Jak II (PlayStation 2) Review


For the longest time Jak and Daxter is one of those series I’d really wanted to try but simply hadn’t given the time. That is until I found Jak II at Oddball Media and Music in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

Going in, I knew to anticipate something supremely good. Jak II is A) developed by Naughty Dog, B) a 3D platformer, and C) exclusive to the PlayStation 2, checking a lot of proverbial boxes for me.

Did I love Jak II just as much as I’d hoped? Well, I can affirm that I liked the experience—quite a lot—but my final thoughts are slightly more complex than that. Read on for the full deets.

Gameplay


Set in a vast open world and adhering to a mission-based structure, Jak II is a 3D platformer/third-person shooter hybrid with a heavy dose of vehicular action thrown into the mix. All these elements mix together quite cohesively.

The 3D platforming—my personal favorite part—is pretty dang sweet all around. With environment design acutely tailored to Jak’s uniquely acrobatic moveset, no death-defying sequence of jumps ever felt truly insurmountable. I’d expect nothing less from masterminds behind Crash Bandicoot.

Sadly, running and jumping is relegated only to a select number of branching paths off the main map. As tight as these intricately crafted designed side levels may have been, I always found myself craving more.

The good news is that Jak II makes up this “shortcoming” by offering a more diverse offering of gameplay types overall, facilitated greatly by the game’s aforementioned open-world makeup.

One difference returning Jak players will likely notice is the addition of firearms. In addition to contributing to the sequel’s “darker” tone, Jak’s newfound aresenal ups the fun factor of combat substantially. Why settle for your fists when you can make a dude go kablooey?

Then, there’s the “Dark Jak” mode, activated by filling your Dark Eco meter. This more aggressive form is imbued with improved melee strength that grows as you progress through the story. I rarely employed this ability in combat, because it just wasn’t as helpful as shooting.

Commandeering the Titan Suit presents another interesting diversion from the usual business. I had a blast boosting and punching my way through series of platforming puzzles. To draw a very loose parallel, think the E-102 Gamma levels in Sonic Adventure.

Speaking of puzzles, Jak II has ‘em. Anyone who knows me is likely aware that I’m not a fan of puzzles in games—I’m literally too stupid for them—but the pickings here weren’t too bad. Most of the brain teasers didn’t ask much more than moving blocks around a room, for instance.

Perhaps the biggest expansion upon the original game’s ideas is evident in vehicles. While the first game had its share of hover car sequences, Jak II lets you commandeer any vehicle almost everywhere. I, for one, really enjoyed the high-speed racing missions and minigames on display.

When you’re not up to driving, you can always zip, hop, and grind with your trusty jet-board. Can you imagine a hip 2000s platformer without grind rails? It’s a darn near unfathomable notion.

Oh, and don’t think for a second that Jak II has forgotten its collectathon roots in the wake of all these fancy-pants bells and whistles. The sheer scope of the in-game world means grabbing virtual goodies becomes a real test of patience—in a good way, mind you.

Believe it not, Jak II is one of the handful of open-world games I’ve played in my lifetime, affording me the unique opportunity to become intimately acquainted with the format. And you know what? I mostly dug it.

Like, say, Spider-Man 3 (the video game), Jak II uses the main missions to guide players through the narrative while also offering up a bevy of optional side missions along the way. This approach proves largely successful, even if I did eventually get bored of some tasks.

Looking back, I consider the occasional boss battles the highlights of the entire experience for me. They weren’t mind-blowing or anything. I just liked having something different to do, ya know?

Be forewarned that this game can get super tough at times. I spent way more time than any competent human being ever should on some of the trickier missions, my frustrations only alleviated by the regularity of checkpoints.

Content

Jak II, my friends, is one big ol’ video game. According to How Long to Beat, the main story should last a good 18 hours. It took me about 24 hours to reach 103 percent completion. (To my understanding, 124 percent is the maximum.)

Although the main story itself is a darn good time on its own, the swell of content comes from side missions and collectibles. Completionists will be delighted to know that this title is far from lacking in this regard.

Confession time: I couldn’t always distinguish between main missions and side missions. If an icon was on my map, I was bound and determined to clear it. I suppose my experience serves as a clear indicator that Jak II’s content is compelling if nothing else.

The two primary collectibles are Metal Head Skull Gems and Precursor Orbs. You earn Metal Head Skull Gems by killing enemies, cashing them to the Oracle in for enhanced Dark Jak powers. Precursor Orbs are hidden throughout environments (or earned by completing certain tasks) and unlock secret options and features.

Given their practical application and the organic method by which they’re found, collecting Metal Head Skull Gems was a breeze. Collecting Precursor Orbs was less so, but I still enjoyed the challenge. What stronger incentive is there than unlocking Big Head Mode, am I right?

The available content is so robust, in fact, that I honestly don’t see myself coming back to it in the foreseeable future. Reaching the credits alone was such an exhausting feat that I’m not compelled to do everything else. It’s a curse, being someone who doesn’t care for long games.

Regardless, if all this stuff sounds enticing to you, I say go for it. There’s a treasure trove of fun to be found in Jak II for those with more free time and/or more patience than I have. Some folks might get a kick out of merely whittling away hours in a vibrant game world.

Controls

I’m proud to proclaim the solid product I’ve outlined above is made all the better by quality controls, whether you’re traversing on foot, beating up baddies, firing off a weapon, driving a vehicle, coasting on the jet-board, or mounting the Titan Suit.

Aiding your platforming are the super high jump, super dive attack jump, rolling turbo long jump, crouch, and roll. Although some of these moves are very reminiscent of Mario in his 3D outings, Jak behaves differently enough to stand out from any potential inspirations. Jak’s movement is fairly precise, if a bit cartoonishly exaggerated at times.

Hand-to-hand combat strikes a balance between bloated and brainless by focusing on two core actions, the punch and kick spin, which can be chained with each other (and jumps) to perform the dive attack, aerial attack, dashing uppercut, super dive attack jump, and crouching uppercut. Nice as these combos may be, I mostly just button-mashed on the rare occasion I had to get up close and personal.

As I mentioned earlier, gunplay is where the real fun begins, which is why I’m thankful it functions so well. Since you don’t aim with a reticle, there seems to be a degree of auto-aiming involved that alleviates some of the difficulty of targeting frenzied hordes of enemies in a 3D environment. Letting loose on dudes was consequently a blast—provided I had enough ammo at my disposal, of course.

Vehicles handle wildly seemingly by design, requiring conscious planning on the player’s part when entering turns. I loved the challenge, but my roommate hated it. Just know what you’re getting into before making any judgments.

I sort of preferred the jet-board purely because its movement felt much more fine-tuned. That being said, I found that the game sometimes failed to register my input when I wanted to grind on a rail, leading to a few unnecessary deaths.

The Titan Suit is definitely the most unique of all the experiences. Movement in general is considerably slower—as might be expected from a hulking mech suit—and punches are more powerful. There’s also a “boost jump” you can use to float across ledges. I can’t think of any notable missteps in this area.

Again, the controls are all of good quality, enough so that I could brush aside the few issues that cropped up here and there.

Graphics/Presentation

It’s not a surprise that Jak II, a Naughty Dog creation, absolutely kills it in the presentation department.

From a technical perspective, Jak II is mind-blowing. Exploring a massive, intricately designed game world with zero loading times between areas is a feat that still impresses me to this day. I don’t recall any slow down either, no matter how many objects populated my screen.

The art style seems to have undergone some subtle changes from the first game. Colors are more muted, character designs more angular, the overall aura more foreboding. Were I to describe the presentation in one word, “edgy” would most certainly do the trick.

Keep in mind that this isn’t your father’s 3D platformer. People die—and worse yet, utter mild profanities and innuendos. In all honesty, the edginess of it all is just a hair over the top, but therein lies much of the charm. You really have to get into that “early 2000s” mindset. You know what I mean?

I get the feeling I would’ve better appreciated the many twists and turns the narrative took had I played the first Jak and Daxter beforehand. There were some nifty callbacks that I recognized as such—my only dilemma being that I didn’t know what any of it meant.

On the up side, no lack of knowledge prevented me from loving the attention to detail present evident throughout the entire package. Wanna know something cool? The case insert has a Haven City map on its reverse side. The instruction manual is pretty sick, too.

Jak II feels like the “missing link” between the gameplay-focused Naughty Dog of the Crash Bandicoot era and the story-focused Naughty Dog we’ve seen the release of Uncharted onward. A satisfying middle ground, if you ask me.

Sound/Music

As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t pay much attention to the soundtrack while playing Jak II. The truth is that I, uh…spent most of my playthrough watching Naruto or The Office while simultaneously playing the game on mute.

Thanks to the modern magic of YouTube, I was able to go back and listen to anything I may have missed from Mark Mothersbaugh and Josh Mancell’s soundtrack. I reasoned that, while the music suits the game magnificently, it’s not something I’d listen to casually.

Jak II’s score is every bit as dark and mellow as you’d want from an edgy take on the franchise. There’s an interesting mix of drum-n-bass tracks employing subdued synthesizers and/or energetic beats depending on the context. (Admittedly, I’d heard the overworld themes “Haven Exploration” and “Guard Pursuit” way too much by the end of the game.)

I like the voice work, too. I initially thought it was pretty silly how Jak and Torn talk in hushed, Batman-esque growls, but I came to love it. In contrast, Daxter and Pecker practically screech at each other. Legendary actor Phil LaMarr stands out as the gung-ho Sig.

Sound effects shine similarly bright. I love how much raw power there is in everything from gunshots to crashes. I have to give the sound designers due recognition for crafting an engulfing sense of atmosphere.

I really liked Jak II, finding it refreshing after playing so many traditional 3D platformers prior. Even so, the game’s scope definitely took its toll on me. I guess I just don’t crave length and open-endedness as much as I do brevity and linearity.

However, that’s just my personal preference. Don’t let my weirdness keep you from enjoying one the best PlayStation 2 titles out there. Heck, if you like Ratchet and Clank, I see no reason why you won’t like this. (Just a thought.)

Jak II hearkens back to the earlier days of Naughty Dog, before they plunged neck deep into cinematic storytelling. I think that’s reason enough to pick up this relatively inexpensive game and see what it’s all about.

Before you go, check out this dope Jak II contest that ran on Toonami back in the day. I just love seeing two of my favorite things combined.


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