Review by Muchorattler

"An Elf with Guns... What Has the World Come To?"

Platform games have made several giant steps since the days of yore, but in a way continue to remain unchanged. From flat sprites running and jumping frantically to capture items suspended in midair to full 3D polygons doing much of the same, at the center of the genre's titles the more than predictable though somehow timeless gameplay always stood out — until now. Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was all almost any platform gamer could have asked for and more (as of recent years), staying true to the age-old formula yet adding a few innovative characteristics of its own. But, not so hypothetically, what if its sequel did away with almost everything that made the first game such a success and replaced those features with qualities from multiple other genres? As bad as it may sound, fear not! If deviating far from the accepted platform style works in a game's favor then everything's peachy. With that said, and as odd as it may seem, Jak II certainly does work. By blending various recognizable elements from other titles (the most prominent being that of the Grand Theft Auto series which the game actually uses to its advantage, who'd a thunk it?) without completely ignoring its item-collecting roots, the game offers a unique and refreshing experience any platforming enthusiast can enjoy.

Picking up where Jak and Daxter left off, the game begins in Sandover Village where the elfin Jak, his best ottsel friend (a cross between an otter and a weasel) Daxter, the sage Samos and his daughter Keira attempt to activate a large Precursor Gate. Before they know it, all four are sucked into the machine and separated. Jak, after reappearing in a distant yet strangely familiar world along with Daxter, is suddenly kidnapped by soldiers. Two years later, after suffering unspeakable torture and being injected with the evil inducing dark eco, Jak is finally ''rescued'' by Daxter. However, because of the experiments he sustained, Jak now possesses dark powers that allow him to transform temporarily into a powerful and destructive alternate form (and in addition is no longer the mute he was in the previous game). It turns out that Jak and Daxter have been spending their time within the walls of Haven City; a futuristic town where hover cars fly the streets and citizens are forced to live in drab conditions and impoverishment by their evil ruler Baron Praxis. After vowing revenge, the duo joins a group of rebels working relentlessly to dethrone the corrupted dictator. Sadly for them, not all is so easy. Menacing Metal Heads are waging war on the city and the Baron's troops constantly patrol the streets. Times are tough for the residents of ''glorious'' Haven City and will only get tougher.

Once you're able to take matters into your own hands, Jak II looks and feels almost identical to its predecessor. Ah, but certain things can be deceiving, and you'll soon find out that many qualities have been changed for the better — and a few for the worst. The core of the game now revolves around missions that have you completing a variety of tasks or errands ranging anywhere from giving fellow revolters a lift to safe houses and wiping out armed guards to retrieving ancient artifacts and competing in races. In the style of Grand Theft Auto, these missions are given by allies (and some potential enemies) you meet throughout the game. As a noncoincidental happening, aside from Jak's regular assortment of hand-to-hand combat moves is the use of modern weaponry. Scatter and Vulcan guns (among others) can be obtained fairly early on and are nothing less than a godsend during the more difficult portions of the game. Likewise, the local police force (Krimzon Guard) is just as touchy, instantly entering attack mode each time one of their own is rubbed the wrong way. Of course, this mix of genres wouldn't be complete without a carjacking or two, thus hovercrafts are yours for the taking after forcefully booting out the occupant, providing you with a swifter means of travel. On a similar note, if it's too slow to travel on foot and the narrow, maze-like roadways make fast driving a hassle for tackling a particular mission, taking out the Jet-Board (a new anti-gravity skateboard) can alleviate such problems as well as provide interest in pulling off tricks reminiscent of the Tony Hawk series.

To fit in with the more sullen overall mood, the formally harmful dark eco must be collected in numerous areas in order for Jak to unleash the fury of his newfound alter ego (which proves to be more of a flashy attempt at eye candy than anything): Dark Jak. In this form, Jak can deal massive damage to enemies and even perform special deadly moves on those within close proximity. Despite Dark Jak's strength and talents, since the majority of missions do not require the use of a demonic counterpart this ''transition'' is rarely ever a necessary one to make. While skill may not play a very big part when taking on some objectives, others demand great precision and timing (and sometimes just pure dumb luck) to accomplish. Unfortunately, herein lies a small problem: the difficulty tends to be extraordinarily unbalanced at first. One moment you may be simply protecting a team of thugs from Metal Head pushovers and the next you're being mercilessly slaughtered by dozens of respawning hostile soldiers; a good, spontaneous killfest (with the player doing most of the killing) for many given the increasing amount of games lacking in difficulty out there. Be that as it may, for others it's a challenge that may ultimately cause the entertainment to occasionally take a backseat to the frustration. In spite of this, after a while the sheer addictiveness bundled with a bit of patience can make any ''cheap'' enemy advantages or intimidating situations seem petty.

Not being one to leave out a collecting frenzy so typical in modern day platformers, Jak II also contains its secrets that can only be unlocked after acquiring the respective amount of egg-shaped Precursor Orbs that — for some reason unknown to man — are scattered about different areas. If side missions are your passion, large hologram communicators litter the streets to clue you in on important locations or offer minor objectives. Upon finishing these side quests and the game, however, there may be very little incentive to immediately play again. The motivation simply isn't there; not an unfamiliar way of coming up short in replay value. Still, by being so easy to just pick up and dive into (figuratively speaking, of course) it's difficult not to give it a second look at some future date.

Graphically speaking, there isn't anything Jak II possesses that hasn't already been seen many times before, although the environments are nonetheless spectacular. Because of the much darker setting, colors appear lackluster and hazy to create a fitting resemblance of a nearly run down cityscape. Weather, while not influencing your mission, can randomly change abruptly between clear skies and sun to overcast and rain, adding a touch of realism to the visuals. The characters move with superb animations without skipping frame rates and the somewhat comical expressions correspond well with the sense of humor in an otherwise serious adventure. Similarly, the background music is far from upbeat or cheerful, giving an all-around gloomy feeling as you walk (or ride) the streets while only changing ever so slightly after entering diverse areas. Soldiers constantly babble their brainless drivel to one another over walkie-talkies, gunshots penetrate the air with booming clarity, and — for those whom it may concern — the voice acting is virtually flawless (that is, if you can tolerate some of the intentionally cheesy tones and forced innuendo).

In a time when many titles fail miserably when it comes to responsive control schemes and easily maneuverable cameras, Jak II puts such flawed games to shame. You will rarely (or never) become fixated at a certain angle or caught in the unfriendly ''Wall/Tree/Random Passerby of Doom™,'' and mastering the execution of moves can be done in no time. On the other hand, a few irritating glitches — like very infrequent but much-hated lockups — can emerge at some of the most inconvenient times. Luckily, at these moments the automatic save feature comes in quite handy.

By merging the timeless charm of platformers and the rough 'n tough appeal of action titles, Jak II proves to be just a little more than your average adventure game — it's sometimes just downright bizarre, too. Regardless, if you crave nontraditional excitement within the genre then look no further, or if you happen to be a fan of the first game, why stop there? With more than adequate originality, an enthralling plot, ample length, and engrossing gameplay to bring it all together, this is one even the most skeptical should check out. It may be a far cry from perfection (and what isn't?), but Jak II is still without a doubt an enjoyable experience.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 12/05/03

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