To me, the first Jak & Daxter was a great, if flawed game that featured amazing visuals, fun (if familiar) gameplay, and a main character that was as interesting as a corduroy knife. That Jak said not a word throughout The Precursor Legacy was the main flaw, and irked me to no end. It almost felt the game was focus tested with Daxter as the selling point, which would have been fine if he actually did more than make like Don Rickles in a squirrel suit. Of course, Naughty Dog read my mind (small as it is) and has packed Jak II is full of remarkable improvements in every aspect. The sequel is darker in tone, has even larger worlds to explore, and the gameplay isn’t as tightly focused on the collect-o-rama jumpfesting that made it seem too bandicooty at times.
If you think that Jak II is going to pick things up from the first game’s cliffhanger finale, Naughty Dog whips the rug out from under you right at the start. While inspecting a Precursor artifact, Jak & Daxter get swept up by a strange beam from the machine and are dumped in an even stranger alien city where they’re intercepted by guards. Jak gets nabbed, but Daxter manages to get away and vows to rescue his buddy as soon as he can. That soon is two years later, and when Daxter finally locates him, Jak is definitely a changed man. The evil Baron Praxis had been experimenting on Jak with a substance called Dark Eco, and the results are an extreme case of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Jak is pumped full of Dark Eco, pissed off, and now he’s out for revenge on Praxis. But he’ll soon find out that he’s got to take a number and get in line.
It’s here that the gameplay begins, and after a brief re-learning of the basic moves, you’re introduced to the massive Haven City, which is the game’s hub. Here Jak II steps slightly into Grand Theft Auto territory, as the boys can lend themselves any vehicle that happens to be available or go after some of Baron Praxis’ Krimzon Guard. But you’ll soon be directed to meet up with a group of rebels who send you on your first set of missions. There’s a great amount of plot that follows, and there’s little doubt you’ll be hooked into it as things play out. From taking on swarms of Metal Heads (who seem to want to take over Haven City at the most opportune times), to dealing with Praxis’ guards, the gameplay in Jak II flows along at an addictive pace.
As you travel throughout Haven, you’ll meet up and accept missions from rebellion members, some of which are optional. These missions offer up a wild variety of things to do, from hoverboard missions (which also allow for some cool tricks as you zip about), to search and destroy stages (like smashing Praxis’ mining business) or racing to deliver some goods to rebellion members. Like GTA, you’ll often have a few tasks to complete in order to succeed, and some of the timed missions can be a bit frustrating when the ride you swiped blows up seconds from the goal or you miss a jump and fall to a screaming death. Yes, Jak II is an incredible amount of fun, but it isn’t easy at all. You can skip missions that give you grief, but the game has a way of drawing you back into it and making your reflexes just that tiny bit quicker so that you’ll make that jump or dodge that cannon blast.
Jak can now use 4 different guns as well as the standard attacks from the first game, and the Dark Eco treatments allow him to go Hulk out on enemies as Dark Jak for short periods of time. You can also run around and collect items (which unlocks some cool stuff), but again, the game’s story will hook you in and more than likely keep you focused on learning more about what’s going on. One amusing thing to definitely unlock is the welcome ability to turn off Jak’s soul patch. This “addition” to the character was the only thing I could say I disliked about Jak II, as it reminded me of that annoying “Dudeus” guy in those awful Mountain Dew commercials. But this is such a tiny gripe (and one that’s correctable) that it’s rendered negligible by the quality of the final product.
Jak II’s graphics are stunning, and that’s an understatement. From the sprawling Haven City and its outskirts to the ridiculously smooth and lifelike animation throughout, there’s no denying the power on display here. Every area seems alive and although your interaction with Haven City’s pedestrians is a bit more limited than in GTA (they don’t say all that much), you’ll still run around just as much checking them out. Loads of little touches stand out like the reflections and shading in Daxter’s eyes, the unique, irregular architecture all over the place, and the amazing cutscenes that give the game a movie-like feel at times. It’s going to be hard to follow up a game as good-looking as this, but I’m almost too scared to see just what the folks at Naughty Dog can come up with next on the PS2 (or any other Sony console). The sounds and music are of the same high quality as the visuals, and the game supports Dolby Pro Logic II, should you have the appropriate home theater setup.
There’s absolutely nothing negative to say about Jak II, and if you were even thinking of avoiding it for some reason, you’re missing out on one of the best games of the year, period. Now, if Naughty Dog can read my little mind again and bring gamers an online/offline update to Rings of Power, AND maybe manage to include Jak & Daxter as playable characters, they’d be completely unstoppable.
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