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Jak II (PlayStation 2) artwork

Jak II (PlayStation 2) review

"You remember Jak & Daxter, don't you? Of course you do. In case you don't, let's recap. "

You remember Jak & Daxter, don't you? Of course you do. In case you don't, let's recap.

Jak and Daxter, two teenage boys who love nothing more than to dis authority, accidentally get in over their heads as a swan dive into a pool of Dark Eco (nasty, mutagenic black ooze) turns Daxter into a furry little ottsel. They start out on a quest to turn Daxter back to normal, but quickly end up having to thwart a scheme for world domination on the part of Gol and Maya, the sages of Dark Eco. They're aided in their epic adventure by the overly-cranky Green Eco sage, Samos, and his lovely daughter Keira, who has a vast knowledge of technology and an impressive arsenal of gadgets.

After Gol and Maya's defeat, the four uncover an ancient Precursor device, and that's where the story of Jak II begins.

My gripes with this game are few, but worth mentioning. They are as follows.

To begin with, the game uses much the same gameplay engine and camera system as the first, which isn't a problem in itself. The problem here stems with the fact that the camera is much less interactive than in the first game. About all you can do is rotate it. This can be a problem at times, because there are situations where you might want to zoom the camera in or back it off, and simply can't. It doesn't hinder gameplay, but it would be nice to be able to adjust the viewpoint more.

The game's health system has been changed significantly from the first. You have eight units of life, which can be replenished by picking up Green Eco health packs. The main issue is that most enemy attacks take off two units of life, and health packs are few and far between in a lot of areas (if there are any at all). In short, they've upped the total number of enemy attacks that Jak can withstand by a measly one point. On the plus side of this, you do have infinite lives.

However, the game's very brutal learning curve will have you playing difficult segments over and over, as much of the time there is no point at which you respawn after completing a task; in most cases, you'll have to start over from the beginning, until you reach a point where the game auto-saves. Thankfully, there are exceptions, usually in the case of particularly lengthy gameplay segments.

Now, I originally thought this particular nitpick was a problem with my television, but after playing the game on two different PS2s on two different TVs, I can safely say that the game's graphics seem slightly glitchy, in that they look as though you're viewing it through water at certain points. This doesn't occur often, and I'm not sure how better to explain it than that, but consider this getting the fine points out of the way.

Assume, for the time being, that I have managed to look past these minor flaws while scrutinizing the bigger picture. In that spirit, allow me to list the things that make this game good.

Let's take a look at where we left off in the tale of Jak & Daxter. At the start of Jak II, the group has dragged the mysterious Precursor artifact they found back to Samos' hut in Sandover Village. Now, the Precursors are a lost society of technologically advanced people, whose temples and artifacts litter the planet. Much of their technology is mysterious and not easilly understood, but Jak seems to have an uncanny knack for operating it--as he demonstrates by activating the uncovered artifact, which turns out to be something called a Rift Gate. Before the four know what's happening, strange winged creatures are flying through the gate and tearing up Sandover Village, while a hideous visage watches menacingly from the entrance of the portal. The creature in question bellows ominously at Jak, who--making a judgment call--throws himself, Keira, Daxter, and Samos into the Rift Gate.

Jak and Daxter emerge alone, seperated from Keira and Samos, in the middle of a massive metropolis. Before either of them have time to figure out their surroundings, Jak is arrested by men in red armor and pistol-whipped into unconsciousness. Daxter escapes and promises to save Jak 'before he knows it,' but two years later, Jak is still imprisoned and being forced to endure Dark Eco injection and experimentation by the city's iron-fisted ruler, Baron Praxis. Evidently, Jak isn't producing the results Praxis wants, so he orders the poor boy killed. Immediately after he leaves however, Daxter finally comes to the rescue--perhaps a little too late, as immediately after Jak rather savagely swears to kill Praxis, he transforms into a feral, beast-like version of himself and nearly rips Daxter's head off. Thankfully he quickly comes to his senses and changes back to normal, and the two make good their escape. Jak begins a quest for revenge, but ends up getting pulled into something much deeper as events plunge further and further out of control for the duo.

The game's involving storyline is exquisitely complimented by excellent gameplay, which is incredibly varied this time around. The first Jak & Daxter was all about exploration and platforming, and while that's intact in the sequel, there's so much more it's hard to list it all in one place.

The game essentially uses the same engine as the first, so the controls should be familiar to you right off the bat. Jak still has his arsenal of melee attacks and mad jumping skills, but a little ways into the game he gets a new toy to play with--the Morph Gun. This baby is a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a mini-gun, and a devestating energy grenade launcher all in one. You start out with only the shotgun attatchment, but as you progress through the game, Jak acquires more and more upgrade modules for the weapon; by the end of the game he's pretty much capable of taking out an entire army with it.

Another notable change is the issue of eco. You may recall that in the first game, Jak was able to channel Blue, Yellow, and Red Eco and use it to power himself up with. While there is eco channeling in Jak II, it's much different this time around. Blue, Red, and Yellow Eco seem to have disappeared completely, but thanks to Baron Praxis' experiments, Jak can now channel Dark Eco to transform into an unstoppable beast with immense speed and immeasurable strength. Most enemies will drop small clusters of Dark Eco; all Jak has to do is get near them and the Dark Eco already inside his body attracts them like a magnet. Collect enough Dark Eco clusters to fill up the Eco Gague and you'll be able to transform into Dark Jak at any time you please (though only for a limited time).

On top of this, there are many, many other added gameplay mechanics. The massive city Jak and Daxter have wound up in is very reminiscient of the Grand Theft Auto series in that the pair will have to explore every nook and cranny of it to find items and take on missions and jobs from various different people. Only by completing missions and meeting new employers will the two ever be able to find their friends and get back home. Missions are often like whole different games in themselves; you'll find racing, first-person shooting, and even some Tony Hawk action for you extreme sports lovers, believe it or not.

The game's graphics, aside from the minor problem mentioned earlier, are easilly on par with the first Jak & Daxter. One might say better, as on top of the excellent visuals, you also have environmental effects; day turns to night as you play, thunderstorms actually come in, rain splatters against the camera, fog rolls over the city... it's, in short, impressive.

Also impressive is the sound. The attention to detail in this area is incredible--just as in the first game, the teensiest little difference in terrain will make Jak's footfalls sound different, for example. Every character has a voice, even the pedestrians that wander the city and the Baron's police force, the Krimzon Guard (much like Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City). The game's voice acting in general is superb. Jak (yes, he speaks!) sounds exactly like you would expect right from the start, and the voices of Daxter, Samos, and Keira return for the second game. Jak II also introduces a whole slew of new characters that are every bit as well-done as Jak and company.

Jak II isn't quite as family-friendly as Jak & Daxter was, however. There's swearing, crude humor, an ass-load of violence, and questionable themes. Overall, the game earns its 'Teen' rating--think of it as to Jak & Daxter as Conker's Bad Fur Day was to Conker's Pocket Tales, only to a lesser degree.

To sum it all up, Jak II is a worthy sequel to Jak & Daxter. Naughty Dog did an excellent job of keeping things fresh and interesting, while giving the game a gripping story that'll make you want to keep playing if only to see how things turn out. It's a lot more difficult than the first one, but trust me--it's worth it.

kieran's avatar
Community review by kieran (November 05, 2003)

Kieran Greyloch is an automotive technology student who enjoys wasting every moment of his spare time playing videogames and tabletop RPGs.

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