Review by Nightfall
"A disappointing sequel lacking the magic and charm of the original"
Holy cow, who would have thought. Jak 2 = big disappointment. Note to self: stop buying sequels assuming that they are going to be like the first game. Jak 2 is nothing like its original. In fact, the word original shouldn't even come into play here, because the game is an obvious copy-cat of Grand Theft Auto 3. The mysterious and fascinating story of the Precursors and the strange objects they left behind has been forced into the mission based framework of GTA 3, and the result is that it's not a mysterious and fascinating story anymore. In fact, the whole back story of the Precursors and Eco that infused and illuminated Jak and Daxter is pretty much dead. Sure, Naughty Dog tries to work it in here and there, but it's just not interesting with the approach they've taken. The game is more of a shoot-em-up now, like Ratchet and Clank, only with worse graphics, worse control, a bad camera, and a frustrating as hell difficulty level.
The bright, detailed, colorful, solid looking world of Jak & Daxter has been replaced by a dark, washed out cityscape with a very limited color palette and glitchy graphics. Zooming around the city in the various hover vehicles isn't much fun, because you're either constantly crashing into other motorists, which can cause your vehicle to explode, or running into members of the Krimson Guard, which puts them on alert status and makes them attack you. If you try to hang on and fight, you're just going to end up dead (just like GTA 3). The only feasible option is to keep flying around in your zoomer until the guards go off alert. Is that fun? I don't know. Precursor Orbs are still the collectible item of choice, but they are very few and far between. No more stumbling upon large collections of them. In short, the magic and charm that oozed from Jak and Daxter is nowhere to be found in its sequel.
Maybe if the city wasn't so freakin' BIG, it would be less of a pain to navigate and we could have had better graphics. Even finding where you are on the city map can be a chore, since you are represented by only a small blue arrow in a chaotic mess of lines and squares. The whole project reeks of over-ambition. Naughty Dog tried to do too much with this game, and the result is that it possesses neither the charm of the original nor the satisfying innovation of a sequel. It's stuck in a limbo where it's desperately trying to be something, but it doesn't work.
One very noticeable defect in Jak 2's graphics is what is called screen tearing. Whenever there is a significant amount of movement from the camera, the screen becomes divided by horizontal lines in which the graphics don't line up. I did some asking on an internet forum and found out that this is a technique used to keep the frame rate high. It irks me when developers make graphical sacrifices so we can be put in these seamless, gargantuan cities and have a decent frame rate. In my opinion, Rockstar screwed us all with their damn Grand Theft Auto 3. We're being forced to accept sub-par graphics because some shmuck thought that massive environments are the ultimate gameplay idea.
Possibly in response to feedback that the first game was too easy, Naughty Dog went haywire with the difficulty level. Some parts of the game are ridiculously difficult, to the point that some less-skilled players may not be able to pass them. On many missions, you will die countless numbers of times before you pass them. Combat is much more challenging, and death means starting an entire mission over again. Ammo and health items will vanish when you walk into them even if you're maxed out, which is just ridiculous because you can't go back and get them when you need them. The guesswork involved in jumping and the occasionally messed up collision physics can lead to many, many cheap deaths.
Jak and Daxter's faulty camera made sure it found its way into the sequel. There is STILL no snap camera button, and the camera still occasionally gives you horrible perspectives. A large reason for this is the camera's inability to navigate around environmental obstructions, preventing the player from putting the camera behind Jak. I can't tell you how many times I've had to click the camera to first person view, put the angle where I want it, and then click out again, just to get the camera to give me the perspective I want. Did the idea of a snap camera button not cross a single employee's mind at Naughty Dog? Did they not pay any attention at all to what Insomniac was doing with the excellent camera in the Ratchet and Clank games? Naughty Dog is good, but there is still a lot of amateur quality to be seen in their work. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go play either of the Ratchet and Clank games. That is platforming taken to perfection. What's ironic is that Naughty Dog and Insomniac are somewhat co-conspirators. I don't know the full story, but apparently Ratchet and Clank borrowed the engine and some other elements used to create Jak and Daxter. Seems to me that the student has bested his teacher.
Sometimes it is the small things that make a game an annoying pain in the ass. Like the fact that when there is a tiny difference in the elevation of a floor, Jak has to jump over it, rather than just run over it (like our good buddy Ratchet would do). Or the fact that it takes three button commands just to access the city map (which you have to do very, very frequently). Or the fact that Jak's Dark Eco gauge doesn't do a good job at all of showing you how much Dark Eco he has collected. Or the fact that often when Jak is grinding on a rail with his jet board he won't do his high jump. Here is a more combat oriented example. On one mission, Jak must traverse the length of a huge cylinder suspended horizontally in the sky. At the far end of this cylinder, there are two guns rotating around it firing constantly to prevent intruders. The way the graphics for these projectiles are drawn, it looks like all Jak has to do is duck to avoid them. But no, when he ducks he gets hit every time. What the player is supposed to do is high jump to avoid the shots, but when you do this, it looks as if the shots are hitting Jak. It's ridiculous when you can't trust what you see on the screen, and get killed because of it. It's this kind of small, sloppy stuff that you don't find in games like Ratchet and Clank, and that's part of the reason those games are so much more enjoyable. One Insomniac employee put it very well in the Making of Ratchet and Clank video found on the Ratchet and Clank disk: "Every time you play an Insomniac game, you will find an attention to detail that is never lacking." That's the gem right there: attention to detail. Sweating over the small stuff, so the player doesn't have to.
With all the stuff Naughty Dog did wrong in this game, I have to give them props for something they did very right. The comic relief that Daxter provides is brilliant. Daxter is quite the comedian this time around. He is given much more camera time, more dialogue, and a lot of it is very funny. Some of the cut scenes featuring his antics are by themselves worth the price of the game.
I'm about 71% through the game now, and I'd have to say that overall it is an enjoyable game, despite all my criticisms. It's just not what I really wanted. Before I was able to enjoy it, I had to get used to the fact that I'm going to die at least 15 times before I complete any mission. I had to get used to the fact that the graphics are nowhere near as good as those in the first game. I had to get used to the fact that the thrill and joy of collecting Power Cells is gone forever. I had to get used to the fact that this game was offering me not a colorful, magical quest of finding out about the Precursors and the wonders of Eco, but instead giving me a science fiction shoot-em-up. I had to get used to the fact that this game is, above all else, a copy-cat of Grand Theft Auto 3, and if I wanted to cull any fun out of it, I'd have to do it within that framework.
My closing thoughts: there is an inherent danger whenever a developer deviates too much from the formula which made the original game a success. Innovation is good, but what we need is good innovation. I didn't want to buy Grand Theft Auto 3 with elves, I wanted to buy the sequel to Jak and Daxter. I loved the colorful worlds, the beautiful, detailed graphics, the mystery of the Precursor artifacts, the mysterious power of Eco, and above all, I loved collecting Power Cells! None of that is present in Jak 2. There is also a danger when a developer listens too much to the opinions of players and reviewers. When that happens, we end up with things like Jak 2's ridiculous difficulty level. Sure, the first game was probably a little too easy, but my lord, that's no reason to make the sequel so damn difficult. I'm kicking myself for not renting this before I bought it.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 06/27/04
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