Review by johnathanblade

"Jak II doesn't redefine modern gaming, IT DEFINES MODERN GAMING"

Every game system has it's moment of truth game, a game that comes out and shows all of the naysayers that the system is a force to be reckoned with and can do what it takes to fulfill its launch promises. Honestly, those games for the PS2 were MGS2, and Jak and Daxter. Jak 2 however, is in my mind, without question the best game to come out for the PS2 thus far. The reasons are myriad. It has huge, polygon filled environments, sharp, tight gameplay in just about every variety imaginable and an interesting storyline to follow as you play. Many gamers are put off by what they perceive as unfocused gameplay, but the several modes of play found in this game are almost all done very well.

Jak II continues to follow the precursors legacy saga that started in Jak and Daxter. Jak finds himself in a future version of his little village. The village has now become Haven City, a fully realized metropolis. Baron Praxis is the autocratic ruler of Haven city and under his direct supervision Jak has been the victim of horrible tortuous experiments for the past two years. When Daxter finally frees Jak he is not the same Jak he was two years ago. He's become “grunge Jak” a brooding angsty version of his old self. From here the story gets complex and crazy and of course entertaining.

At its heart Jak II is a platform game in the vein of the 1st one. So many things have been added to the core gameplay that it is many times the game that the 1st one was. It is a testament to how well the game is put together that I finished it. Jak II is not an easy game. Jak II is in fact one of the most difficult game that I have ever played. Actually about seventy-five percent of the game is of easy to moderate difficulty. The remaining quarter of the game is old school die ad-nauseum hard. The controls are rock solid though. You seldom blame the game for your character dying. Each mission is rather short also. Although it may take you hours to complete some objectives the end is always in sight. There are what seems like hundreds of missions in the game and they are spread evenly through various gameplay styles.

Jak main mode of gameplay is transversing Haven city. I believe that I read somewhere that Haven city is 25 sq. miles. However big it is, it's way too big to “hoof it.” You will have to “jack” hovercars GTA style to make your way around the city. If you have a moral opposition to carjacking the city is littered with random parked cars. Even with a car moving through the city takes time. The city is massively populated and with people all over the streets and hovercars all over the sky it becomes a chore to get around. Later in the game you receive a hoverboard that you can use any time you'd like. The hover board is slower than the cars are, but much faster than walking. You have to use the hover board in quite a few missions, so you should try and become familiar with it.

I would like to say that you can actually move around the city on foot as fast as you can with a hoverboard if you constantly roll jump. If is so tedious to do this however that it is not worth it.

The bulk of the actual mission based gameplay is platforming. In this respect it plays much like the first game. All the moves from Jak and Daxter are here also. You can jump, roll-jump, spin jump, high jump, punch, spin-attack and jump smash. Jak II, however is a more aggressive game. You have a gun this time around. It takes four kinds of ammunition and is pretty effective in blowing away your enemies. Your first gun mode is the shotgun. You use it like a melee weapon on groups of enemies. Your second mode is a rifle. This is the mode that you will be using the most. Your third gun mode is a machine gun. It runs out of ammo very easily. Finally you have a BFG type gun mode. It is the most effective of the guns, but it holds a very limited amount of ammo. The gun has a semi-auto lock that works pretty well and you will soon find that the gun will be you main mode of attack.

Your most powerful mode of attack though is Dark Jak mode. Due to the Barons experiments, when Jak absorbs enough Dark Eco he can become Dark Jak. In this time-limited form Jak can “berzerker rage” his way through a crowd of enemies. As the game progresses Jak can earn new powers for this form, eventually making him invincible as Dark Jak.

The variety of gameplay found in Jak II is astounding. Naughty Dog tries their hand at almost every genre of gaming here. Surprisingly they're all done well and work within the structure of the game. You can platform, race, do some on the rails shooting, go on a contra style killing spree, pilot a mech, engage in some Tony Hawk style extreme sporting or just wander around the city GTA style. I have two complaints. One is the fact that I hate escort missions a lot and Jak 2 has them. NPC's wander around in the most idiotic manner possible as if to say “please kill me” and you have to protect them. Escort missions are always like this though. The second complaint is that it is almost impossible to make your way around the city without bumping into a guard and starting a general alarm. You can usually just zoom right past the alert guards in you vehicle or on your hoverboard, but it is still a pain.

Jak II is filled with interesting extras. there are the metal "power egg" icons from the first game scatter randomly through Jak II. As you collect these all manner of "debug" options become avaiable to you. Things like big head mode, little head mode and mirror world. You can even continue to collect these and play unfinished sub-missions after you have finished the game. Most if not all of the missions are of the beat the clock variety. They are not easy and often frustrating, but still fun.

It's not just gameplay that Jak II excels at doing. The overall presentation of the game is fantastic. The game showcases high quality voice acting, amazing game engine generated cinemas, and very fitting music. The graphics are, when taken as a whole, the most impressive on the PS2 thus far. The poly-count on the stages is off the scales. Naughty Dog is squeezing blood from the Jak and Daxter engine here. The textures are sharp and detailed. The trade off is that they lack the texture layering that gives most games a realistic quality. Jak II has a Konami quality AA filter and the largest variety of visual effects that I can remember seeing in a PS2 game. The character animations are fluid and smooth and most impressively Jak II has the largest number of on-screen moving objects that I've ever seen in a game. Haven city is literally “alive” with activity all day and all night. It's actually a bit much as all those people and cars are constantly getting in your way. It is impressive nonetheless.

I cannot drop enough superlatives about this game. So many gamers hated this game for not being a pure platformer and for being edgy and dark. In the end I personally enjoy the fact that you are getting this wonderful amalgam of gaming styles. No, Jak II is not revolutionary. It doesn't redefine contemporary gaming. It is just a game that is so well done and so comprehensive in what it does that it DEFINES contemporary gaming. Bring on Jak III.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/31/04

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