Review by Archmonk Iga
"The Jak series changes from a basic platformer to a GTA-inspired action-fest."
In Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, players were introduced to two of Sony's most beloved characters in the platforming genre. Through and through, JaD was the epitome of what people expect to find in platform games: lots of jumping, collecting, and lighthearted fun. With Jak II, the series takes a serious turn for the darker and more mature. In addition, the gameplay has been tweaked so much that this is a much different and better game.
We begin our journey where it left off in the original game, with Jak, Daxter, Samos, and Keira working on a mysterious ship. Being a Jak and Daxter game, all hell breaks loose and they are transported to a mysterious, high-tech new world.
Jak is taken prisoner and loses contact with the others, all the while being experimented on by the evil Baron Praxis. Two years since being arrested, Daxter comes and rescues Jak, who discovers that the experiments had some side effects on him. So now that he's out of prison, what is he supposed to do in this strange new world? And so our next journey begins with this dynamic duo.
Although it's no Edgar Allan Poe, when you compare it to the first game, Jak II has a very dark story. Thankfully, it is balanced out with an excellent supply of humor, maybe even more so than in the original (it's certainly more PG-13 rated than before). Jak has learned how to talk again, and some of the trash talk he spits out makes this surprising addition a-okay. Daxter is again the star comedian, but Jak II introduces us to loads of new characters in the Jak world, including the hilarious black marketer Krew. Even the unfunny characters are welcome additions, because everyone helps develop the Jak world in his or her own ways (and Jak makes fun of the unfunny characters a lot, which doesn't hurt either). That being said, their actions also keep you coming back to see what will happen to this world. Obviously, the story won't win any awards, but it completely satisfies us because it does everything right.
While the original had bright, outdoorsy graphics that flowed beautifully no matter where you were, the sequel somehow managed to improve on that in their transfer into a far more technological world. The totalitarianism of Haven City is only enhanced by the ravaged houses and buildings. The thing is, you move from those to a glorious racetrack that gives the city a completely different air. Haven City is one of the best videogame locations because of how well it is presented here, with its eerie Soviet Russia and even Orwellian nature.
Aside from the city itself, Jak and Daxter's cruises through Haven City show that it is full of life depressed life, mind you, but life nonetheless. Countless citizens fill the streets, whether they're walking or driving. While this shows how powerful Jak II's graphics are, all these people seemed a bit silly and overdone for me. Not to mention they get in the way much too often.
Outside the city you find other brilliantly detailed locales, whether it's a forest, the sewers, or even a long lost city. All of them look just as good as Haven City, and thankfully we spend quite a bit of time in each.
The characters models are somehow better than before. Jak's new look may give some early bad impressions of him, but like his new personality, it quickly grows on you. The other characters, including the NPCs and enemies, are all given great animations and details as well. The cutscenes are proof of the hard work done by Naughty Dog. The graphics overall are just unbelievably great.
Although the Jak series having forgettable music hasn't changed, all the good stuff hasn't either. Jak's voice actor (!) sounds perfect, as does the rest of the cast's. The sound effects also retain the cartoony feel from the first one.
Wow! Of all the series' massive transformations in nearly every aspect, none of them can compare to the ones done in the gameplay department. Jak II takes the basic idea from the original (so basically like, the typical platform formula) and deepens it immensely with heavy Grand Theft Auto influence, heavy action game influence, and of course a good chunk of J&D charm. Does it work out for the better? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
First of all, Haven City is MASSIVE. There is way too much to do and see to explain it in this review. Citizens are everywhere, but so are the feds. You can steal vehicles (which is fun and easy), but drive safely because you're a fugitive. If you piss an officer off, prepare for a long chase. While the chases occur way too often, they rarely will hinder anything you need to do. Those feds are pretty slow, just like the rest of Haven City's citizens.
The missions are what progresses your game, though, and they are mostly very fun and challenging. Some of them take place in the city, including escort missions (not as bad as you'd think), rescue missions (ditto), races, mini-games, and even a chase sequence here and there. The best missions are outside of the city, however. Every single level will be visited multiple times and for multiple missions, but every time the missions surprise you with their fun factor. You could be blowing up a mine, fighting a difficult boss, hunting a new kind of metal head, solving brilliantly thought-out puzzles, and even destroying entire enemy nestsevery mission is creative and enjoyable. I'd take that over mass collecting any day!
My favorite addition to the Jak series, however, is with the weapons. Jak is given four types of guns as you advance through the game, and every single one of them is fun and useful. Sure, Jak's melee attacks from the first one are back and helpful when needed, but there's just something about blasting away police officers with your bright blue-bulleted machinegun. Who knew simply adding four guns to a game would make it so amazing?
Another addition that is much less successful than the guns is with Jak's new jetboard. It gets its fair share of levels, and while they are all pretty fun, they just don't match up to the on-foot or in-car levels. I had occasional control problems with the jetboard, and I think that if there was some more touching up done with it, it could've been a true Jak II highlight.
Another addition to Jak II is with its difficulty, and let me just say, this game is HARD. It is about as hard as it is fun, and therefore it's a catch-22 for the easily frustrated gamer. Getting from one end of the city to the other in less than three minutes? Running away from hundreds of feds on a narrow pier? Escorting the three stooges (seriously, it's basically Larry, Curly and Moe in Jak-world form) to the heart of the sewers? This game will demand lots and lots of restarts, not to mention a lot of turned off PS2s. But it's so addicting that you'll soon come back to complete the mission, no matter how many tries it takes.
But for all its frustration, the gameplay is extremely rewarding. Nearly every mission is enjoyable and challenging, the guns are a blast, and you can steal police cars! Can GTA do THAT? Oh, wait
This game is MUCH longer than the original, taking away at least 20 hours of your precious time (thanks to the difficulty and the huge number of missions). And though it lacks the collecting from the first one, there are still secrets to collect throughout the game. When all is said and done, however, you will probably not come back to Haven City for a long time.
LASTING APPEAL: 7/10
Is it better than the original? That's up to you, I guess. I think between the two of them, this is no doubt the superior game, in nearly every aspect. It's deep, it's mature, it's long, and most importantly, it's fun. Jak II shows what a PS2 platformer is really capable of.
Thanks for reading =)
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/04/10
Game Release: Jak II (US, 10/14/03)
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