Review by maestro_malone

"Jak 2 takes the series in a whole new direction"

Naughty Dog's first platforming investment after ditching the Crash Bandicoot series was Jak And Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. This game did not disappoint those who were anticipating it and provided a beautiful-looking free-roaming experience. It contained elements of Crash, but on the whole felt like a fresh winning concept that created its own unique atmosphere and topped the PS2 platforming league. After such success a sequel was inevitable. In the two years since the release of the original game, a new title was released to compete in the platforming market, namely Ratchet And Clank. This also came with its own individual style, enticing gameplay and graphics even more stunning than Naughty Dog's masterpiece. As a result of the new competition, the Jak series now had to expand in order to maintain its position. Naughty Dog decided to take the franchise in a whole new direction.

The picturesque villages, mountains, beaches and jungles from the first game have been ditched to make room for an extensive city, with more run-down locations branching off from it. The graphical improvement was essential in order to avoid any low-standards with this now vast landscape. To accompany the marvelously animated setting, the characters themselves now look a lot sharper. Whilst not the most realistic looking game in the world (not that it's intended to be), Jak 2's graphics create a balances between the cutesy platforming dynamic of The Precursor Legacy and the sinister urban-based atmosphere of the new game. In effect, Jak 2 is a transitional title in the series.

So, how does it play? Initially, it plays exactly the same as the original. Jak has all the basic requirements for a platforming hero in terms of moves; jump, double jump, high jump, long jump, roll, dive, swing etc. The smooth nature of these commands makes for an easily controllable experience and doesn't create any major issues with getting around. Jak can also swim, drive, skate and use the surroundings by a variety of methods to get around. However, in comparison to the previous game, all such platform-based elements of the challenge feel somewhat simple. There are seldom any particularly difficult obstacles and as a result, Jak 2 is very much based around the combat side of things. There are still some decent puzzles to solve and a few areas of jumping, swimming even skating that provide a distinct challenge; but on the whole, it's all about fighting off hoards of enemies now. Whether this is a welcome change is purely a matter of opinion, but the switch of emphasis certainly fails to ruin a great game.

On to the combat itself: how has it changed exactly? Well the two basic commands remain: the dash and the spin kick. As before, these are effective when used accordingly. However, you'll find that the new enemies can take a lot more damage and whilst the basic attacks are still useful in the first portion of the game, they certainly won't be by the end. For the first time in the series, guns have been introduced, in an obvious attempt to provide the player with a degree of Ratchet And Clank. Whilst the range of weapons available isn't anywhere near as expansive or mixed as the one found in Insomniac's game, the selection works well in Jak 2. It isn't a game that requires endless styles of kill or huge varieties of blasts, since it's still essentially a basic platformer at heart. There are only four guns, but each serves a very different purpose. The scattergun acts as a shotgun, the blaster as a pistol, the vulcan cannon as a machine gun and late in the game, a more innovative and devastating piece of hardware becomes available.

The aspect of the combat that really brings it to life is the new Dark Jak feature. When the player collects enough balls of dark eco (purple stuff in reality), this power becomes available with the touch of the L2 button. For a limited amount of time, Jak turns bright white and speeds up drastically. This is very useful for fighting off a crowd of enemies. Over time, new Dark Moves become available, so the use of this option develops to the extent that it's quite essentially and really adds a lot to many of the levels.

Yet these new complexities in the combat system would be worthless without a good set of missions to test them on. Luckily, the game delivers this aspect with quality. The game is much bigger than the majority of platformers, with a lot of goals to meet and areas to blow your way through. Whilst it is very much combat-heavy, there is enough variety to offer a wide range of tasks to undertake. However, there is one inclusion in the game that really holds it back and stands as the biggest flaw there is. There is far too much driving to be done!

Throughout the game, Jak will be forced to drive vehicles to an excessive amount, to the point where it actually becomes tedious, repetitive and unmemorable. Missions are reached through a GTA-esque system, in which Jak must travel around the city, get a briefing from someone, then head off to another point on the map and undertake the challenge. In a game where the driving is not the strongest point. This feels horribly out of place. The city itself is well-designed, being fairly easy to navigate and rarely perplexing. Jak can roam freely throughout it between missions and in fact, many of the missions themselves are based within the city. Again, shades of GTA are present – you can basically do whatever you want. Shoot people, skate around, try out some mini-games that you find etc. When you act immorally, you'll end up with the police on your tail. This can be fun once or twice, but after that it just becomes annoying and uninteresting, with the same process unfolding every time. It's not just the free-roaming concept that involves a great deal of driving though; there are several missions that require driving too. Whilst some of these are acceptable, the race missions border on awful and really aren't needed in the game at all. The fact they are essential to complete the main game is a major disadvantage.

Also, the range of vehicles available is very small. There are light speeders (like the type used for mini-games in The Precursor Legacy), there are mid-sized cars and there are heavier two-seaters. That basically sums up the selection. Police cars are also available for stealing and riding, but they're much harder to hold onto. Whichever vehicle you choose to take in order to reach your next destination, you will most likely find the entire journey highly uninspiring. None of the cars handle particularly well and since there are so many other obstacles scattered throughout the city, you'll find yourself crashing every five seconds. All vehicles in the city hover high in the air, so the player has the choice to travel at the same height as the traffic, or at ground level. Naturally, it's easier at ground level, but even this causes a major hindrance. Merely bumping a police officer will result in another tedious police chase and since there are so many officers, it becomes practically impossible to make a single jaunt without being wanted and potentially shot down. Basically, Jak isn't Grand Theft Auto and Naughty Dog shouldn't have tried to turn it away from its roots.

Despite the slating of the driving system, Jak 2 remains a very solid and enjoyable game. With the new elements, both good and bad, it manages to maintain it's original charm and structure. The first game became known for its comical cut-scenes, especially with the quotes of Daxter (the furry sidekick). Despite being excluded from the title, Daxter returns and spends the adventure on Jak's shoulder once again. Sadly, he doesn't have quite as many classic one-liners as before and at the beginning of the game, his speech seems a bit too forced and exaggerated. Yet as the game progresses, good old Daxter emerges once again and helps to maintain a distinct level of humour that few games can hold onto. However, it's not just a cutesy platformer with a basic saving the world story this time…

The plot in Jak 2 is much more in-depth and arguably one of the best found in a PS2 game. With a lot of characters to get to know and a few surprises along the way to throw the player off guard, there is very little reason to want to skip the cut-scenes. Basically, the four lead characters from the original find themselves teleported years into the future, where Jak is captured by the Baron of Haven City. After two years of Jak suffering torture, Daxter comes to rescue his old buddy and the two are re-united, for a tale of revenge and war. Probably sounds a little more sinister than it is from that description, but the general idea is that the game sustains a kiddy feel whilst taking on a more adult plot.

On the whole, this is one of the best platformers on the market. Better than the original? Hard to say – that depends on your taste. Yet it is inarguably very different. Fans of the original may not necessarily like Jak 2 and likewise, those who despised the original may still enjoy the new installment. There is a lot of fun to be had here, plus a great deal of replay value. The rewards for the collection of certain items along the way are enough to keep the player coming back for a long time.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/13/06

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