Review by stash1991

"Don't piss Jak off. Trust me, just don't."

“Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy” captured everything that made platformers popular amongst gamers and casual fans alike. Along with a family friendly story and a hero that controlled remarkably well, Naughty Dog created a simple, fairly easy platformer that had enough variety to make it worth finishing to the end. Not to mention Naughty Dog pushed the power of the PS2 to boast some of the best animation and environments seen on the system yet. Now forget everything you know about this game and introduce yourself to a whole new different creation: “Jak II”. This time, Jak is back and he's brought with him new guns, a more mature story line, a much more difficult game and…oh yeah, Daxter tags along for the ride too.

It starts out simple enough: Jak (who finally talks!), Daxter, Samos the elderly Sage and Jak's love interest Kiera locate a large device and experiment with it to see how it works. When they find out that it is a warp pad, all four of them are transported from their vista into a whole other place: Haven City. Once there, Jak is apprehended by the Krimson guards and is taken to Baron Praxis, the evil dictator of Haven City, for dark eco experimentation. Two years later, Daxter frees Jak who has nothing on his mind except revenge. Jak and Daxter, who returns as the ottsel with his wise-cracking attitude, set out to right the wrongs and destroy the Metal Heads, a race focused on wiping out Jak's kind. Thus sets up the story of our heroes.
While stories seem to be an afterthought in most games (especially platformers), “Jak II” is an extremely story driven game. Each mission adds a substantial continuity to the story and you'll never feel like you're a doing a mission for no reason. Rarely has there been a game where I was eager to see what would happen next, what character I would meet or what revelation each cut scene would hold for me. The result is a satisfying narrative that rewards the player for completing the various missions.

While “Jak and Daxter” was basically a next-generation version of “Super Mario 64”, “Jak II” takes its new open city, mission-based structure without shame from the “Grand Theft Auto” series. You can “borrow” vehicles, complete various secondary tasks within the city, and harm the citizens of Haven City (but not without the hostile Krimson guards killing you first). Just like “GTA”, you can choose in what order you do the missions but this seems to be more of a burden than a benefit. Traveling from one end of the city to another can be a chore thanks to some congested roadways and unforgiving guards that can lead to more frustration than the developers intended. In my humble opinion, no one played the “GTA” series for traffic jams.

Speaking of frustration, get ready for some of the most challenging and entertaining gameplay seen in a platformer yet. If you thought “Jak and Daxter” was in any way difficult, you will throw the controller down in aggravation and will put a death wish on “Jak 2”. However, gamers who appreciate challenges in their games will appreciate what “Jak 2” has to offer. Variety is also a strongpoint here. Whether Jak is escorting or protecting someone, racing through the city in hover vehicles or taking on many enemies at once just to save your own ass, “Jak 2” always provides edge-your-seat gameplay that punishes you for the slightest misstep. The linear missions rarely have check points within, so this is a type of game that demands precise concentration. Thankfully, your character controls like a dream, on par with controlling a 3-D Mario in “Mario 64”.

To make your adventure slightly easier, Naughty Dog now has Jak wielding four different types of guns: a shotgun type gun called the scatter gun, a rifle, a mini-gun and a devastating weapon called the peacemaker. Power this sucker up and it will deal a large blow to your enemies. At times the lock-on is nowhere near precise as “Rachet and Clank” series (even those games have minor aiming problems), but with some trial and error, you should be able to take out enemies with total control. Naughty Dog has implemented “punch and shoot” combos that will make your time in Haven City much easier.

Also new to the series is the hoverboard, a type of skateboard where you can do jump, perform tricks and grind railings (Tony Hawk anyone?). This isn't just some useless gimmick, as you will have to use your hoverboard to perform certain tasks such as taking down metal heads and grinding and jumping your way in order to plant bombs. This controls very well and it's very entertaining to see some of the animations, but it doesn't exactly add anything substantial to the gameplay, except giving you more stuff to do.

In terms of replay value, this is strictly a one time affair, but that doesn't mean Naughty Dog hasn't gone back to its roots. There are 200 precursor eggs to find around the city and its external environments, which are pretty impossible to find unless you have a guide at hand. These eggs unlock certain secrets such as big head mode, mirror world (which really adds replay value, believe or not) and other useless cheats that simply affect the game cosmetically. However, collect all 200 precursor eggs and unlock an even harder difficulty called “Evil mode”. The name says it all, and for a small percentage who thought the game was too easy (you know, the “Ninja Gaiden” players), finding all 200 eggs will be worth the time.

The original “Jak and Daxter” showcased the early power of the PS2 and the result was the best looking game on the PS2 yet. Naughty Dog has pushed the PS2 even further this go-around by adding more detail to the characters and environments (which are much grander in size), employing more and better animations to Jak and all of the other characters, and giving the cut scenes (which use the in-game engine) a professional look. They are well edited and show off high production values. “Jak II” is a game you should use to show off the power of the PS2 to your friends and family. The game is only marred by a shoddy frame rate and poor image quality (these being some of the Playstation 2's shortfalls). These complaints are only cosmetic and don't take away from the quality of the game.

Adding to the high value of “Jak II”, the sound in no way takes a backseat to the rest of the game. The voice acting is top notch and professional, even if Jak's voice sounds awfully similar to Keanu Reeves (Don't worry, Jak never says “Bogus!”). The music is well orchestrated and fits the mood of each mission just right. A minor complaint is that there isn't much ambient sound within the game, so it doesn't sound like you're in a city, which takes away a little from immersion factor. Also, there is quite a bit music that could belong in a jungle level, but there isn't one jungle in the entire game.

In conclusion, while creativity may not be Naughty Dog's greatest strength, making a story driven that is both wholly enjoyable and very challenging to the very end isn't an easy task to accomplish, but it seems that the development team was more than up to the task. Fans of the first game may be put off that it ditches most of the platforming cliches (item collecting, fetch quests, etc). Fans of action games might be put off by the fact that this is basically a platforming version of an action game. Some may disregard this game for its lack of creativity. The bottom line is anyone who appreciates value, variety and just plain fun in their gaming endeavors, you can't go wrong with Jak II.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/03/05

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