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Jak II

Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: SCE
14 October 2003
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#51 for 2003
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Title
On the Immortality of Princess Zelda and Solid Snake (and Kazooie)
This game was really a satyre on action games disguised as a videogame.

This game's pace and rate of destruction was incredibly crazed for the time it came out: GTA looked like an amateur game in comparison. Of course, action's appeal was simply the childish inner desire of destruction for destruction's sake, albeit here, unlike its action oriented commercial counterparts, there is something more going on. Whereas Metal Gear Solid is its zen and metaphisical counterpart, this game is virtually its opposite (and its parody): a vulgar videogame that, in the realms of youth-oriented games, was at the time virtually unmatched in terms of being vulgar, ignorant, spoilt, potty, amphetaminic, pornographic... Jak 2 is the sci-fi version of Conker's Bad Fur Day in the GTA age -- yes, because Dexter is truly Conker (or a mammalian Kazooie).

My (exhaggerated) appreciation for this game was because I pretty much read it as the amelioration of Conker as a satyre of consumerist videogame culture:
* Jak is a junkie (and his name is even consonant),
* Daxter is Conker ipse facto,
* Jak's three super-sexy-charged heroines are more or less transpositions of the "movie" star featured on Gex3, and Jak gets none of them: their unnatural bodies reflect his (or, worse, Daxter's furry) distorted juvenile lubric desires, equally unnatural - perhaps reflected in his "dark-ego" (or. even better, dark triad) nature.
* the "future" is videogame's own 3D future away from the Nintendo era (that is, GTA),
* the meta-narrative of Jak's story ideally matches the players' ones,
* the guns are a parody of war games (and a weird subtext to school massacres: the only kid actually featured on the game is both the victim/perpetrator/protagonist),
* the story itself is a parody and a metaphor for the Fall of Communist countries (and the establishment of a new one, eventually),
* and so on...

What added to the game was the enormous amount of simultaneous voice acting (6-7 languages, Japanese and Korean included, all stuffed in the PAL version) squeezed into just a single disk, along with its wide variety of (repeatable) missions and unlockables, including the potty cutscenes. This was one of the best games ever to screw up with out of bounds explorations, glitches, and speedrunning, which had made the game neither unplayable nor boring, making its longevity virtually tenfold its summer-long lifetime.

Other things that certainly contributed was the vast array of different environments, cross-genre blendings, and the interactive soundtrack that varied according to each occasion (eg: being attacked, being on the jet-board, etc). Furthermore, the Jet-Board virtually embedded Tony Hawk's pro skating into what was already a Jazz Jackrabbit/Jet Moto mashup, also featuring a few puzzles during missions form time to time, eventually pointing at a future of "total gaming" in which each and every single gaming genre is fully blended together.

While this one is the farthest videogaming might have been from high art, this entry was a notable guilty pleasure of an action game grouping together a lot of celebrated N64 corpses from the past century fugazied in duty, nonetheless.

Politically incorrect game of the year: GTA at least was not expressely targeted at kids as Gex3 Jak's 3 Jak2 was.
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Title
Jak II was most likely a difficult transition for Naughty Dog. After practically perfecting the 3D collectathon platformer with the first Jak And Daxter, the franchise immediately risked peaking at just the first game. How does one surpass something that is arguably the most exemplary piece of media in its respective field? Does one just try to replicate it by trying the same thing and hope for the same results? No, and that’s definitely not what Naughty Dog did. Naughty Dog took two years of development to rebuild the series from the ground up, going in a radically new direction. Naughty Dog set out for the sequel to Jak And Daxter to be bolder, more ambitious, and much more mature than its predecessor. Naughty Dog succeeded with flying colors as this game was praised from every outlet at the time. Most critics lauded this game for its story, presentation, and smooth gameplay calling it one of the most impressive games on the PS2 at the time. However, the contrarians to this praise were just as vocal and consistent with their discrepancies with this game. These critics wrote off Jak II as a “Grand Theft Auto clone”, cynically alluding to the open-world direction the developers took as opposed to the collectathon 3D platformer style of the first game. While the GTA influence in Jak II is very noticeable, the game is anything but derivative. The critics that wrote these shallow claims failed to see the nuance of Jak II. It’s a sequel that is much more inspired than just copying a template. It’s a sequel that manages to offer something different without straying too far from its platformer roots.

The opening cutscene starts us off in the familiar Sandover Village with another voice-over from Samos introducing us to another adventure. Immediately as the characters from the first game are in view, you’ll notice that the character animations have improved significantly. The jagged edges present in the graphics of the first game have literally been smoothed out. Subtitles can also be turned on for every cutscene, giving them much more of impressive, cinematic quality. Remember what I said about the first game looking like it could be a cartoon series? The presentation in Jak II could practically be an animated feature film. That’s the caliber of what Jak II immediately has to offer.

The opening cutscene might be confusing to those who didn’t get the true ending of the first game. If you collect every power cell, you open a gate at the top of Gol and Maia’s Citadel with all of them and the characters are awe-stricken by a blinding white light emanating from it. Somehow, they managed to drag this gate all the way down the entire map of the first game to Samos’s hut. It must be the heavy lifting Daxter is referring to in the opening cutscene. The characters from the first game are ready to go through the gate with a machine that Keira built when the sky turns an ominous purple and a giant, hideous beast appears from it, threatening Jak. Once the machine blows up during the warping process, Jak and Daxter are separated from Samos and Keira and are spat out into an urban area with a giant tower and flying zoomers everywhere. A group of armored goons come and knock out Jak with the butt of a gun. Daxter escapes, promising Jak that he’ll come and rescue him. Two years later, Jak is being tortured in a murky, dark prison by two menacing characters. Before Jak is disposed of, Daxter finally comes to his rescue. They escape from the prison to find themselves in Haven City, an industrial cesspool of a city led by the ruthless Baron Praxis, one of the menacing figures torturing Jak from before. Throughout the game, Jak becomes the acting figure force in a group referred to as “the underground”, a group of rebels whose mission is to overthrow Baron Praxis and put the rightful leader of Haven City in his place. Jak’s motivations working for them are more like a revenge story ala Oldboy, getting back at The Baron for experimenting on him for two whole years.

As you can probably tell, things are a little different in Jak II. Once you retrieve the banner from Deadtown after the first real mission of the game, our heroes do the victory dance from the first game with the familiar jingle. The structure under them collapses into the mud and their victory becomes a perilous escape, to swiftly remind them that they’re not in Kansas anymore. Jak II’s setting, tone, and overall direction are a far cry from the first game's inviting, fantastic world. Haven City is essentially the video game equivalent of North Korea (although North Korea is shockingly even worse). The city is made up of many unique areas like the docks, the bazaar, the slums, etc., but all of them look like they are drowning in a depressing sea of famine and pestilence with a total lack of morale. This is in contrast with the Baron’s tower, a behemoth of a building that eclipses every part of Haven City like the moon in Majora’s Mask, with just as much of a foreboding presence. The Baron’s tower signifies an absolute imbalance of class, resources, and stability. Haven City is destitute, and it’s hanging by a thread. There were more hostile areas of the first Jak And Daxter, but none of them felt as depleted as Haven City as a whole. There is a monumental depression throughout the entire city.

In terms of the new gameplay mechanics, several of them do warrant the Grand Theft Auto comparisons. The primary way of traversing Haven City is via zoomer, but it’s not the same one from the first game. Zoomers have become the commercialized car model of the future, whether it be because Keira was a technological innovator or they are now cheap motor vehicles for the impoverished citizens of Haven City is unclear. Some are light and fast and some are more durable and compact. I much prefer the durable ones because they can take more damage. Considering how many obstacles there are in Haven City to run into, picking a lighter one will normally result in the thing exploding and damaging you. Eventually, Jak will get a jet-board to ride around on, but doing this greatly increases the chance of hitting someone with it and altering the Krimson Guards. The vehicles are the only practical option. The vehicles aren’t the aspect that reminds me of GTA however. It’s the fact that the only way to get into one is to steal it. Jak leaps from the ground to snatch up a bystander’s zoomer like a frog’s tongue to a fly. Vehicles are lying around many of the popular mission spots, but these zoomers are probably parked there by someone else which doesn’t help Jak’s case. Fortunately, the real owner of the car always complies with Jak, jumping out of the vehicle even if it’s over a body of water. If they didn’t, Jak might have to boost this game’s rating with his new arsenal of toys.

If the carjackings in this game don’t remind you of GTA, the guns certainly will. After the first few missions, Jak will receive a gun from the underground mob boss, Krew. Jak starts with one weapon but acquires new mods for it as the game progresses. Each gun mod is different and utilizing all of them in certain scenarios is the optimal way to succeed in the hefty, combat-based missions of this game. Jak starts with the scattergun, a weapon that acts as a shotgun that is great for killing enemies at short range, killing a large number of smaller enemies, or pushing an enemy off of a cliff with sheer force. Soon after, Jak gets the blaster which is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a long-range rifle great for shooting at enemies from far away. It can also be combined with Jak’s punch and spin kick moves for some effective combos. The jumping spin kick move seems to be a popular way to dispose of a large number of enemies as blaster bullets will fly from five different directions. It’s effective most of the time, but I wouldn’t use it as a crutch. The Vulcan Cannon disperses a large number of bullets at a breakneck speed and is probably the most useful weapon in the game for a large number of enemies and for the sturdier enemies. Last but certainly not least, the Peacemaker is a high-powered missile launcher that blasts big balls of energy at enemies. It’s the most powerful weapon in Jak’s arsenal, but it, unfortunately, appears very late in the game and the ammo for it is always very sparse. Personally, I think the guns in Jak II are much too fictitious to be comparable to the authentic models of firearms in Grand Theft Auto. Come to think of it, so are the flying cars. Grand Theft Auto’s graphic nature comes with its sense of fair realism, whereas Jak II is still a little too based on fantasy to be comparable. I guess anything with guns and a moral grey is the pinnacle of mature content in gaming.

Jak also has an internal weapon. Because Baron Praxis experimented on Jak with dark eco for two years, Jak sometimes transforms into what is known as “Dark Jak.” After collecting a certain amount of dark eco from crates and enemies, the L2 button will trigger Dark Jak. His hair gets bigger, he erects giant claws from his hands like Wolverine, and he radiates a dark purple color from him that clings to him like static. Dark Jak is essentially a tougher, faster, temporary boost to Jak’s primary moveset. He moves much more erratically and takes less damage when he gets hit. Once you turn back to normal, the Dark Jak gauge completely resets and you’ll have to collect enough dark eco to trigger Dark Jak again which can take a while. I recommend using Dark Jak conservatively, only using it in tight sections with a lot of enemies. There is a place in the Water Slums housing an oracle from the first game that can upgrade Dark Jak and give him a few new moves like the Dark Jak bomb and the Dark Jak wave. Both are super moves that wipe out every enemy in the vicinity and drain your entire gauge, so using them in a pinch is the right way to utilize it. As cool as Dark Jak is, I never found myself using it. This isn’t because of the gauge having to charge up after using it, but because the guns are useful enough to deal with anything in the game. Dark Jak is more of an aspect of Jak’s character arc than a useful tool for combat.

It’s very helpful that the game gives you all of these tools at your disposal because one thing Jak II is remembered for is its notorious difficulty. A slight criticism I made about the first game was that it was a tad easy, but this is definitely not the case for Jak II. Jak II will do its best to bombard you with enemies, give green eco health cubes parsimoniously, and sometimes forget to implement checkpoints during missions. Jak II’s difficulty curb feels like having a chronic illness. Sometimes, the difficulty is merciful and manageable. Other times, it hits you like a punch to the kidneys. This inconsistent range of difficulty is present throughout the game. One of the hardest missions is as early as just the fourth mission in the game. Jak runs through a factory getting chased by a tank, but the player’s perspective during this mission is the green visor, the first-person perspective of the tank. It’s constantly targeting Jak while it tries to mow him down and there are other laser-guided turrets on all sides. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few people quit this game this early on because of this mission. This is even before Jak gets his first gun. Contrastly, one of the last missions in the game is a simple route on the jet-board to get on a large crate to crush some metalhead eggs in the strip mine. Debating on the hardest mission in the game is not a uniform choice for those who have played this game. It could be the sewer escort mission with Haven City’s Three Stooges gawking the whole time. It could be racing Erol through the entire city and hitting every accelerator ring along the way, or any of the other racing missions really. It could be any mission with the clunky titan suit that controls as stiffly as a paralyzed cat. In my personal opinion, the pinnacle of difficulty is the water slum mission in the middle of the game. Jak has to retrieve an artifact from the water slums and carry it out of there in one piece. Jak only has a little way to go to get out of the slums, so it should be easy, right? Wrong. Practically every Krimson Guard the city has on-call ambushes Jak with everything they’ve got. Hordes of them jump out of their ships to shoot you from all directions. Jak can’t get past them because the ships are guaranteed to shoot you. Jak can’t use the jet-board in the water because a bot will kill you on sight. This is the only mission in the game that requires a concrete strategy to get past. It also might catch you off guard because the mission doesn’t have a beginning cutscene to give you an idea of what you’ll be up against. If you don’t have enough ammo before going to this mission, you’ll need to pray to get past it.

Even with all of these radical changes from the first Jak And Daxter, labeling this game as “adolescent Grand Theft Auto” still doesn’t ring true to me. This game still balances plenty of elements from the first game to keep it in the realm of the 3D platformer. As Jak is escaping the prison, Daxter reminds him of all of his old moves. Jak can still punch, spin kick, double jump, roll, and uppercut like he could in the previous game. In my experience, the characters in open-world games, especially around the PS2 era, were not as acrobatic. Jak still plays like a platformer character. Does the gritty world of Haven City accommodate the old, platformer moves from the first game? In the hub of the city, it’s debatable. The old platformer mechanics shine in the sub-levels of Haven City. Most of the missions take place in areas that branch off of the main Haven City hub. It’s in these places that Jak II embraces its platforming roots. The aforementioned Deadtown is a crumbling ruin of a previous Haven City settlement, now infested with metal heads. The eroding platforms here will test your jumping abilities. The dig site is a volcanic cave where you have to climb and swing your way to a piece of an artifact. The Pumping Station requires using the pumps to jump to higher areas. I don’t think I’ve seen any of this in a Grand Theft Auto game, but this is certainly reminiscent of what you do in the first Jak And Daxter. My favorite sub-level in Haven City is the Mountain Temple/Forest area because they both feel like an area from the first game. This level feels far removed from the grit and grime of the rest of Haven City. Precursor architecture makes up the foreground of these green hills making it seem like this area hasn’t been adulterated by the corruption of time. If not for the camouflaged metal heads, this place would seem like a great place to have a picnic. It will also test your jumping abilities, namely the falling rock part.

The obligatory platformer collectables also make a return in Jak II. Like the first game, it restrains itself to only a few collectables, but none of them are really worth much. Whenever you kill a metal head, an incandescent egg pops out of its head. This is a skull gem that is used to upgrade Dark Jak and give him new moves. Considering that I seldom used Dark Jak, the skull gems become worthless after the first few upgrades. It doesn’t help that you can’t farm for the skull gems because they don’t reset and the oracle requires a substantial amount of them for the later upgrades. Precursor orbs make a return, but not as a form of currency. Precursor orbs unlock fun extras like “big head mode” and “unlimited Dark Jak”. It’s a good thing that precursor orbs are made trivial in this game because collecting all of them is even more taxing than it is in the first game. Instead of 50-200 of them scattered about across a level, they hide in the crevices of the sub-levels and there is no way to know how many are left. The completionist scavenger hunt is definitely not worth the trouble.

The hybrid nature of Jak II’s gameplay combining platforming and an open-world shooter gives it a unique style that hadn't been seen in too many other games of the time. The game balances both styles of gameplay fluidly with spectacular presentation accentuating it. I still don’t buy the argument that Naughty Dog implemented all of these features out of left-field because of the impact of GTA III. Open-world gameplay was the logical evolution from the first Jak And Daxter. If you consider the world of the first game, the seamless nature of it is practically an open world as it is. One could pinpoint every single area of the first Jak And Daxter without any geographical blindspots. One could argue that there were barriers between the levels, but the same could be said about the areas of some of the most popular open-world games. Is San Andreas not an open-world game because you can’t go to San Francisco immediately, or Mexico in Red Dead Redemption? Jak II also has these barriers as you need a colored clearance to access many areas of Haven City. It’s all a matter of how the world in the game is organized and presented. The aspect of Jak II that furthers its identity into the open-world genre is the missions.

The open-world direction also comes with many aspects that are usually lacking in the 3D platformer genre. Open-world games tend to be more story-driven and feature an eclectic cast of characters that are more fleshed out than the frequent figures you meet in a 3D platformer. The ensemble cast of characters in Jak II is one of my favorites in gaming. Each character, old or new, good or evil, human or animal, are appealing in their own unique ways. The new characters in this game wouldn’t have found a place in the first game, and the old characters have matured gracefully.

Jak is obviously the character from the first game that has had the most radical transformation (literally). The 3D platformer is often a silent protagonist as a simple character, to envelope the player into being a relatively faceless avatar. This does not work in the open-world game because of the cinematic nature of the genre. Jak II gives Jak a voice, and a relatively brooding one as well to compliment his confident, aggressive demeanor. Jak is motivated by anger and seeks retribution for the two years of torture he had to undergo in the Baron’s prison. To do this, he’s willing to wade through the muck of Haven City by doing difficult odd jobs for the underground and making deals with the seedy mob boss, Krew. He’s no longer the clean, hopeful prodigal being that Samos made him out to be. He’s a man now with his own agenda which can verge on the morally grey side at times. I wouldn’t label Jak as an anti-hero because everything he does is for a greater cause, whether his intentions to do so are or not. He also still cares deeply for his friends and the world he lives in. Fleshing out Jak’s role as the protagonist to deviate from the 3D platformer avatar made him so much more interesting.

Daxter may have been cut from the title, but his presence is just as constant as it was in the first game. Daxter was a bit hard to stomach in the first game, but he’s my favorite character in the sequel. The developers took the time to refine his role as the comic-relief sidekick. He’s much less shrill in this game than he used to be and his comedic prowess is more well-tuned. His role as the comic-relief character is elevated because of the contrast of the dark world of this game and the serious characters. He banters well with every character including Jak, but my favorite scenes with him are when he’s bantering with Krew. Daxter turns into Jeff Ross whenever he’s in Krew’s saloon. Daxter certainly has plenty of material to work with considering Krew is a disgusting blob who has to breathe heavily every five seconds after he speaks. The first game didn’t need Daxter because the foreground was bright and hopeful. In the sequel, the game probably would’ve been too drab without him. Samos and Keira are both launched in different directions from Jak And Daxter, so both characters are separated from the two. Samos is the same stern, patriarchal figure he is from the first game. His role in this game is an origin story that explains how he became the green sage and how he became Jak’s guardian. Keira is still the same vivacious wiz-kid she was, but she’s a little more cynical because of the setting she’s been placed in. She’s veiled behind a curtain as a racing mechanic for a good portion of the game and doesn’t recognize Jak because he can talk now. How Daxter refrained from flirting with her is an uncharacteristic move on his part, but she eventually reveals herself after she realizes it’s Jak And Daxter. She’s a bit perturbed about Jak’s transformation and his dealings with Krew, so her role as Jak’s love interest is challenged making her place in the series more interesting.

From the perspective of Jak and the player, meeting the new characters in Jak II can be an anxious affair. They are much different from the folksy characters from the first game. The armor-clad, gruff-speaking, tattooed, determined characters can be intimidating at first, but they become endearing as the game progresses. Every character’s quirks and personality are the sums of the charming whole of the game. Torn is the first character Jak meets after breaking out of prison. He’s the prime tactician for the underground movement, motivated by the atrocities he witnessed while serving the Baron as a Krimson Guard. He looks, sounds, and probably smells like a walking cigarette. This is probably due to the fact that he conducts his plans out of a dingy bunker in the slums, where the lighting is dim and the pipes give him sludge instead of water. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy and the fact that he’s still motivated while living under these conditions shows his strength as a character. He gives you most of your first jobs and progressively grows to admire Jak. Assisting Torn in the movement is a whole cast of great characters. Kor is an experienced old man who looks after a kid that is supposedly the real heir to Haven City. Vin is the technician assigned to keep an omniscient watch over the metalheads and keep track of the city’s shield walls. His anxious energy and elevated paranoia are always a joy to experience. Tess is an underground spy who takes up a bartending position at Krew’s saloon. She’s a flirty girl who takes up a bizarre love interest for Daxter. Is it Daxter’s confidence that won her over? Playing both sides on the field is Ashelin, the Baron’s daughter who has a different sense of diplomacy than her father. If this game wasn’t rated T because of the guns and the swearing, Ashelin is the teenage boy’s masturbatory fantasy that makes it so. She’s also strong-willed and as passionate about changing things as Torn is. Other characters such as Onin, the blind soothsayer and her Spanish, parrot-monkey hybrid assistant Pecker come into play to give Jak guidance in finding the secrets of Haven City. Pecker is hilarious and so are his fights with Daxter, a contested rivalry between two obnoxious animal sidekicks. My favorite new character is Sig, a wastelander who finds treasures and artifacts for Krew outside of the city walls. He’s intimidating at first, but he proves to be a softy on the inside and I love that he uses different fruits as terms of endearment for his comrades.

The foreground of the open-world game naturally fleshes out each character. This is definitely the same for the villains of this game. Gol and Maia were villains that had cliched motives and weren’t so fleshed out because the game’s simplicity didn’t call for it. The villains in Jak II are cruel, cold-blooded sociopaths that mirror the worst characteristics of real-life people. The Baron is one of the greatest villains in video game history because of how mighty his presence is in Haven City. It’s also because of how despicable he is. He’s a compassionless ego-maniac who is always on a rampage to bolster it, always at the cost of the people he rules. He took a young Jak off the streets by force to torture him for two years under his “dark eco-program”, an idea to create a powerful warrior by experimenting on civilians. The fact that he took a kid by force to torture is bad enough, but the more unnerving picture is that Jak probably wasn’t the first person he abducted for this project, and the ones that succumbed to being injected with dark eco and dying just proved to be an annoyance for him. He also makes clandestine deals with the opposing side of the war to have the metal heads attack the city, giving his rule a fabricated reason to continue. He’s a dictator without the charismatic facade. He rules with an iron fist that will crush anything and anyone that opposes him. When he dies during the third act of this game, he doesn’t atone for his mistakes with his final breath. He rather tells Jak that he’s proud of himself because he thinks he gave Jak the potential to stop the metal heads with his experiments. He thinks that if Jak succeeds, he will be credited for his ingenuity. His unscrupulous attitude right up to the end is why he’s a fantastic villain. The game makes you hate The Baron as much as Jak does. The Baron’s right-hand man Erol is a sadistic lunatic with an ego that rivals his leader. He’s the one who ambushes Jak and takes him to jail by force and a huge part of Jak’s dark transformation. He’s not conducting the experiments with the Baron to make a weapon, but because he gets pleasure in torturing others. He forms a symbiotic rivalry with Jak once Jak becomes a beacon of hope for the people of Haven City. He salivates at the opportunity to defeat Jak while Jak’s at his peak of popularity, but not just to dash the hopes of the city. He wants to crush his relationship with Keira, his pride, and his confidence as a hero, and then flick him away like a crippled ant. He’s as twisted as they come.

Backing both of these monsters are the Krimson Guards, the police of Haven City, and the force of the Baron’s reign. These guards are everywhere in Haven City and will dispose of Jak at the drop of a dime if you cause any problems in the city. Unfortunately, doing so is pretty easy to do because they are hard to avoid while driving or using the jet-board. The drive to every mission will most likely be accompanied by the intense Krimson Guard chase theme. They will ambush Jak with sheer numbers, blasting him with their guns and shocking him with their short-ranged electric beams. They come in both red and yellow armor which is appropriate considering the Krimson Guards act like wasps. They come in large numbers, they are aggressive, and they will stop at nothing to protect their territory with force. In some missions, the Krimson Guards will make small talk with each other about trivial things like sports games and complain about meetings like they’re having water-cooler conversations. It almost humanises the enemy's forces and makes you wonder about the morality of these men like the Nazis serving Hitler.

The other enemy faction is the metal heads. They are vicious creatures that look like komodo dragons, attack like tigers, and come in various forms like the lurkers from the first game. To give you a scope of how dangerous these things are, the lurkers are now low-class slave labor in Haven City, making the enemies from the first game pitiable compared to the beasts in this game (the Krimson Guards included). Haven City is at war with them and this has apparently been the case for eons, as the war in the middle east. The metal heads are so beastly and formidable that the Krimson Guards are afraid of them. If the Krimson Guards are like wasps, the metal heads are like termites. They are an invasive species that tear apart the infrastructure of a city like clockwork, cementing themselves as the imminent nightmare of every citizen of Haven City.

Lastly, the open-world foreground gives way to a more fleshed-out, richer story than the first game. While the story is definitely more interesting, it’s also much more convoluted and confusing. The story of Jak II is divided into three acts that focus on a slightly different narrative per act. The first act is Jak’s introduction to Haven City, doing odd jobs for both Krew and Torn to climb the ladder to his revenge. There is also a figure known as “The Shadow”, leading the underground movement. The odd jobs Jak does will prove his worth to The Shadow so he can converse with him. A mission in Deadtown at the end of the first act leads to an alarming surprise for Jak and Daxter; the place radiating energy is none other than Samos’s hut from the first game! They realize that the warp gate took them far into the future and the oppressive, industrial Haven City is their world.It also turns out that “The Shadow” is a younger Samos in his radical revolution days. He’s the master of another green plant here if you know what I mean.

The second act is about uncovering the secrets of Haven City, namely a fabled precursor stone in the Tomb of Mar, the founder of Haven City and this game’s biggest source of lore. Mar apparently was a driving force in the fight against the metal heads long ago but died before he could use his weapon against it: a cannon with an unbelievably powerful source. Now, that power source is hidden in his tomb and Jak retrieves all of the artifacts to conquer the challenges of Mar’s Tomb. Before he gets the precursor stone, Praxis ambushes him and takes the stone, giving the underground’s mission a grim outlook.

The third act is Jak saving Haven City. The underground uncovers that Praxis is dealing with a power that he cannot comprehend. He plans to use the precursor stone as a weapon to blow a hole in the metal head nest, but he plans to crack the stone open to reveal its hidden power first. Doing so would cause a supernova of energy that would destroy everything in existence. Meanwhile, Krew makes his own superweapon that blows a hole in the city’s walls. This causes metal heads to run rampant through the city and the Krimson Guard forces fight to keep them back. Everything is in disarray on both sides except for one character, a “person” who has been playing for every faction in this game whose own plan is falling into place. Kor, the old man working for the underground, reveals himself to be the metal head leader. To achieve his plan of ushering in the age of metal heads, he needs the precursor stone in order to unlock the last precursor inside of it to devour it. He kills Praxis to get the stone, but Praxis has hidden it in a bomb beneath the ground. Jak and Daxter take the stone to operate Mar’s cannon, blowing a hole in the metal head nest. They see the metal head leader with the heir of Mar, the mute kid he’s been seen with throughout the game. He reveals that this child is Jak and that Jak was hidden in the past by Samos to gain the skills to face him. Kid Jak is also the key to unlocking the precursor inside the stone and adult Jak can’t open it because he’s been corrupted by dark eco. Jak defeats Kor and the precursor is saved. Younger Samos uses the rift rider Keira built to take Jak to the past, thus starting the events of the first game. Haven City is saved, the characters celebrate, and Jak is again cock-blocked by Daxter, although this time it’s an accident. Time travel in fiction is already confusing as it is, but there is a list of questions and continuity errors that come with this story: Didn’t Jak have an uncle in the first game? How could he be Jak’s uncle if Jak was born in the future? Was Keira born in the past? A younger Keira didn’t go through the warp gate, so I guess she was, but then how much younger is she than Jak? Did Samos prepare the rift at the beginning of the game knowing full-well what would happen? If the metal heads were always this world’s enemies, then why weren’t they in the first game? Regardless, I love the high energy of this story. It’s paced incredibly well and the way the story concludes feels magnificent, and a little bittersweet.

The convoluted story trying to weave back to the first game doesn’t make a good case for Naughty Dog. It shows that Jak II’s direction was obviously not premeditated. They saw the success of GTA III during Jak II’s development and decided to paint over their franchise with a fresh coat. The elements and story of the first game bubble up to make a case that Naughty Dog did this naturally, but the story reveals the cracks. After all, the 3D platformer was getting stagnant, and making the same game twice wouldn’t have had the same positive results. Everything from the gameplay, presentation, characters and the overall pacing of the story makes up for it in spades, but I cannot deny Naughty Dog’s impetus for this radical shift. Is this just GTA for teenagers? It could be, but there is something to that. Through all of the events of this game, I realize that Jak’s character arc is an allegory for adolescence. In the first game, Jak is a promising child with a glimmer in his eye. He’s hopeful about the world he lives in and the “bad guys” he faces aren’t very nuanced. They are just typical villains in a black and white moral world that a child lives in. Years later, Jak goes through changes because of dark eco, a metaphor for hormones. He becomes irritable, cynical, and rebels against the world that he feels undermines him. Now he’s in a world with real villains motivated by ego and malice. His younger self can only open the precursor stone because adult Jak has been corrupted, a loss of innocence that comes with growing up. The boy that used to do what his guardian told him to do for his own good is now doing things with a morally grey spectrum for his own self-interest. Jak went from an E to T rating just like we all do at some point. Yes, this game wears its influences on its sleeves just like the last one but is it so much more than a watered-down rip-off for a younger audience. It’s a game with so many incredible factors like the presentation, graphics, story, and characters that make it substantial and make one of the best games on the PS2.
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Erockthestrange 2017-07-21T19:45:35Z
2017-07-21T19:45:35Z
10.0
3
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The dramatic stylistic shift sticks out, but I always thought Naughty Dog had the chops to pull it off, with the right overtones, undertones and humourous asides to still make it feel in line with the series thus far and not just a kneejerk response to the sudden success of GTA. The same cannot be said of the gameplay; even with solid driving, the mission structure quickly becomes dull as you head off to silo-ed off sections of the map that, despite the huge hub, must be completed in a fairly linear fashion. Without much in the way of exploration or collectibles, or carnage outside of missions, it misunderstands what made GTA the runaway success of the early 00s.

In general, the gameplay is caught between a schism. The platforming is great, and technically the gunplay is woven well into the mechanics and design, but there is too much of it and the game suffers from extreme balance issues, many missions featuring brutal checkpoint layouts. Overall, it makes the game more of a slog than it ought to be, despite having so much more going for it.
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Lowlander2 2017-08-25T18:47:48Z
2017-08-25T18:47:48Z
3.0
1
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The new, darker industrial world this game takes place in is a nice next step after its technicolor predecessor, but on the Vita it's just way too fiddly to control (not least because of the dodgy camera angles) and, as a consequence, needlessly difficult - the initial promise gives way to frustration and an almost complete lack of enjoyment around about the hour mark, a situation hardly helped by some of the checkpoints being as much as 15 minutes apart. Perhaps I'd have enjoyed this more if I'd played it on the PS2 and not felt like I was fighting the console itself rather than playing the game (that said, giving it a go on the PS3 didn't exactly improve things....), but as part of the HD trilogy pack, it's desperately mediocre.
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Iai 2016-04-17T18:30:57Z
2016-04-17T18:30:57Z
2.1
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Catalog

Vexp0 Jak II 2024-02-24T23:17:01Z
2024-02-24T23:17:01Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
666LILGILGAMESH666 Jak II 2024-02-23T19:54:58Z
PS2 • XNA
2024-02-23T19:54:58Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Scumfrost Jak II 2024-02-18T05:27:54Z
PS2 • XNA
2024-02-18T05:27:54Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Kouto Jak II 2024-02-16T08:59:08Z
2024-02-16T08:59:08Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
DrPepperoni Jak II 2024-02-14T12:55:13Z
PS2 • XNA
2024-02-14T12:55:13Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Fujijimo Jak II 2024-02-14T04:23:56Z
2024-02-14T04:23:56Z
2.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Joe_Kloos Jak II 2024-02-10T22:16:51Z
2024-02-10T22:16:51Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Zuncheone Jak II 2024-02-10T14:41:54Z
2024-02-10T14:41:54Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
SKTUD Jak II 2024-02-07T09:24:05Z
2024-02-07T09:24:05Z
2.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
warioman Jak II 2024-02-06T21:43:40Z
PS2 • XNA
2024-02-06T21:43:40Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
incomplete
mph Jak II 2024-02-06T06:36:37Z
2024-02-06T06:36:37Z
2.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
KCharbzz12 Jak II 2024-02-04T09:57:20Z
PS4
2024-02-04T09:57:20Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Content rating
ESRB: T
Player modes
Single-player
Media
1x DVD
Franchises
In collections

Comments

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  • Previous comments (16) Loading...
  • ThePsuedo 2023-03-15 01:33:34.283208+00
    Still the hardest game I've ever played
    reply
    • ... 2023-05-08 20:54:27.176004+00
      fr
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  • Hitherto 2023-07-26 14:14:43.394686+00
    The mission where you're fighting invisible enemies in that beautiful forest is perhaps my favorite mission from any PS2 game.
    reply
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  • Kmarksman 2023-08-05 06:37:52.907385+00
    ah hell nah they GTAified my jak....and they gave him a voic-HELLLNAWWW
    reply
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  • omo_ree 2023-11-30 18:01:24.701483+00
    Socially acceptable Shadow The Hedgehog
    reply
    • warioman 2024-02-06 21:44:24.765424+00
      sounds about right
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  • pankakemarine 2024-01-07 06:02:05.874903+00
    Pac-Man Daxter edition
    reply
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  • DrPepperoni 2024-02-14 12:54:29.677398+00
    They put a free roaming map just to GTAfy it. It looks cool but it doesn't add much character to the story: it doesn't show much that it's supposed to be under a dictatorial government. Plus, it's absolutely infuriating to navigate with those hover vehicle. Also the shooting with no aiming feels too loose and unsatisfying. Jak 3 tightened up things consistently.
    reply
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  • luna128 2024-02-22 09:29:52.806845+00
    This game filtered millions. For that, it gets my badass seal of approval.
    reply
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