Review by SRusher

"A well-executed genre-bending sequel that comes off as one of the best-looking and best-playing games out there."

I knew the moment I saw the ads that Jak 2 was going to be different. The basic impression I got was ''take Jak & Daxter, add 10 years to the main character, and lots and lots of guns.''

Okay, so it's a bit more than that. Jak 2 is less like a sequel and more like an entirely new genre-bending game. The original was just another solid platformer, feeling not far off from Naughty Dog's other franchise, Crash Bandicoot. Jak 2 however doesn't feel so much like Jak & Daxter 2 as it does Jak Theft Auto Pro Skater XL. Hoverbike racing, hoverboard trick stuff, a huge city with vehicles to steal and places to go and get missions... oh yeah, and platformer sections!

As far as GTA influence goes, Jak 2 has a lot of it. The city which is at the center of the game, called Haven City, is definitely large enough to qualify as an entry to the series. There are plenty of hovercrafts floating around, some parked, which you can steal and drive off. There are guards and guard vehicles, and messing around with either will set off alarms and have you swarmed until you leave the area for a while. The guards, however, show little concern for protecting the citizens of the city. Unless you kill them, the guards won't even bat an eye. While it seems kind if odd, I'm betting it was done for gameplay reasons, so players wouldn't have to deal with constantly getting shot by guards. Missions are also given out remarkably like GTA: They appear as points on your minimap, and then you go and get a mission from someone. The only problem is that at times, cruising the city can get boring. Sure you could pop some guards for fun, but what's the point? Bottom line is, you WILL have to drive (or walk) across the city one way or another.

The other half of the game is of course a platformer, as one could expect from a sequel to the first major platformer on PlayStation 2. The solid controls of the first have gone almost completely unchanged, although this time around, you'll get a few more toys to help you in your fight.

First off, Jak has been pumped full of Dark Eco and can transform into an angry, pale, killing machine version of himself called Dark Jak if he collects enough. Second, you'll be getting a small but versatile arsenal of weaponry. Third, you'll get a hoverboard which is essential for many missions.

There are a few quirks with the additions though: Dark Jak is very powerful at the beginning when you don't have any weapons, especially when you gain an ability that basically just wipes out the entire screen, but as your weapons get better, Dark Jak loses usefulness. It takes a while to get Invincible Dark Jak, and until then, Dark Jak is limited to melee attacks and possibly one of two area-obliterating finishers. Without invincibility though, this means charging head-long into a cluster of enemies, possibly losing health in the process. The concept probably would have worked out a lot better if Dark Jak could learn a projectile attack of some sort.

The hoverboard is also not very kind. While there's a section of the game devoted to doing all sorts of tricks with it, a la Tony Hawk, and several levels which require its use (including grinding on stuff), it's hard to control. Turning around, turning to an exact angle (needed to correctly make some jumps), and picking up speed are all a bit difficult.

The other areas of the game play a lot like the original Jak & Daxter, and with roughly the same level of variety. The difficulty is hard to express, because while it's VERY easy to die, you're generally started off with full health and all of the ammo you had when you died not too far back. As a platformer, most of the missions are fun, except for the (few) Titan Suit missions which just dragged on way too long simply because the Titan Suit was a slow, hard-maneuvering piece of junk with only a melee attack that had a bad habit of missing.

The only other gameplay issue is the lack of health packs in the city: You're given 8 bars of health, and getting shot or having your hovercraft blown up takes off 2. I have yet to find a single health pack anywhere in the city, so traveling across it often involved dying, especially since I'd be injured after missions.

As far as weapons go, there are 4 weapons in the game, but they're technically only 1 since your gun is a ''morph gun.'' One sounds and performs like a shotgun, except it shoots an energy shockwave, so now it's the ''Scattergun.'' Another is an accurate rifle-like weapon called the Blaster. Another is just a rapidfire bullet cannon designed for mowing things down, and the final one is the ''Peacemaker'' which is a standard low-ammunition high-payload electrical gun. Not exactly the most original set, but each has their own distinct place in the world of Jak 2.

The story is hard to see at first, but it is definitely there: Many things seem unconnected or unusual, but everything plays a role by the end of the game. You're started off where Jak & Daxter left off, only this time an experiment has sent several characters through a rift gate to a city under strict and constant martial law by Baron Praxis. Jak is promptly knocked out and Daxter is taken prisoner, then experimented on by Praxis for 2 years. Strangely enough, Jak doesn't look 2 years older after, he looks more like 10. Daxter rescues him, urges him to say something, and then Jak speaks for the first time in the series with ''I'm gonna KILL Praxis!'' From then it becomes obvious that this is an entirely different Jak. He's violent, he's angry, he's bitter, and he's bent on little more than killing Praxis. And he talks. The new ''attitude'' is present in countless ways, and the number of subtle things added to make Jak seem ever more badass are countless. From flipping his gun while changing weapons to firing the Scattergun held sideways and one-handed, to flip-reloading the Scattergun Terminator-style, Jak has been practically remade to be more like an action movie hero than a platformer mascot. The city is also under constant seige by another race of creatures referred to as ''Metal Heads'', which have been at constant war with the city. How the war influences the city, the Baron, and the outcome of the game are all found out in time, and the ending portions of the game tie everything together well, along with one of the better final boss fights I've played. The only problem with the story is, ironically, Daxter. While the younger aim of the original Jak & Daxter fit his loud, hyperactive, Gilbert Gottfreid-like style of humor well, it comes off poor and misplaced in a sequel that seems to have grown up several years and become much more serious, like a Saturday morning cartoon in prime time.

The visuals of Jak 2 are nothing short of amazing. The day/night cycles of the first are back, everything's more detailed, animations are done flawlessly, and some areas like Haven Forest look astounding. One mission has you playing far above the city, where you can easily see the whole thing still rendered in real-time without a hitch. Despite all of the new detail, the number of places where the game actually shows any slowdowns are few and far between.

The audio portion of the game is also extremely well-done, with one of the best voice-acting jobs I've ever seen. Besides, it's got Phil LaMarr, and when's the last time he did a bad voiceover? The music in every environment varies depending on what you're doing, with at least 3 different tunes per area (peaceful, hoverboard, and hostile). The only downfall is that the city's ''peaceful'' music gets a bit repetitive after a while, and most of the ''hoverboard'' music sounds like the ''peaceful'' music with a backbeat added.

Gameplay - 8
With all of the experimental genre bending, flaws in the gameplay were kind of expected. Everything has some quirk or other, especially the Titan Suit missions and Hoverboard areas, but overall, Jak 2 still remains one of the most fun action/adventure/platformer games I've played.

Story - 9
While not the stuff of legend, the ending portions of the game bring together a very solid plot, one that is constantly given out in pieces through the entire game. Too bad Daxter didn't fit in.

Graphics - 10
I still haven't managed to remember a PS2 game that has looked better than Jak 2, and that includes Final Fantasy X. The whole game feels like a ''back at ya!'' to everyone saying the PS2 couldn't pull graphics off like the GameCube and Xbox could. Everything looks incredibly detailed, the animation is perfect, and it all runs perfectly.

Audio - 9
Unmemorable music, but great sound effects and excellent voice acting.

Replay Value - 10
I spent 32 hours beating the game my first time, but still didn't cover many of the side missions, challenges, and secrets. Most of the replay value comes from the circular plot, which makes it easier to realize things the second time through.

Overall - 9
An extremely solid game with many hours of entertainment, not to mention one of the most well-made games on PlayStation 2.

Buy, rent, or ignore? - Buy
If you're looking for another solid entry in your PS2 collection, this is the game to get. If you're stuck between Jak 2 or its contender, Going Commando, I'd recommend Jak 2.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 12/05/03

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