Jak II Review
Everything in Jak II comes together to produce one of the best-looking, best-playing games on the PS2 so far.
Naughty Dog has always been one of the strongest cards in Sony's hand. The developer's games are consistently among the most technically and creatively impressive to appear on the PlayStation and, more recently, the PS2. In the days of the first PlayStation, Naughty Dog was known primarily for a raft of games based on the only-slightly-loveable Crash Bandicoot, a character that was seen as Sony's answer to Mario. But in 2001, the company switched both consoles and franchises with the creation of Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, a whimsical platforming romp through a multitude of brightly colored worlds. The game had all the trappings of your typical platformer. There was Jak, the mute action hero with an array of snazzy moves; Daxter, the furry and wisecracking sidekick; and tons and tons of items to collect. When Jak and Daxter hit the scene, it filled a pretty conspicuous gap in the PlayStation 2's cutesy platformer lineup. What's more, its cliffhanger-ending left players expecting a sequel that would give us more of what made the first game so endearing.
That was before Grand Theft Auto rewrote the gaming rules. Endearing is no longer in vogue. Instead, urban grit and grime now rule the day, and it looks like Naughty Dog has been paying attention. The developer's new game, titled Jak II, has taken a distinct turn for the darker in nearly every aspect. However, the series' storyline, visuals, and gameplay have all adapted surprisingly well to recent changes in gamers' tastes. Jak II is quite a different game from its predecessor, though they share some basic gameplay mechanics, and its incorporation of several genres' styles will likely increase its appeal to a wider audience than that of Jak and Daxter. Perhaps most importantly, the styles come together in a very powerful way, making for a pretty amazing game.
Jak II begins innocently enough when Jak, Daxter, and their old pals, Keira and Samos, get to tinkering with some ancient precursor machinery. One errant press of the wrong button, however, and they're confronted by a big rift in the sky, a ghastly, trash-talking monster, and an unrequested trip through a portal, where they're launched through a big, multicolored-light tunnel. When they land, Jak and Daxter find themselves in a grungy, dystopian city where they're confronted by a group of red-suited guards under the command of the evil Baron Praxis. Daxter escapes, but Jak is taken hostage and undergoes two grueling years of experimentation involving the mysterious energy source dark eco. After two years of this torture, Daxter finally rescues Jak, who makes a vow to kill Praxis (Jak speaks--bitterly--in this one). The pair then make their way into Haven City to exact revenge or to, at least, figure out where the hell they are. Without spoiling too much, the game's storyline is stronger and contains more unexpected twists than you'd expect--especially if you played the first game. The Baron isn't the only villain; you'll also have to contend with "metal heads" who are an army of creatures that are always on the verge of besieging Haven City. The battle between the three factions--Praxis' army, the underground rebellion, and the metal heads--is surprisingly intriguing.
The flow of Jak II's gameplay is radically different from what fans of Jak and Daxter are used to. While the first game had you traversing its lavish environments in a sort of free-form, interconnected manner, Jak II operates with Haven City as its hub. The game's initial prison break sequence is straight out of the platforming handbook, but as soon as you enter the city proper, you'll see that Jak II's similarities to Grand Theft Auto are not limited to its more-adult tone. The streets of Haven City are populated by ambling townspeople, steady traffic from hovercars, and the Baron's jackbooted army, the krimzon guard, whom you can effectively think of as policemen. You can "borrow" a passing car by knocking off its driver, and this lets you cover ground through the city more quickly. But, of course, if you disturb the peace too much, you'll have the wrath of the krimzon guard to deal with. All of this may sound like what you're used to in Grand Theft Auto, which it is. It works surprisingly well, however, given the game's previously kid-friendly pedigree.
You can't wander around Haven City stealing hovercars and aggravating the cops all day, of course, and you won't. Jak and Daxter immediately become embroiled in an underground resistance movement against the Baron, and your involvement in this rebellion will have you running back and forth around the city completing missions with a wide variety of goals. Again, all of this plays out just like you'll remember from GTA. There are a number of story characters scattered around the city that you can find by using icons on your map, and when you visit them, they'll give you assignments that, when completed, advance both your access to the city and the game's storyline. Also like GTA, you'll find a number of optional missions that provide you with rewards but aren't required to move the plot along. The many missions are spaced out very nicely, and you'll often have several goals at one time. There is a bit of nonlinearity involved, so if you get frustrated with one of the required missions (and you will), you're usually free to complete something else and can try the difficult one later.