Jak II Review

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was hyped to high heaven as the first major platform game for the Playstation 2 and something to show off the system with the Xbox and GameCube having recently been unleashed upon the gaming community late in 2001. Created by the dynamos that created the Crash Bandicoot series, everyone was excited to play it including myself. Jak and Daxter was one of the first games to use on-the-fly loading in a game and the whole game world was visible from the very beginning. The biggest problem with the game was that it was too easy and was easily beaten in under 10 hours unless you had to collect everything you could. Almost 2 years later Naughty Dog has created Jak II, a much different platform game than the original. Has the challenge been increased since the first game? Let’s check it out.

Much like the first game, Jak II loads everything while you are playing. You see no loading screens or anything. Add into this that the time of the day changes from light to dark, much like the origina., while you are playing this game! I still marvel at this achievement on the Playstation 2 because other games of this ilk from Microsoft and Nintendo have never achieved this. You think the first game’s world was huge? Wait until you get a load of this one! The “hub” of the game is Haven City, where you will spend most of your time in the game. The graphics here are stunning. Haven City is a very technologically advanced city…far more than the lush, grassy world in the original. There are a large variety of vehicles you can use to travel around the rather large city and they all look pretty cool as well.

As for the characters, they have gotten an update as well. Jak and Daxter are far better rendered than they were in the first game and they still have the same fluidity in animation. In fact, this game runs without a hit to the framerate. Given how large the city is and how many things can be on the screen and in the air at once I was pretty amazed. The enemy and other character graphics are great as well. They are rendered very well and unlike most platform games, you don’t necessarily see the tons of “clone” enemies as there are in the others. Naughty Dog has easily gone the extra mile in making this game look good. Add in 16×9 support and Progressive scan and this is one of the more outstanding Playstation 2 games graphically.

However there is one small problem that puts the score down a few notches. Much like Simpsons: Hit and Run (but not as prevalent), there are times where you catch the screen refreshing while doing a quick 180 degree or more turn on a vehicle. It happens extremely rarely, but it is a bit jarring. The framerate doesn’t stutter or anything, it’s just that the screen is trying to refresh itself and you caught it with its pants down so to speak. Other than this the game is just a wonder graphically.

This game is a sound tour de force. I’m giving this game such a high score because of many things. Let’s first start off with something I believe I have never seen before in a videogame: the choice to pick 7 spoken languages and 7 language subtitles. There is a heck of a lot of voice work in this game and it is amazing that all of them are translated into 6 other languages other than English and have subtitles to go with them. To me this is an awesome way to possibly learn some words from other languages. Put the speech to a different language and put subtitles to English. Voila, you learn some Spanish, French, German, etc. I know this may not be a big deal to most of you, but 7 different audio tracks on a game DVD is phenomenal, especially considering how big the game world data must be.

Voices are spot on. I did not hear any voice that didn’t fit the character at all. Daxter has been relegated to a straight second-fiddle role in this game (he’s even out of the title), but his slapstick is much better in this game than it was in the last. Jak has also grown up (more on this in Gameplay) and no longer is he wuss he was in the first game. That was another criticism of the first game, Jak was too much of a pussy. Well, that’s changed.

The weapon sounds, vehicle sounds and all that are also great. With the addition of Dolby Pro Logic II in this game, it simply reeks of quality. Haven City is a busy city and you will hear lots of things surrounding you in it.

For the most part, control is spot on. Most of the controls from the past game are also in this one. X to jump (hit X again to double-jump), circle to twirl Daxter, Square to punch, hold down R1 then hit X for super jump, right analog stick for camera, etc. There are also a few new things this year, such as weapons. In all there are 4 weapons and each can be utilized by pressing the correct direction on the digital pad. Press that button again and Jak will put the weapon away. Jak can also turn into Dark Jak via the R2 button where he is even more powerful than before and has some special moves that can be learned.

Control gets a bit difficult when you have to utilize the weapons and that is the only realistic way you’re going to get through a section of the game. You must learn the amount of pause between shots in order to get out of a battle with all your health intact. In many cases there can be many enemies coming at you at one time and you may need to use the spreader to knock them back. Problem is the ones behind the arc of the spreader are still coming and will get a shot in before you are able to get the next shot from the spreader off. This lends a lot to the difficulty of the game, I just wish you could do some sort of rapid fire thing with some of the weapons.

The only other oddity is in all platform games: the camera. The camera does a good job for the most part, but when enemies are coming at you from every way, it is difficult to know if an enemy is behind you or not until you get hit. Some of the more close quarters sections of the game has camera trouble as well. You have to manipulate it to do what you want in the cramped spaces. These don’t necessarily distract from the game, but they do bring the score down a bit.

The scores a bit low for you probably. Well, there’s a major reason it is low, but I will get back to that later. First off, let’s talk about the story. At the beginning Jak and Daxter are busy with the gang trying to figure out the Precursor ring. It goes live and sucks them into what looks like the future and a foreign land. In this foreign land the Metal Heads are still here, but the ruler is Baron Praxis. Both parties seem to have a deal going on, but the deal seems to be straining. When Jak and Daxter land, Jak is taken away and experimented on with Dark Eco for 2 years. Daxter eventually gets to him and helps him escape, but Jak is a different man. He’s bent on taking down the Baron (I would be too if I was experimented upon for 2 years) and has a much darker attitude than he did before. Oh yeah, he also has this little problem…he can turn into Dark Jak, who has some great strength and some worthwhile special attacks once you get them.

Jak II is an interesting game. Although it is a platform game at heart, it also attempts to be a Jack-of-All-Trades, borrowing elements from other games. The obvious one would be the Grand Theft Auto series. In order to traverse Haven City, you will have to jack a ride unless you plan on walking the huge expanse to your next mission. You commandeer a flying vehicle the same way you would commandeer a car in GTA, you hit triangle. You grab onto the vehicle and then you have the choice of hopping on or not. The controls are very loose while flying, especially with the bigger vehicles and you will end up hitting lots of things, whether they be other ships or buildings. You can hover high or low by hitting the R2 button. I’m not very fond of the vehicle section, but it is the only way to get around Haven City quickly.

Another thing taken from the GTA series is the mission structure. In most cases this game is linear in what you have to do, but sometimes forks are created where you have a choice between missions. There is still an obvious straight line of main missions (much like GTA III and Vice City), but the feel of the huge city and the fact that you have missions just screams of the GTA series. Other games that Jak II shares ideas with is its own brethren in the Sony world, Ratchet and Clank. The addition of weapons in this game (although not as numerous as R&C‘s weapons) makes it an obvious comparison. However I can bypass this one since Ratchet and Clank did get help with the on-the-fly loading from Naughty Dog. There’s also a bit of Tony Hawk in this game as well. You will eventually get the use of a hoverboard and you can do some rail work on a rather small scale. This isn’t a game you’ll be doing manuals and stuff on a course or anything, but the Tony Hawk feeling is there for sure. Obviously Dark Jak can be though of much like the Hulk. Regular Jak is Bruce Banner while Dark Jak is the Hulk. For all the different games and pop culture stuff they rely on in this game, they have put it together quite well. There is trouble in paradise though…the difficulty.

OK…maybe you’ve played Viewtiful Joe for the GameCube, maybe you haven’t. If you have you know how hard it can be…maybe not on Kids level, but once you get into the other 3 difficulty levels it can become very hard. Well, dare I say that Jak II is a much more hard and long game than Viewtiful Joe. Yep, Naughty Dog fixed the easy difficulty from the first game and in return gave us a very difficult game. The problem with the difficulty stems from three things in my perspection: the size of Haven City, racing missions and lack of checkpoints. Let’s hone in on each.

The first two can be somewhat tied together. The size of Haven City is just so large that you can easily get lost. The map in the lower right hand corner doesn’t help you much except point you in the general direction of your next goal. You think you’re getting closer to it, but it’s really farther away than you think it is. This becomes especially troubling in the racing missions where you have a set amount of time to get somewhere. Unless you memorize the city and don’t bump into things (a difficult thing ir you ask me), chances are you will not complete it in time. Then you have to go through it over and over again, which leads us to the next key problem: the lack of checkpoints.

The total rarity of checkpoints in the platform element sections outside of Haven City is appalling. Sure, you may be lucky and have one here and there, but there is no rhyme or reason to it. I was in a mission that was semi short, yet there was a checkpoint. Then I was in a mission that was extremely long and difficult and if there was a checkpoint it was well into the mission. It gets extremely frustrating when you have to repeat a whole level over and over again. Once you beat the mission your are of course elated, but the amount of time spent trying to do so is just too much. In many ways you can liken this game to Splinter Cell. In many ways there is a certain way to go through the level that will deviate only a little, if any. This game is far worse than Super Mario Sunshine in difficulty, but I’m not sure people will make that distinction. What we have here is a great game mired in checkpoint problems. The overall level design is brilliant, it’s just that things may have gotten out of hand when building the larger ones. This is why the score is so low.

Another tough one to score. This is a long game, trial and error or not. The problem is you may become so frustrated that you have to play this game in spurts or destroy your controller. I’m glad they made this game more difficult, but it borders on the maddening. There are also tons of things to pick up along the way in this game, such as Precursor eggs and metal head eggs that can then be used to give you power-ups. This of course makes it a collecting game as well, but I don’t think it leans on that as much as the original did.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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