Jak II – Retro Review

Feature

The second installment in the Jak and Daxter series saw Naughty Dog change the style and tone dramatically. Transported from the colorful world from The Precursor Legacy into the grim setting of the Haven City, you play again as the titular character Jak in his quest for revenge against Baron Praxis. With the addition of several new mechanics to accompany the shift in narrative tone, Jak II should be considered one of the most innovative continuations of a game series of the generation.

After time travelling into the future, Jak is immediately imprisoned by the Krimzon Guard. The story suddenly jumps forward two years and we find out that he has been the subject of dark eco experiments at the hands of the Baron of Haven City Baron. These opening cinematic pieces don’t mess around, Naughty Dog are eager to make it clear that this is an entirely different world to the previous game.

Dark

A Dark Eco fueled Jak is a great way for Naughty Dog to immediately show players that this is not the same world as Jak and Daxter.

While the story and characters of the original game were merely a way to join the solid yet simple gameplay together, in this game they are one of the best features. The plot of Jak II really drives the gameplay in a way that feels natural. As the game continues you gain access to new guns and abilities which gives you a sense of progression, something that was missing from Jak and Daxter.

New characters like Torn, Krew, Sig and Baron Praxis are a big step up from the occasional villagers and sages found in Jak and Daxter. You are dropped into the middle of an ongoing war between the city and new a race of creatures called the Metal Heads. The character motivations and back stories reflect the war that has been ravaging their city. Receiving missions from a variety of characters lets you experience the story from different viewpoints, it really helps to bring the world to life.

Krew

Characters with their own agendas and motivations help to tell the story in a compelling way

Daxter is again called on to be the comic relief of the game, his witty one-liners both during cut-scenes and gameplay are used especially well to balance out the gritty story and dark motivations of Jak. Although this game is definitely a lot darker than the first installment, it makes sure to never take itself too seriously.

The success of GTA III and GTA Vice City definitely had an big impact on the gaming industry, more and more games started to utilize the open world design and Jak II was no exception. Naughty Dog utilized several mechanics from the GTA franchise including the open-world level design, (hover)car-jacking and player determined mission order.

But much the same as Jak and Daxter used mechanics from Crash Bandicoot, Jak II took these popular mechanics and used them to create something original and interesting. A mix of melee and shooting combat, hoverboarding, hover car races as well as several other kinds of missions means that there was a lot of variety in the gameplay.

The biggest gameplay change was without a doubt the addition of the morph gun, which completely changed the way the game was played. Being able to collect four very different guns, as well as adding the Dark Jak melee combat meant that the player actually had choices to make about how to approach each mission. Giving the player a choice was clearly important to Naughty Dog, the open world setting, letting the player choose which missions to attempt next and the choice of how to approach the combat are all examples of this.

Gun_Car

The addition of gun combat and hover vehicles changes the gameplay significantly.

The one problem I have with the game is the difficulty spikes which occur during certain missions. In particular the game contains a notoriously unforgiving quest to retrieve a seal piece from the water slums. Which traps you in the mission until you manage to escape the trap set by the Krimzon Guard.

The several difficult missions, coupled with the somewhat sparse checkpoints mean that Jak II can be frustratingly hard at times. However with persistence and a bit of luck you can get through it, the increased difficulty is actually a nice change from the first game which you could breeze through in 5-6 hours while barely paying attention.

Diff

Probably the most infamous level in Jak II, known for it’s brutal difficulty

Although the variety between the environments are not as apparent as the first game, the different areas you travel to definitely do have their own feel. Haven City is a great place to wander around, there are a number of different areas in the city which all feel unique, as well as several places outside such as Haven Forest and the Dead Town.

Graphically the game is another step up for the series, the characters and the environments have been improved noticeably, particularly impressive considering they would have created an entirely new set of assets in the two years since Jak and Daxter.

Pythagean

Pythagean

Head Designer at The Video Game Forum

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Summary
  • Gameplay
  • Story
  • Presentation
  • Audio

Summary

Jak II really took this series to the next level, evolving the simplistic and almost cartoonish nature of the first game into a mature yet still fun and interesting world. Everything in the game from the environments, characters, gameplay and story reflects this change of tone superbly.

I have never seem a style shift between two consecutive games in a series which was carried out so dramatically or so successfully.

4.5