Review by The Manx

"New Jak City"

I'm going to warn you now, it is impossible to describe this game without constantly comparing it to the Grand Theft Auto series. We'll talk about some hows and whys in a bit. For right now, let's start as I often try to do with the game's plot.

Jak, Daxter, Samos and Keira have jury rigged some kind of Precursor machine which looks like a roller coaster, although they don't really know what it does yet. They pile in regardless and switch the thing on, but apparently release some kind of demonic being. Hitting buttons at random to try to fix things, Daxter accidentally activates a time travel system and rockets them into the futuristic dystopia known as Haven City for its obvious ironic value. The group is separated, Jak is captured by the guards of local tyrant Baron Praxis, who spends the next two years running experiments on our hero for some no doubt nefarious purpose. Daxter springs him eventually, and the two set out to try to bring some light back to the world and find their friends.

Now, let's hit the basics of how this is like Grand Theft Auto, shall we? Jak moves around the city with the aid of a circular map that shows the locations of people, cops (the Crimson Guard), zoomers (flying cars and motorcycles that are pretty much the same thing as land speeders in Star Wars), and large icons representing his next goal. He's got all of his old moves but will also (and need to) pick up an assortment of guns for the frequent times when his fists just aren't enough against the numerous mutants he and Daxter will run into. The main similarity of course being that you can jump up and hijak (ha ha, I made a funny. I'll just wait til you all stop laughing. Wow, that was quick) passing zoomers and use them to get around the city much more quickly than on foot. Also as in Grand Theft Auto, hitting a Crimson Guard member, even by accident, will quickly bring the entire city after Jak unless he can elude his pursuers.

Why did the cutesy and almost Saturday morning cartoon-like Jak and Daxter suddenly become this dark and dreary place that's so much, like, well, a completely different game? Because lots of people bought Grand Theft Auto and its seventeen sequels, duh, and so any game reasonably like it should sell just as well, right? I guess that's all the thinking it takes to get a job in the marketing business.

Not that Jak II (which is a misleading title since Daxter hangs around Jak and makes wisecracks like he always has) is a bad game just because it apes another franchise so closely. Others may not think so but I kind of like the direction they decided to take the series in. Yeah, Jak is always a good guy in this game, unlike the good-bad guy hero of Grand Theft Auto who's not as bad as the guys he interacts with but is still a law breaker by any set of values you care to apply. He does the dirty work of the Haven City resistance fighters rather than the dirty work of the Haven City mob. This was presumably done so kids picking up the sequel wouldn't get ideas that being a law breaker can be cool, despite the numerous zoomers they'll undoubtedly steal and elves they'll undoubtedly run over. But Jak II is still a step in a more mature direction, and I find that a good thing.

For one thing, the missions the game sends Jak and Daxter on don't read like a list of dumb chores you wouldn't do unless someone was making you this time around. Lady, forget your stupid thunder moles, we got the fate of the world to worry about here! Instead, you can tell that most of the things will have a tangible effect on the cause he's supporting, like turning the water back on in the slums of the city or tracking down a cute redhead resistance leader. And presumably get revenge on Baron Praxis for the years of confinement and find out what happened to Samos and Keira, too (although you'll know at once, despite the game's attempts to make it a surprise). So essentially you know that everything you're asked to do is either for the good of the city or for the good of getting you better equipped to save the city. Not because some stupid jerk inside of a barrel won't give you his power cell until you win some race for no other reason. Not nearly enough of that in the original Jak and Daxter.

Also improved over the previous game are the various ways Jak has of defending himself, which is good since the Metal Heads, the monsters menacing Haven City, are a lot tougher than the beasties from Jak and Daxter's last adventure. Jak has his tried and true moves like the dash-punch and spin kick from the last game for the monsters that bare hands can still beat, but as said he can also find and use a veritable arsenal off different kinds of guns. Each behaves slightly different and it's important to get the hang of each of them. Slightly unlike Grand Theft Auto, Jak II is generous with ammo for our hero's various guns once he gets his hands on them, because you will be using them A LOT. Jak is also not encumbered by having his gun drawn, and can run, roll, cling to ledges and in general use all of his regular moves while he has it out. That probably doesn't even seem worth mentioning, but after just playing and reviewing Dragon's Lair 3D when you couldn't do a dang except attack with your weapon out, it seems like it's noteworthy to me.

And as you already know, that's not the only trick Jak picked up; thanks to the years of cruel experiments our blonde surfer boy was exposed to, he gained a devilish alter ego with frightening strength and speed as well as the clever moniker of Dark Jak. Obviously he can't switch to his 'roid-popping other form whenever he wants; first the player has to pick up enough blobs of Dark Eco energy, and even once the power is called upon, it only lasts about thirty seconds before leaving fragile normal Jak hoping that he took care of everything dangerous nearby before his powers wore off. But the power of Dark Jak is indeed formidable if used at the right time.

And this is a lesser point, but apparently those stupid giant fish that would eat you if you went in water more than three feet deep have gone extinct in the time between when you left and when you ended up in Haven City. Be happy about it. I know I was.

The game, while excellent in most respect, is of course not flawless. There are some dumb tasks mixed in with the meaningful ones, like being forced to get to some place on the other side of the city in three minutes or less for your next mission. No offense Naughty Dog, but if I want to race somewhere in a video game I'll dig out my copy of Rad Racer or Formula-1. At least there's a plot reason behind it this time, however, and I find it hard to fault stuff that moves the plot along. Jak II manages to weave quite an entertaining little web of plot threads that will keep you coming back to see it all. Sure beats the plodding, almost non-existant story of the original Jak and Daxter.

I suppose it's time for my inescapable time-wasting rundowns on the graphics, sound and gameplay. Overall the game looks pretty good, casting aside the cuteness that marked its first inception in favor of a more grown-up tone while still keeping everything and everyone recognizable. Everything is well-animated and the characters look good, but the city all starts to look the same after a while. The audio is respectable, especially the voice acting, even if the writing behind the dialogue wouldn't be considered spectacular by the authors of children's theater. The music is okay for what the mood it tries to suggest, although none of the music is really that memorable. It's just okay. Control, as it should be, is solid and responsive. The only trouble I really had with playing the game was aiming some of the guns.

If you can't get enough of Grand Theft Auto, or liked Jak and Daxter but would've liked to see a more adventurous gleam to it, don't miss Jak II. Don't miss III either, but that in its good time. I can't believe I was the first person to think of that headline.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/16/04


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