Review by Space Butler
"A nearly perfect sequel."
Jak and Daxter was a modest, unassuming platform game. You ran, you jumped, you solved puzzles and collected things. Its distinguishing features were flawless controls, beautiful, streaming levels with no loading, and studio-quality animation and characters, but apart from that, it wasn't really much of a departure from the 3D platform game formula established by Mario 64. And what many people fail to realize is that, at its heart, neither is Jak 2. It's dressed up in a post-GTA city setting with cars to steal and cops to avoid, it has a little circular radar with the locations of your latest set of objectives, it has racing games, skateboarding games, a variety of weapons and optional side-missions that help unlock secrets, but behind all those fancy new dressings and genre-busting additions, Jak 2 still has the same essential platform gameplay that Jak and Daxter executed so flawlessly. Don't be distracted by all the fancy new toys and plot-driven mission structure, this game is simply a platformer's paradise.
Jak 2 has a story. That fact alone distinguishes it from the majority of platform games. The fact that it's a pretty decent story which actually begins to draw you in is more than one has a right to expect from a non-RPG. It begins pretty abruptly. Jak and his friends travel through a mysterious gate and end up in a strange city. Jak is immediately captured, experimented on for two years and freed in the span of thirty seconds of screen time. It seems strange to look back on this rushed introduction after playing through a story that is not only filled with twists and tension, but also knows how to take its time and reveal only what's necessary. I suppose Naughty Dog assumed players would rather get right into the game than watch long story segments of Jak's torture, but with cutscenes as entertaining as the one's in Jak 2, I only wish there were more of them.
Naughty Dog has absolutely perfected the art of polygon character animation. The cutscenes are so full of motion and expression that it's impossible to fully appreciate in one viewing. Each character's face reacts to every word that's said, the writers and animators have put a subtext into everything. Mission briefings have never been so entertaining. The script, acting, and animation are so far beyond the standard videogame caliber there's really nothing to compare them to. Thankfully, there's an unlockable scene viewer so you can appreciate the cutscenes again later without needing to assimilate important information.
Jak 2 is a platform game, and the most important factor in the success of a platform game is control. All games of this type measure your ability to control your character, and rely on your ability to get your character to do exactly what you want him to. This is the factor that set Jak and Daxter apart from its competition, its control was airtight. It was enjoyable just running around aimlessly and exploring, even without a goal in mind, and the same sense of ease and joy is still present for the most part in the platforming portions of Jak 2. The levels have gotten more difficult and precarious, and they are now much more linear, taking some fun out of trying to forge your own path, but now the game offers a reward for random exploring in the form of precursor orbs which help unlock the game's secret features. Had they left Jak and Daxter's controls alone without any additions, they would still have been as perfect as they were before, but it's in the game's new gameplay features that Jak 2's control slips.
The two major additions to your arsenal of moves are the hoverboard and a small variety of guns. Addressing the hoverboard first, all I can say is that some people love it and some people hate it. I took it as a convenience, but little more than that. It's much more difficult to get Jak to go where you want him to on the hoverboard since it has a wide turn radius and never stops moving forward. Grinding on rails, which is a necessary element of many later levels, is difficult to get used to but easy enough once you do. The fact that you can whip it out whenever you want is interesting, but since it's faster than walking you are often forced to sacrifice Jak's perfect walking controls for the board's speed, which just takes away from the game's ease of use slightly.
The other major addition, the guns, I found much more immediately appealing. I was, in fact, totally unprepared for how much fun they were to use. The four different guns have very distinct uses, and most come with a laser sight which automatically locks on to any enemy it drifts across. This system works quite well for the most part, considering that many platform games have tried to incorporate weapons unsuccessfully, but they still have flaws which keep them from perfection. None of them can be fired in first-person mode, which is strange since you used to be able to throw fireballs from the first-person view in Jak and Daxter. Also, you never stand still while firing, so you will find yourself inching forward as you acquire targets, sometimes falling down a bottomless pit if your concentration slips. Also, the guns tend to be a little overpowering, rendering most of Jak's interesting physical attacks obsolete. But these are minor complaints compared to how well the guns worked.
Flying cars are another major addition, although you did get to fly an equivalent in Jak and Daxter in the form of the Zoomer. The cars in Jak 2 behave exactly the same way. They tend to drift on turns, they have no handbrake, and require a fairly unique set of driving skills to use. You will, however, have a long time in which to develop these skills considering the sheer number of vehicular missions that take place within the city. The single factor that makes the cars really work is the fact that you can switch between two different altitudes with a single button. That way, you can dodge incoming traffic in two dimensions instead of one. You can rise quickly to avoid hitting a guard, or descend momentarily to veer out of the way of another car. Once you get used to the process, flying around the massive city becomes a pleasure rather than a chore.
But underneath all the extras, it's still a platform game. The real meat of the game, the various platforming levels, remain faithful to Jak and Daxter. You will find yourself doing many familiar tasks, but always in a unique, interesting, and surprising way. The game also feels much more expansive because, while in the original Jak and Daxter you could pretty much solve each level completely before moving on to the next, the new mission system forces you to re-visit levels and discover new areas as the game goes on. It lets each level remain fresh each time you enter it, since you've probably forgotten its intricacies while you were away. Not only that, but the missions themselves are often complimented by entertaining scripted dialogue that brings the characters to life while conveying vital information at the same time. During one mission, when you're asked to escort three engineers into the city's sewers, you will hear the men's hilarious banter the entire way down, scripted specifically to each section of the level. Not only is it a brilliant example of 3D platform gameplay, Jak 2 is a game that is thoroughly determined not to bore you.
This game is gorgeous. I often wanted to just look out over a stunning vista and watch as the sun rose or set. Naughty Dog has hand-crafted every inch of the levels, so that no rock formation repeats and no grassy hill is exactly the same shape. The shapes in the terrain are all rounded and slightly warped, giving the otherwise serious world a light, cartoony look. There are many more dark shades used than in the colorful Jak and Daxter, but the jungle level is appropriately lush for its part. Jak and Daxter's in-game animation is just as perfect as it is in the cutscenes, especially on the two occasions where you actually get to control Daxter. There's really nothing in this department to complain about, the game is pure eye candy.
Lasting appeal: 10/10
This game is absolutely massive. It is, without a doubt, the longest platform game I've ever played. If you do a few side missions along the way, your play time will probably average to about 20 hours start to finish. Then there's the numerous minigames, including an extremely nice racing mode, two different button-pressing games and an extremely well conceived gun course for each weapon, not to mention the hundreds of precursor orbs hidden randomly in each level. You'll have plenty to do for months to come.
On top of that, this game is hard. It's certainly not the hardest game I've ever played, but it will take you a few tries to finish many missions, and even more to finish the later ones. The racing levels in particular are merciless, they demand absolute perfection, and there are a lot of them. But at the same time you feel eager to improve your skills that much more. By the time you finish this game, you will feel like you're good at it. You'll feel like you've accomplished something.
Jak 2 takes the structure of Jak and Daxter, and dresses it up with so many more things to do, so many more ways to play, that its sometimes hard to recognize it for the hardcore platformer that it is. It has a great story, relatively excellent controls, dialogue that will make you laugh out loud and a difficulty that'll keep you playing all night. If you have any interest in the platforming genre, pick this game up right now, just so you'll know what everyone's talking about when other companies start copying it.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/20/03
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