When Californian studio Naughty Dog veered off from the 3D platformer path and into GTA territory with its second Jak game, it made at least two significant mistakes. First, it thought buzzing around a cityscape in hovercars would be as much fun as hammering around streets in cars (it wasn't - by a yawning margin), and second, it failed to thoroughly playtest its work, resulting in a selection of missions so frustrating in their make-up only the masochistic could find them pleasurable.
Both mistakes have been addressed in this sequel. Though the second game's airborne vehicles make a reappearance (part of the adventure takes place in the old city, now partly ruined thanks to the ongoing war), you spend much more off-foot time romping across desert wastes in a series of splendidly rugged buggies. Such missions involve collecting artefacts, car combat and other pursuits, often against the clock, and prove to be truly worthwhile developments beyond the game's run-and-gun core. And, like the rest of the game, they're never stupidly difficult or drawn out. In fact, if you managed to grind and grimace your way through the previous Jak, this instalment will be a pushover. (It's almost as if Naughty Dog has readied its title for the new wave of very young gamers who'll be receiving PS2s on 25 December.)
But Jak 3's not easy via familiarity; you do not succeed simply by repeating actions over and over to become good at them. Quite the contrary: this is a game that falls over itself to offer up a new twist or turn at every opportunity. Not every style of play is a success, and some variants are under-utilised (a gliding level is over and done with before it really has a chance to get going, for instance), but together the variety of challenges serves as a selection box, albeit one you must consume in a fairly strict order.
Technically, Jak 3 is Naughty Dog doing what it does best: big, solid worlds filled with big, solid enemies. Artistically, it's all those familiar long-ears-and-big-eyes characters and slick cut-scenes dominated by Daxter's increasingly tiresome sidekick schtick. Story-wise, there's the usual series mumbo-jumbo, plus a couple of surprises for those who've followed the previous two games.
So it's all down to how it hangs together to play. Jak's new light form definitely adds more to the experience than his previously explored dark alter ego - indeed, you're forced to use it in certain places, rather than keeping it as a backup plan for when things get particularly hairy - and the variety of gameplay styles is a genuine achievement.
Jak 3 will be released for PS2 on 26 November