Jak II (PlayStation 2) review
"Jak II is the product of a long line of cartoony platformers produced by Naughty Dog. Unlike the first game in the series, Jak II tweaks the formula by implementing GTA-esque design. Playing as both Jak and his sidekick Daxter, you'll have an entire city to explore filled with bustling crowds, anxious police officers, and a fair share of futuristic hover cars to take advantage of. Jak II doesn't scrap its roots entirely, though, because most of its missions take place outside the city in setting..."
Jak II is the product of a long line of cartoony platformers produced by Naughty Dog. Unlike the first game in the series, Jak II tweaks the formula by implementing GTA-esque design. Playing as both Jak and his sidekick Daxter, you'll have an entire city to explore filled with bustling crowds, anxious police officers, and a fair share of futuristic hover cars to take advantage of. Jak II doesn't scrap its roots entirely, though, because most of its missions take place outside the city in settings you'll be familiar with if you've played other 3D platforming games. The missions themselves are also significantly more difficult than those of the past, and not in a good way. Though Jak II has its share of beautiful environments and memorable characters, its difficulty doesn't match its kid-friendly charm, and ultimately keeps Jak II from being a huge step up for the genre.
After accidentally unlocking a rift gate at the end of the first game, Jak and Daxter find themselves three hundred years in the future in unfamiliar territory. Baron Praxis, potentate of Haven City, has a vendetta against Jak's father, and imprisons Jak because of it. The Baron tortures Jak periodically by injecting him with a toxic ooze called Dark Eco. Daxter eventually breaks Jak out of prison, but the Dark Eco has a lasting effect. With enough Dark Eco, you have the ability to morph into a more ruthless side of Jak -- Dark Jak. He wants revenge against Praxis, and immediately joins Haven City's underground movement set out to overthrow the Baron. Jak's first line sums up his goal: "I'm gonna kill Praxis!"
Although Jak II borrows Haven City's design from past Grand Theft Auto games, the missions are still what you'd expect from a 3D platformer. You'll travel all over Haven City running errands for various different parties and even helping out your enemies in order to gain enough resources to eventually defeat the Baron. In order to get from place to place, you'll need to steal any of the passing hover cars in the city. Just like in GTA, you'll also have to be cautious of the police, because any suspicious activity will have them on your tail in no time. While some of the missions have you delivering packages or racing to a certain location on the map, most of the missions take place outside of Haven City. Once you arrive at the designated spot on the map, a door opens up, and you'll be taken outside of the city walls to where the real platforming begins
Jak II's core mechanics are fun, but the goals make the missions more difficult than they should be. If you've played any 3D platformer released within the last five years, you'll know what to expect from Jak II. There are plenty of ledges to jump to and from, lasers to dodge, and enemies to squash within each area. As you go you'll acquire three different guns to deal your damage with. These firearms will help you take enemies out faster and more efficiently than Jak's standard spin move, and are an integral part of your success. If you've collected enough Dark Eco you also can morph into Dark Jak temporarily to deal as much damage as possible with his more deadly attacks. You'll also take part in some hover car races, and use a unique item to Jak II--the hover board. The hover board allows you to travel across water and at higher speeds than you can achieve on foot. You'll also use the hover board to perform tricks in a simplified skateboarding type mini game. Unfortunately, many of the missions with restricting time limits become frustrating quickly. The only way to complete these missions is to use trial and error in order to figure out the fastest way to complete each task. In the process you'll see Missions Failed screen many, many times. Most of the game's life-span comes from retrying many of these harder missions over and over again. In such a kid-friendly game, such punishing difficulty seem out of place, and keep the game from achieving its goal of being inviting to all ages and skill levels.
The presentation is Jak II's most defining feature. In fact, Jak II is one of the best looking games on the PlayStation 2; don't let the cartoony style fool you. Haven City is beautifully realized, from the verdantly landscaped mountainside, to the futuristic skyscraper that marks the center of the city. The entire world streams in real time with no loading in between areas. Best of all, each character (including civilians) has detailed facial features that express their emotions clearly. Whether you're duking it out in the sewers, or clobbering enemies on the beach, each area is detailed and varied. If anything, Jak II is a graphical showcase for the PlayStation 2.
Jak II's voices are also impressive, whereas its soundtrack is nothing special. In the first installment of the Jak and Daxter series, Daxter did all of the talking while Jak followed along mutely. Apparently the Dark Eco brought out Jak's inner voice, because he is now quick to express his hatred for Praxis in any situation. Each character has a distinct voice that defines its personality just as much as its visual look. Daxter always has something funny and ridiculous to say, while Jak always contests him with a witty and somewhat cynical response. Unfortunately, Jak II's soundtrack doesn't quite match the quality of the voice acting. The music is varied enough whereas not to get too annoying, but it's not too memorable--a flaw with most all of Naughty Dog's games.
The second installment in the Jak series is its own achievement because it successfully emulates the GTA formula without seeming redundant. In fact, by borrowing the formula, Jak II has set a precedent in the 3D platforming genre. Jak II's characters will keep you interested, but you'll have your fair share of frustration trudging through some of the harder missions. Any gamer with patience will have a lot of fun playing through Jak II.
Community review by korubi (September 12, 2006)
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