I got the chance to sit down and play Jak and Daxter (a year-old PS2 3D platforming evolution of Super Mario 64) over several days (while out of town). A funny thing happened. I got sucked into the world inside the game. I forgot about stress and pressure and self. It took me back to the 'good old days' of gaming, when a game like Secret of Evermore, or Metroid, or Link's Awakening could cast a spell on me.
I've been in such a competitive bend the last few years with my Unreal Tournament stint. I actually started to think that a game was pointless if it wasn't a contest, online, against other strong players.
Jak and Daxter is a fine game, and here's why.
I never ONCE felt like throwing the controller while playing this game. I 'died' plenty of times. But it wasn't no big thing. Nobody 'killed' me, nobody used juvenile taunts to question my skill and/or manhood. I just touched a button and instantly I was playing again. The game was extremely patient.
The game is gorgeous. Okay, the graphics don't really compare in realism or impact to, say, UT2K3 on my brother's Radeon 9700 Pro, or even in grandeur to a map like CTF-Face (with the big blue earth making its trip around the sky) in UT on my old Voodoo 5. It's not even in the same league as Halo. None of that matters. I always felt that 32-bit 3D games were somewhat graphically flawed, in a distracting way, but that's not so with the new machines in general and this game in particular. It's beautiful. It's sublime. I liked it so much I wanted to eat the textures. At one point I actually sat down on Sentinel Beach for an entire 'day' (about twenty-three minutes) and just watched the sun rise twice and cast brilliant sunbeams on the huge cliffs behind me. Numerous other times I just stopped to admire the vast variety of spectacles and the ear and eye candy around me.
The game is immersive. What's the opposite of jaded? Whatever it is, I'm it. This game immersed me in its simple world more than any 3rd-person game ever has. The continent you explore is enormous. It never stops to load. And here's the clincher: at times you can see very distant parts of the world, and you can get to ANYWHERE you can see. The control is also extremely responsive and gratifying. And that old concept of 'gameplay'? Excellent gameplay, with multitudinous tasks, quests, modes, and variety.
The game is non-competitve. I didn't feel like I had to live up to anyone's standards, or like I had to make sure every shot was on the money, or like I had to be sure not to let my team down. It was so refreshing! Man, I truly *forgot* about this part. Online FPSs are not the end-all be-all of gaming.
You can pause the game at any point, even during cut-scenes. You can SAVE the game at any point, though it also has a mechanism for saving your progress for you as you go. As I said, there was zero load-time, and no trouble with lag or Windows or bugs. I got to play while lying on a bed, eating cold applesauce doused in liberal amounts of cinnamon and sugar. It was dynamic, compelling, beautiful, engrossing, polished, cohesive, and above all, a very enjoyable way to escape for a few hours a day.
This isn't really a review of Jak and Daxter, though. It's a review of games like it--it could have been the equally great Sly Cooper or Vice City or probably alot of games of different genres on different systems. But J&D is the one I happened to play. To sum it all up, I've missed games. Simple games that are personal and played for the innocent joy of moving the controller fobs and making things happen on the screen in an inviting virtual world.
I have a TV. It's a small one, mind you. It is an LCD TV measuring 10 inches diagonally. It doesn't do Progressive Scan or high-def (best is 480i), it's not wide, it doesn't have Component inputs (S-Vid is the best it has). It is extremely thin and light and eminently portable and the screen is razor-sharp and very high contrast. I loaned it to my mother, but I think I can get it back, and I think it will be fine for my purposes. I can use my good Sony headphones for sound.
I still have a PS1 and an SNES. But I kinda want something new (even though there are about a hundred great games on those I haven't played). After doing some research (reading back, mostly for the first time, through the last eighteen months of EGM and Game Informer), I've decided that the GameCube is the best system for me. The PS2 is close, and has some awesome games (FFX, Vice City, Ratchet, Gran Turismo 3, etc.). The X-Box has its merits, and Halo is still unbelievable. I can't really spring for a powerful PC right now, and part of the small revelation I'm writing about here involves the fact that I want to play, basically, 'console' games (though that almost sounds like a vulgar term, like 'game appliance'... and Freedom Force was a genuinely fun little game). But the GC has Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime, Starfox, and even that cartoony Zelda game which I'm warming up to a little, not to mention great third-party support.
But frankly, it's the fact that they're releasing a $40 add-on for the GC that lets you play all Game Boy Advance (and GB Color) games on a TV (so you can actually see the game) and sound system with the GC controller that pushes it over the edge for me. Because there are just alot of good new GBA games with classic 2D gameplay that I'd love to relax with--Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, Yoshi's Island, Lunar Legends, Metroid Prime, Advance Wars, and more on the way (Kid Icarus Advance and Earthbound, for instance), as well as a few old Game Boy Color games I wouldn't mind picking up (Zelda: Oracle of Ages foremost among them).
As I get entrenched in my final (and most rigorous) year of school (at least for my Bachelor's degree), having an escapist game or two to play for an hour or two a few choice times a week could be just the thing to keep me sane...