We had a chance to get more hands-on time with Jak X: Combat Racing, thanks to a demo disc sent along to us by Sony's PR department.
The demo disc contains one track and one combat arena, four race types, and one vehicle (Jak's dune buggy). By comparison, the retail version of the game will ship with 24 tracks, 7 combat arenas, 12 customizable vehicles, and a competitive online mode. A note included with the demo mentions that the online mode will include solo play, team play, a ranking system, buddy lists, and a clan organization and messaging system.
Judging from the demo, a good way to describe Jak X: Combat Racing is that it's Mario Kart and Twisted Metal all rolled into one. The steering and physics are fairly realistic–factors such as momentum and oversteer definitely play into how the car handles. But, along with the requisite driving controls, each vehicle also has a nitro tank and two weapon mounts. Capsules littered generously on the course can be picked up to refill the turbo tank and to restock weapons, which are randomly picked goodies such as machine guns, grenades, guided missiles, shields, remote guns, and so on.
Like other games in the genre, winning the race seems to hinge on using the right power-ups… and using them frequently. A couple missiles or a well-aimed grenade will obliterate most vehicles. When a vehicle is blown up out on the track, it takes two or three seconds for it to respawn. That's good when it's them, but bad if it's you. You can expect to meet your own demise at least a few times per race. In order to catch up, you have to grab those nitros and mash the turbo button. Don't see a nitro? Perform a power slide to earn a small nitro refill. And if you see an opponent up ahead and you've got a few missiles or grenades in stock, you absolutely must use them. The CPU is programmed to unload on passers-by. Luckily, there are shield and life recovery items among all the weapon capsules.
The four race types included with the demo are circuit race, deathmatch, deathrace, and artifact race. Circuit race and deathmatch are self explanatory. If you've ever played a kart racing game, you know what to expect. In a circuit race, you're trying to win. In a deathmatch, you're trying to score the highest number of kills. Deathrace is a variation of the circuit race, where you get two minutes to destroy as many unarmed CPU drones as possible before time runs out. Artifact race, meanwhile, is a variation of deathmatch. Instead of getting points for kills, you get points for collecting artifact objects that appear at regular intervals. Much like Mario Kart, medals are awarded for winning races and setting high scores in the deathmatch, deathrace, and artifact race modes. In the retail version of the game, these medals will allow you to unlock new vehicles, drivers, paint jobs, and upgrades.
Personally, out of the four modes, I enjoyed deathmatch the most. There's just something fun about driving around a large, hilly arena unloading on whomever you see. The demo crowns a winner after 10 kills. We've been told that the retail version will have adjustable kill limits and power-up toggles.
Those of you that are sick of kart games that look and sound cartoony will be pleased to learn that Jak X is gritty, detailed, and graphically-intensive. You can actually see the cracks in the pavement as you drive and the expressions on characters' faces as you smack into them. Objects like boulders, statues, and tree limbs can be driven into, smacked into, and busted into tiny pieces… which remain on the track and get knocked around on subsequent laps. The jungle course in the demo is full of trees, streams, and statues… and a pair of high-flying jump ramps that show off the game's near-limitless draw distance. Probably the most impressive thing about the demo was that nothing ever "popped" into view. Whether we were entering a long straightaway or at the apex of a three-story flight, the entire environment up ahead was always clearly visible.
It's difficult to put into words things like music, sound effects, and voice acting, especially when you're evaluating a demo that probably contains one percent of the retail game. We can say, however, that Jak X sure gave our speakers a workout. Naughty Dog has put the PS2's Pro-Logic II capability to good use. Explosions, jungle sound effects, and the bass from the music were erupting from literally every direction. If you're a fan of 3D spatial sound, you won't be disappointed.
All told, Jak X: Combat Racing is shaping up to be one heck of combat-themed racer. The game is scheduled to ship October 25, 2005. Until then, feel free to check out our screenshots .