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Game Profile
INFO BOX
PLATFORM:
PlayStation 2
PUBLISHER:
SCEA
DEVELOPER:
Naughty Dog
GENRE: Platformer
PLAYERS:   1
RELEASE DATE:
October 14, 2003
ESRB RATING:
Teen
IN THE SERIES
Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier

Daxter

Jak X: Combat Racing

Jak 3

More in this Series
 Written by Matt Swider  on May 26, 2003

Hands-On Preview: Jak is nimble, Jak is quick, Jak joked about the Baron's small?something that rhymes with ick?


The ending to Jak and Daxter: the Precursor Legacy didn't tell us much, but the questions it left behind opened a big window for an impending sequel. To no one's surprise, Naughty Dog announced that its newfound franchise would grace the PlayStation 2 once again and sure enough, Jak II was on hand at E3 this year. What is surprising is the direction that the developer has taken the second installment of the series. The entire game is much darker, more mature, and somewhat of a departure from the last adventure. As the team went on to explain, they want players to experience a whole new Jak and Daxter game rather than create version 1.5 featuring a new set of levels. This isn't a novel approach to game design; it's just a smart one that's not done often enough. From the time I spent with the E3 demo to the my ongoing sessions with the disc handed out on the show floor, there is no doubt that Naughty Dog will have another instant hit on its hands this fall.

Jak II starts off where its predecessor finished, but it doesn't take long for that to change. When investigating the mysterious energy portal seen in the finale of the first game, Jak and Daxter become propelled 500 years into the future. The two arrive in a foreign city that is vastly different compared to the small fishing village from which they came. Menacing armies of Metal Heads are destroying the land, which is under the tyrannical rule of Baron Praxis. Daxter is able to dodge the Baron's guards, but Jak is quickly captured for no apparent reason. He is thrown in prison for the duration of two years and experimented on with Dark Eco during that time. This is the same Dark Eco that changed Daxter into his fury form and, upon escaping prison with Daxter's help, Jak is about to experience his own transformation of mind, body, and power. While this takes place, the duo plans to find their friends, find out where they are and finally, find the Baron and seek revenge.

Based on its foundation alone, the plot is much darker than anyone previously expected. But, as Jak and Daxter search for answers, the entire story is said to get even darker and more twisted. Instead of being the carefree boy that we knew from before, Jak has become a pissed off badass out for revenge. Along with this attitude adjustment, you may have noticed several alterations in his appearance. He sports a sleek look that's more mature down to the goatee and can even transform in a Hulk-like fashion when filled with enough Dark Eco. Becoming Dark Jak not only opens a new move set, but it's also a pivotal part of the game's story. The character models in the game are made up of 15,000 polygons whereas the original boasts just 4,000, so tight shots of the new and improved Jak and Dark Jak get you up close and personal.

The tale is conducted through more than an hour of movie quality in games cinematics and Jak is finally ready to be heard. He may have been mute in the first adventure, but his expressive attitude finally carries a voice in Jak II. This doesn't mean that Daxter will be any more docile either. His quips will make a comeback along with Max Cassela returning to do the voicework. You might actually recognize Jak's voice talent, Mike Erwin, as he will be playing the young Bruce Banner in the upcoming Hulk movie. Taking these measures seems necessary for the deeper storyline Naughty Dog is shooting for and I'm already eager to learn how the game ends months before it actually arrives on story shelves.

Although a generic platform game uses a shallow plot to fill moments between its levels, the storyline is very much the focus of Jak II. It's actually your one true incentive throughout the game as Naughty Dog is claiming that ?no collectables? will be required of players. There will be some items to pick up like ammo, health and Dark Eco, but you won't need to retrieve 101 power cells or countless precursor orbs in this sequel. The developer is betting that gamers will want to continue playing just to uncover more of the plot. This isn't to say that the gameplay will be any more straightforward either. It's quite the contrary given the diversity of the five levels I was able to experience at E3. Jak shows off his jumping agility by climbing a cliff that's being hailed with boulders in one level while his shooting ability is put to the test in a gun gallery game in a different level.

Mentioning the need to pick up ammunition and the existence of a gun gallery mode ultimately leads to the realization that Jak II features weapons ? four to be exact. While the original move set is still intact, a shotgun, rifle, Gatling gun and grenade launched will also be available to bust some Metal Heads. But, these upgradeable weapons can also harm do harm to non-playable characters that go on mission with you. There shouldn't be any mix-up at the controls though. The simple button layout makes punch, kick, and fire available at all times without the need to switch. Given the darker tone to the and ability to use guns, both unlike the first game, Naughty Dog expects that Jak II will receive a Teen rating from the ESRB. For them, this is all part of the plan to appeal to the growing group of gamers becoming more mature as each day passes.

Though we don't exactly know where Jak is, the future has a couple things in common with modern day America. No, it's not the overpopulated city streets, but rather the freedom. Just like Naughty Dog gave him the chance to own a firearm, Jak also has choices when it comes to mobility. He can of course walk from place to place, but longer trips might be better suited on his brand new hoverboard. The hoverboard is vital to getting around sometimes, especially when grinding passed open gaps. But, it does leave Jak pretty vulnerable since he can't seem to glide and shoot at the same time. No matter. The speed and tricks alone make this simplistic sort of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater ride fun and fruitful.

Along with taking a cue from Tony Hawk, Jak II jumps into the driver's seat of Grand Theft Auto ? in a sense. If the hoverboard just doesn't harness enough horsepower for your taste, Jak can always carjack one of the flying vehicles zooming through the city. While suffice to steal a stationary hovercar, there's nothing better than ejecting a driver and taking over the wheel of a moving vehicle. And, trust me, you'll be doing that a lot since each car model takes damage and eventually blows up when being careless. Though it can tough to grasp how large the cityscape really is until driving around in one of these hovercars, to estimate, it's about three times as large as the last game and has fifteen additional worlds located outside the metropolis. It's no walk in the park, and the freedom to glide or drive seems essential to say the least.

Final Thoughts
In a sense, Jak II represents more of what worked in the first game, less of what didn't, and a lot of enhancements that take the series to a whole new level. The result of this, though still months away, will surely help to peddle this game to a more mature audience than any platform title before it. Amidst all of the changes, the game still plays like much of Jak and Daxter just as if it was injected with some Dark Eco during development.


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