile, you can drop a mine to intercept the missile. However, that won't buy you much time because mines only come in packs of one, while missiles are in packs of three. Of course, the weapon characteristics will no doubt be tweaked before the game ships.

You earn orbs during each race, which you can spend to upgrade the performance of your vehicles.
You earn orbs during each race, which you can spend to upgrade the performance of your vehicles.

One of the more important power-ups is boost, which of course makes you go faster, but can also help out when it comes to pulling off crazy powerslides or clearing massive jumps. These tricks aren't just for show, either. At the end of each race, you are awarded points based on your performance. You receive orbs based on your place, kills, hangtime, and powerslide distance. You also lose orbs each time you die.

Orbs are used to purchase upgrades for your cars. Between races you can customize any of your cars by tuning performance, modifying body parts, changing the paint job, and adding or changing accessories. You'll need orbs to upgrade the performance of your cars. You can purchase these upgrades in four categories: engine, for top speed; gearbox, for acceleration; turbo, for boost capacity; and armor, to make your car tougher. However, no matter how much you invest in a certain car, its maximum attributes are predefined, so a car with a maxed-out engine stat won't necessarily be your fastest choice; some cars are just built for different purposes. Luckily, you can have several cars in your garage at a time, so you can keep each one tuned for a specific type of event.

As you complete races, you'll get new cars, characters, and parts. When customizing your car, you can swap out the front fenders, rear fenders, side panels, roof panel, hood, and wheels. These parts won't drastically alter the look of your car, but it's fun to mix and match parts to tweak your look a bit. If you want to go for the Mad Max look, you can remove all the body parts entirely, leaving you with an exposed frame and engine. As you take damage while racing, your car will fall apart realistically, but none of the damage is permanent--so you don't have to worry about breaking the cool new fender kit you just unlocked. In addition to modifying body parts, you can paint your car any color of the rainbow and accessorize it by adding things like a Clank head or fuzzy dice to the end of your antenna.

No matter how you choose to outfit your vehicles, you'll notice that they all look pretty nice. There are stout, bulky cars made for combat, and sleek, low-profile cars built for speed. As mentioned earlier, when the cars take damage you'll notice it cosmetically, though not functionally. When your car is on the brink of exploding, you'll see flames spit out the back, where the fender used to be before some chump behind you tried to take you down with a grenade. When you crash, you'll get a slow-motion crash-cam view of the action. Some of the crashes are pretty spectacular, and it's fun to watch cars disintegrate and burst into flames as they fly through the air or smash into a wall. If you want to get back to the action, though, you can simply press X to skip the crash cam.

If the single-player adventure mode isn't exciting enough, you can take the game online to race with up to six players.
If the single-player adventure mode isn't exciting enough, you can take the game online to race with up to six players.

Aside from the cars, the rest of the game looks pretty nice as well. The sense of speed is great, and it's really satisfying to navigate a tight series of turns at top speed. Add to that a boost gauge and tons of explosions and you have one intense racing experience. Despite all that, though, the frame rate holds up pretty well. We didn't notice any significant slowdown, even when the action was at its most frantic. The environments look colorful and detailed, which is great, but you probably won't have a lot of time to slow down and look at the scenery. The tracks all stick closely to their respective themes, and they feel natural. It feels like Naughty Dog built the tracks into preexisting environments, rather than building the environments around the tracks.

Jak X sounds as good as it looks, too. As we mentioned, the game starts out with a Queens of the Stone Age song; the rest of the music in the game is comparable. The heavy rock beats provide a nice backdrop for the over-the-top speed and destruction of the races. The voice work sounds great too, with all the familiar character voices, as well as a cheesy but fitting announcer who chimes in throughout each race.

Jak X looks like it's coming along nicely. With a bit more fine tuning, it seems like it will offer a brand new experience for Jak fans, while retaining the same quality and attitude that the series is known for. Stay tuned for more details before the game ships next month. Until then, be sure to check out the recently posted screens and movies from the game.

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