Jak X: Combat Racing Updated Hands-On

We spend some time with Naughty Dog's fast and furious entry in the Jak series.

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Who doesn't love tearing along at high speeds and blowing stuff up? And who doesn't like seeing old friends again? Such is the case with Jak X: Combat Racing, the latest entry in Naughty Dog's character-driven action franchise. Now, while you may think that the racer offers a massive change for the series, Jak X actually shares a good deal in common with its platforming precursors. We had the chance to clock some time with a work-in-progress version of the game and even duel some of the Naughty Dogs online to get a feel for what the game has to offer.

Online games promise to be fiercely competitive.
Online games promise to be fiercely competitive.

We've already covered the major bullet points of what Jak X has to offer--a rich single-player story mode with more than a hundred different missions, as well as unlockable content and a robust online mode--and this latest version shows that the game is still headed in a positive direction. The pacing of the single-player game has been tweaked to make it a smooth ride to help ease you into the experience. The online modes have undergone some balancing to keep the various race types you can participate in accessible. More importantly, the overall functionality in the menus has been streamlined to make it easy to hop into matches and set up groups.

The control has been tightened to give the game an "easy to pick up, tough to master" aesthetic. However, regardless of your skill level you'll find a good assortment of race types, from event-style games that find you competing individually or in groups to collect items, to traditional races that require you to outrace your competition. From the look of things right now, the game is coming together quite nicely.

The visuals have seen some impressive refinements since the last time we got our hands on the game. The default camera angle has been tweaked to make keeping track of your surroundings easier. The special effects used for the various weapons and speed boosting have been cranked up several notches and are a fine showcase for Naughty Dog's mad skills on the PlayStation 2. We're especially impressed by the borderline obsessive-compulsive attention to detail on the cars. If you're of the mind to scrutinize the cars, it's likely you'll appreciate the assorted little touches--such as the suspension and deformation on the vehicles--that, realistically speaking, didn't have to be in the game. The environments are of the same level of quality as the vehicles. At first blush you'll be impressed by their sheer scale, but after you spend some time tooling around them, you'll notice nooks and crannies to explore as well as a satisfying amount of interactivity.

The environments are detailed enough that you'll wish you had time to explore them.
The environments are detailed enough that you'll wish you had time to explore them.

The audio is a mix of rocking tunes that are what you'd want out of a racer like Jak X. The music is fast and matches the action well. The in-game voice acting is of the same high standard the series has stuck to since its beginning, and Daxter has thankfully been taken down several notches on the annoyance scale. During the online multiplayer games the voice chat works reasonably well already, although Naughty Dog offered the expected caveat that the game was still being tweaked for the best performance possible. The effects for your ride and the assorted weapons are well done and offer a satisfying kick that complements the action.

Based on what we played, Jak X looks very promising. The meaty story mode and customization options should give you plenty to dig into. The addition of the online multiplayer component should keep the action good and fresh long after you've dug through the offline single-player mode. If you're a fan of the series or are just looking for a change of pace, you'll want to keep an eye out for Jak X when it ships this fall.

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