Review by DragonShadow
"The culmination of everything great about gaming, past and present."
Jak II: The culmination of everything great about gaming, past and present.
I skipped over Jak and Daxter when it was released, despite rave reviews. Overall it was still billed as a “wander around and collect stuff” game, and I didn’t care for that. No matter how good the gameplay is, if there’s nothing exciting or engaging in it, then I’m just not interested. When reviews and news started leaking about Jak II, it piqued my interest instantly. I argued with myself over whether to get this or Megaman X7 (I’m a long-time diehard Megaman fan) but ultimately this won out, and I haven’t regretted it for an instant.
It’s impossible to overstate what an achievement the graphics really are. Pixelization is nonexistent, polygonal edges are nowhere to be found, even flat surfaces are pretty hard to find amid the insanely complex world that they’ve created for Jak II. I swear the characters are built like Soul Calibur 2 characters (in their own style, of course), they’re that darn detailed and smooth. Graphical smoothness is a hallmark of next-gen games though. Other games have done this as well as Jak 2 has… Super Mario Sunshine or Xenosaga for instance. Where this game surpasses all others is the animation quality. Cutscenes are numerous and completely animated. And I do mean COMPLETELY. Every other game has instances where the characters simply talk to each other without moving their bodies, or they use stock “mouth movements” to simulate some kind of weird anime kind of look (which in reality is just a gaming shortcut so they don’t have to simulate each individual word). There’s none of that here. All speech is completely mouthed by the characters, and they’re always in motion. Their body movements and mannerisms speak about their personality as much as their words and overall look. The mouth movements themselves are exceptional in that the lips are completely accurate in mouthing the words, and their lips and jaws even move independently depending on what they’re saying. You can actually see if they’re pronouncing an “e” or an “a” it’s so darn detailed. It’s not just their mouths either. Their eyes and eyebrows animated smoothly to create amazingly realistic facial expressions. You can see exactly, and easily, how they’re feeling (and what they’re thinking) just by looking at their faces. Not since “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” have I seen facial expressions this good (and this game has the advantage of being on a system with double the power of the N64). Even outside of cutscenes, the city is amazingly intricate (as are the stages), there’s no popup whatsoever, the vehicles you “commandeer” (as the instructions put it. Most people say “steal”) show physical damage and eventually start burning, the game almost never slows down (there are some instances if you make a REALLY quick turn, but otherwise the game doesn’t seem to lag at all even if there’s more than a dozen Krimson Guards and citizens onscreen at the same time), and the animations for Jak and Daxter in action are completely smooth and as detailed as the rest (the jetboard is a good example of this. If you ride on a slanted surface with it, Jak will lean to the side so that he’s still vertical while his legs slant to perfectly match the surface he’s riding on. Even the Tony Hawk games themselves never did that). And all this on the weakest system on the market. I never liked Crash Bandicoot, but now I have a whole new respect for Naughty Dog. They’ve surpassed everything else on the PS2 released to date (and probably for a year or two to come)
Every line in the game is completely voiced by a real professional voice actor. I have yet to hear a voice that didn’t fit with the character, or a line that was delivered with no feeling. You can tell how fast you’re going on the vehicles simply by listening to the engine, every surface has its own walking sounds, each gun has a unique blast, every sound in the game is Hollywood quality, just like the voices. Even bottles smashing against the floor sound perfect. The music seems rather forgettable however, which is why I gave this a 9 rather than a 10.
They work very well for a platformer… but this is so much more than a platformer that extra controls are required that are just not there. The ability to lock on to enemies would make certain boss battles FAR easier, but as it is you have to handle the camera as much as you handle your gun. And you can’t even shoot in first-person mode. This would be a big help when trying to take advantage of a gun’s long range. I don’t know why they didn’t take some cues from the Tony Hawk games for the Jetboard controls. I’m a big TH fan and in that game triangle is grind… yet here it’s square. I can’t name how many times I’ve come up to a rail just to shoot past it because I hit the wrong button. Would it have been so hard to make it easier on us and make triangle grind? Going back to the camera, it functions well enough most of the time, but it’s not quite maneuverable enough. A Megaman Legends 2 style camera scheme would have made it far simpler. They’re halfway there anyway, just make down and up on the right control stick move the camera up or down instead of in or out. I can’t see any reason for anyone to zoom in anyway except to appreciate the work Naughty Dog put into the character models. That’s about all of my gripes on the game’s controls. Others complain about the handling of the vehicles, but I’ve never had too much trouble. Just don’t jam the button down all the way and they’re plenty maneuverable enough to get around the city without much hassle.
Varied with many different elements… usually a recipe for mediocrity, but here’s the surprise… it WORKS. Tasks range from protecting others who are making their way through the city and rescuing someone trapped outside the city, to picking up various things around town and destroying crates with your Jetboard. Everyone talks about how much like Grand Theft Auto it is, and indeed it’s true, but there’s one HUGE improvement over Grand Theft Auto. An improved mini-map. Instead of telling you which way your goal is, it will actually direct you along the shortest route to your destination. This cuts down immensely on the frustration factor of searching for a road to that place that’s just on the other side of the friggen wall. It’s fast, furious, fun, and quite challenging even to an experienced gamer. This is old school gaming beefed up with more modern gameplay mechanics. It’s an amalgam of everything that has ever made gaming great over the years, a testament to everything that you’ve ever been addicted to in a video game. It’s the future of gaming, breaking genre barriers and just being one furiously fun game.
The story thus far has been pretty interesting, but while the main story is quite dark as most people have said, the writing is even more brilliant than the premise. People complained that in the first game Daxter overwhelmed the entire game with his mindless antics. They’ve also said they toned it down for this one… if this is toned down, I probably would have hated the first game too. Daxter shines in this game, thanks largely to the “T” rating (if that tells you the nature of some of his jokes). His genuinely funny lines, superb voice acting, and flawless animation make him one of the best game characters since Conker. Of course, the other characters aren’t mindless either. Everyone has a distinct personality and way of doing things, and none of them are above taking a crack at each other, with verbal conflicts and exchanges that’ll bring a smile to your face. The writing is exquisite and the story is quite engaging, if not exactly as epic as a Final Fantasy game.
A monument to gaming… but I feel I should warn you. The game seems to be developing quite the reputation for having a variety of bugs and glitches. I myself encountered one that trapped me in a death loop until I finally had to hit reset. I don’t know if this was an isolated incident or others have seen it as well, I just felt I should warn you. Glitches seem to be few and far between though, so it’s still a fantastic game well worth any game players time.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/27/03
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