Even when Jak II has its fair share of problems, it still represents a solid entry in the series.
If there’s something that characterizes video game sequels is that they are usually extremely similar to previous games in the series. There are multiple reasons why developers decide to play it safe and make a sequel that’s very much alike its prequel: it saves money, fans of the series will probably like it and most people are expecting it anyway. Naughty Dog has proven that they aren’t such developer and that when they want to, they can develop a bold sequel that takes a given series in a completely different direction. Enter Jak II.
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was an upbeat and lighthearted platformer that can easily be compared to other popular games in the genre such as Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie and even Crash Bandicoot, Naughty Dog’s previous series. The Precursor Legacy had great gameplay, no loading times, funny moments, original characters and much more. Jak II, on the other hand, is a completely different game. This sequel has a new setting and characters, it’s more action-oriented and there’s a prominent dark tone.
Two years have passed since the events in The Precursor Legacy and Jak has spent that time in prison. After saving the world from Gol and Maia, Jak and Daxter found a mysterious Precursor Rift Gate at the Dark Echo Silo. Samos the Sage and his daughter Keira reassemble the gate which opens a portal to a futuristic Metropolis known as Haven City. Right after that, Jak, Daxter, Samos and Keira enter the dangerous portal which transports the heroes to the modern capital. But when military troops who were patrolling the city find Jak, they immediately imprison him and the innocent hero is used in experiments that involve exposing him to high concentrations of Dark Echo.
As a consequence of being exposed to Dark Echo, Jak may now absorb this substance to transform for a limited amount of time, which allows him to unleash powerful attacks. While Jak is imprisoned, Daxter tries to find a way to free his loyal companion from the apparently impenetrable fortress. Once the charming “half otter, half weasel” protagonist manages to succeed on such a convoluted feat, both Jak and Daxter depart on a quest for revenge.
As soon as our heroes leave jail, you realize that you are no longer in a colorful setting where the main objective is to retrieve Power Cells and give them to charming members of your village. Not only is Haven City a really grim place, but it’s also an open world setting. The huge city is craving for you to explore it and to do so, you can borrow (read: steal) one of the multiple vehicles that plague the metropolis. In addition, guards are constantly on patrol, citizens stroll around and traffic is steady, providing the feeling that you’re in a leaving, breathing world.
But comparisons to Grand Theft Auto don’t end up there. In order to progress with the story you’ll need to visit various places of interest that are conveniently marked on the map. In addition to the regular missions, there are some extra undertakings where rare collectibles can be obtained and then used to unlock secret items and modes (video galleries, big head mode and harder difficulty levels, among others.) Sadly, doing the optional missions is dull, particularly if we compare them to the ones from the first Jak & Daxter, where you found secret items at the same time you explored the pristine and lavish environments. The regular missions though are more varied.
A short while after Jak and Daxter escape prison, they get involved with a revolutionary group that’s against the ruthless Baron Praxis (the ruler who allowed scientists to perform experiments on Jak) and its dictatorship. Torn is the leader of the underground resistance and he will give you various assignments that range from retrieving artifacts from a Metal Head nest, to completing shooting gallery missions to obtain upgrades.
Unlike the original Jak & Daxter, Jak II is more than a platformer. Not only does this sequel feature vehicles that allow you to traverse through the city, but you’ll also operate a Morph Gun, ride a Jet-Board, wear a Titan Suit, and for the first time in the series, Daxter is a playable character.
Operating vehicles is quite easy. The main problem with them is that at times, making certain maneuvers in the labyrinthine city is almost impossible. Undoubtedly, you’ll unintentionally hit patrolling guards when you’re in the middle of a mission, which puts the guards on full alert. Additionally, assaulting a citizen in front of a guard or stealing one of the watchmen’s special vehicles will also set off the city’s defenses in which case you’ll need to hide or outrun guards long enough for them to go back to a normal status.
Using the arsenal of fire weapons comes in handy when you’re required to deal with Metal Heads and all sorts of enemies. There are multiple upgrades and modifications that completely change the gun’s firepower capabilities, transforming the regular weapon into one of the following: Scatter Gun, Blaster Weapon, Vulcan Fury and Peace Maker.
The Jet-Board is quite similar to a skateboard in the sense that you can pull off a wide array of tricks with it. The board can be used on special courses (similar to skate parks) or in specific missions, allowing you to hover over dangerous substances such as dark echo. Furthermore, the Titan Suit is a mechanized suit that can be used to move large objects, knock down pillars, throw stone blocks or destroy metal doors. Interestingly, it can also be used on some of the underwater missions. Finally, controlling Daxter has been one of the most long-requested features, but unfortunately and even when this is fun addition, these missions are very scarce.
But even when Jak II takes the series in a bold new direction, the game does have some flaws. First of all, this sequel doesn’t have the same impact The Precursor Orb had back in the day. The original was refreshingly unique because it represented an impeccable combination of creative level design and technical prowess.
Unfortunately, Jak II doesn’t exceed in any of those two. In fact, the game suffers from some bugs that definitely hurt the overall experience. At one point during the review process for example, an entire section of the map was missing, a problem that required restarting the mission. Furthermore, the game freezes and there are issues related to clipping. It’s worth noting that these problems weren’t persistent or game-breaking, but they definitely affect the experience in a negative way.
In the end, it takes a great developer to go against people’s expectations and do a bold sequel that’s completely different to previous games in the series. And Naughty Dog is one such developer. Jak II retains some of the qualities that made The Precursor Legacy such a fantastic game and complements them with open-world elements and a somber tone. The game does have some issues, but even when Jak II isn’t as good as its predecessor, it still represents a solid entry in the series.