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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Naughty Dog
GENRE: Platformer
October 14, 2003
Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier


Jak X: Combat Racing

Jak 3

More in this Series
 Written by Chris Reiter  on October 29, 2003

Full Review: If you Jak it, he will come.

Nintendo has Mario, Sega has Sonic, and Sony...well, they've never really had a mascot -- one that was official anyway. New to the whole hardware industry, Sony's PlayStation began as your unconventional gaming system. It wasn't for the kids anymore per se, but rather for anyone. Being different and all isn't easy of course, especially when you don't share the same typical role of a hardware maker and a game maker in one. Although as Sony's PlayStation was the first CD-ROM based gaming platform that gained a much larger user base than all of the rest, it wasn't because of Sony's hardware alone. The games got them where they are -- games with familiar faces on them gamers could really relate to. Games like Sony's first successful platformer developed by the inventive team at Naughty Dog Software, Crash Bandicoot, is what boosted big numbers for the biz newbie. Given the status of Sony's unofficial lucky charm, and following many sequels later, Crash eventually followed greener pastures with Vivendi pulling his leash. But ever since Naughty Dog let Crash off the hook, they had an idea bubbling inside their brain for something even bigger and better than just another kid-friendly platform release: which was ultimately represented in the form of a muscular elfin boy named Jak and his friend, turned a small furry thing, turned shoulder mounted sidekick Daxter, inside an adventure to restore order (and Daxter's elfin form) to a once peaceful world. And naturally with immediate success of such titles like Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy had on its behalf now comes the sequel that follows...

Saving your land from pure evil isn't an easy task alone, and when it does happen, you kind of have to expect something big in return. What Jak and Daxter got when they last rid Sandover Village of villainy was a glowing mysterious gateway. Even heroes have their curiosity, and when Jak, Daxter, Samos the Sage, and Samos' daughter Keira take a further inspection upon the whirling door of light, they come to the conclusion that it's a portal into another dimension -- one that's about to get them all dragged inside its tunnel onto the other side. In one ear and out the other, Jak and Daxter land alone, Jak gets caught, and Jak ends up incarcerated in prison for two years being tested on with the toxin Dark Eco (the same stuff that had turned Daxter into a...whatever kind of rodent he is, in the first game). Conveniently, Daxter manages to break...or I should say, Jak manages to break himself free. Two years of Dark Eco experimentation, and the once friendly Jak is now tougher, buffer, and angry as hell with the new "dark" abilities that are now a part of his very being. Witnessing Jak's transformation, Daxter hops aboard Jak's shoulder joining him on a quest to seek and destroy the very tyrant who controls the slummy Haven City of which these two buddies are stuck inside, and who also made Jak his guinea pig: Baron Praxis!

Maybe you guessed it already, or won't acknowledge the terrible atrocity that Jak, the last game's kindly lad, is now bad. Don't take it too hard on yourself though, because unlike in the first Jak and Daxter platform game, a deeper and darker world is what keeps Jak II breathing. Out with the old and in with the new Naughty Dog says. What this means for the sequel is that it's obviously not just another platform sequel covered in a different guise. Rather, Jak II for the most part is an entirely new gameplay system formatted to fit the style of what Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy situated two years before hand. To change a platformer in this day and age, you need to think big to get big results. So what game franchise in the last two years in a row has been at the top of the buzz? That's right, the open-ended series that makes it look fun to be a gangster, Grand Theft Auto -- and where Jak II borrows its newly conceived formula from.

If you're thinking guns, the act of thieving vehicles, and a plot driven by revenge, then yeah, Jak II's got it. But on the other hand, Jak II's not exactly an action title, neither is the game rated for adults only. Jak II is still a platform game at heart, set inside a futuristic city where intersecting parts of the whole shebang fit together piece by piece. People (Jak's kind of people) are everywhere in this town, including the Krimzon Guard brigade (the Baron's hired guards) that would rather end Jak than pet the furball perched on his shoulder. Jet-propelled vehicles hover through the airways, around buildings that line the outer walls that lead Jak and Daxter into most of their missions. Akin to Grand Theft Auto 3 for instance, a small map on the bottom right hand of the screen detects the available passages that lead to accessible parts throughout Haven City, as well as tiny icons for the distinctive characters from whom Jak and Daxter receive their orders.

These so-called objectives aren't what you may be imagining. Jacking tanks, murdering drug kingpins, and showing people who's the boss with deathly explosives isn't exactly the kind of thing Jak would do. Although, you'd be surprised by the similarities. What Jak (and Daxter) is capable of on his own terms is protecting a small group of detonating stooges from laser beam-toting, spider-like metal heads (metal heads being the creepy, crawly, variety-filled major enemy source outside the Baron's forces), tossing a set number of bombs inside multiple shafts (with the help of Jak's acquired jet board, a floating circular disk used like a skateboard), and even hopping inside a mech suit in order to make doorways out of destructible walls, which were previously standing in the way. Each progressive mission is a new different kind of difficulty awaiting every time. The challenges that wait within the game (like having to topple 50 or more Krimzon Guards landing in on you from auto defensive hovercrafts prior to reaching a specified destination, and pressing guided face buttons on the controller quickly before they disappear from the screen) can be a bit daunting at first, even for seasoned gamers. Yet no course of action is ever too hard, and the craftsmanship behind many of the operations required to progress are entirely ingenious additions to what platform games haven't seen up until the return of Jak.

Differently from the Grand Theft Auto series' ability to award its player money for efforts in partaking numerous missions, however, Jak II isn't about making the green. Instead, Jak II focuses on the reward for weapon upgrades at times, and dark powers at others. When you think flamethrowers, sniper rifles, bazookas, and handguns are the usual lot, you think wrong. Jak's game is one single weapon with a four-way purpose. This multitasking weapon called the morph-gun sets itself apart with every aspect, firing a close (but wide) ranged burst in the Scatter Gun first, the second changing into a laser sighted Blaster Weapon, the third becoming a shorter ranged, but rapid-fire laser sighting Vulcan Fury, and the final transformation turns into the most powerful of all enhancements, the laser sight capable, explosive and electricity bursting Peace Maker cannon. Having the most powerful tools of all doesn't make you a God though, as the Peace Maker for instance can only carry up to 5 rounds at a time. The Scatter Gun has a limit of 50, and the other two climb all the way up to 100. It's by completing certain missions that you'll get use of these weapon types, but also further along the lines Jak will receive larger ammo containers that widen the weapons from 100 to 200, 50 to 100, and 5 to 10. The more you play, the more you'll gain.

Of course, Jak isn't limited to just weaponry alone as his body is now revamped into one of a dark warrior. By knocking enemies dead either with a gun or your choice of punch or spin kicking move, Jak can obtain purple globs of Dark Eco goo that power up his dark meter, eventually which will enable Jak to literally take shape of a demonish form that can perform devastating attacks to enemies all around him. The dark powers Jak uses can only be used for a limited time, however. But, like the guns, Jak is also upgradable by way of learning dynamic moves such as jumping into the air and slamming the ground downward, and hovering in midair, spinning around in an electrifying circle to eliminate all surrounding foes. These metamorphosis' in Jak transpire with a price: the gathering of metal head skull gems, which also come with having to deal dead to metal heads. And if you think you're man, woman, boy, or girl enough to take on the challenge of unlocking all of Jak II's mysteries, the Precursor Orbs from the last Jak and Daxter makes their return as a collectible item -- all of which are hidden throughout sections of the game's levels and handed out in optional search missions placed throughout the Haven City's inner limits. Get enough of these Easter eggs, and you'll be able to unlock options such as a big head mode (inflating Jak's head into blimp size), a movie mode that allows you to relive previously viewed story cinematics, and a mirror mode that turns the default perspective of the game completely the other way.

Jak by himself is mighty cool, but what about Daxter? In the first Jak and Daxter release, Daxter was used for nothing but a mere tool of providing Jak necessary info toward accomplishing his tasks. Daxter's back giving Jak the same old lip treatment. However, this midget fur thing is also getting something back this least some of time. Off Jak's shoulder and doing the "Jak," Daxter will sometimes find himself on missions alone either hopping across dangerous platform terrain while fleeing from an ever present massive tarantula monster right behind him, Crash Bandicoot style -- to speeding on a jet propelled racing vehicle to win points for the home team. While Daxter doesn't have any special abilities like his bigger buddy Jak, Daxter shares the same assortment of spin, jump, and driving techniques that Jak does, so knowing the formula for Jak is all you need.

And indeed, getting to know the controls of Jak II are easier done than said, since you'll find both the same design used in the first game paired up with a set of the new ones for the new aspects. With Jak you'll be able to move around (left analog), toggle the camera (right analog), jump, slide punch, spin kick, dive under water, pick up or push blocks, and hop into any vehicle (or steal it) with the face buttons. Combine the back buttons though, and you'll get some more of Jak's features like crawling/rolling/crouching for a high or long jump with L1, firing a weapon with R1, using the jet board with R2, and becoming the one known as Dark Jak with L2. Pulling out the weapons is simplified too -- just push one of the four directions on the d-pad, and you're golden. Although using the controls can be learned fast enough with help from the on screen instructions, it's where guiding Jak through Haven City can be a bit of a problem, as the town itself is very large and each of the mission giver's locations are found distant from one another. The quickest way to get to where you want to visit can be done with one of the cruising vehicles above you, or placed in certain spots seen against or in the middle of walkways. Hop inside one though, and you'll see that not only is the ground crowded with teeming masses of pedestrians and Krimzon Guards, but the air up there is as well. If you speed too fast, you'll find that often you'll be crashing into other vehicles, junking up your own ride (and sometimes losing health in the process). It's also something of a pain to have to avoid slamming into the Krimzon Guards' hovercrafts, as if you touch them, they'll chase after you -- by land and air. This is why it's sometimes just easier to resort to a slower method like running, provided you have the patience.

To this day, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy holds true as one of the best looking games in the PlayStation 2's lineup. That's why it's no surprise to mine eyes that Jak II sits in the same throne as its earlier self to the regard of a great looker. Jak is a different guy now. Give the man a soul patch, slicked back spiked hair, a new long sleeve muscle man blue suit, a bandana around his neck, and you've got Jak, times two. It's times because this character model also shifts into a better half (or is it a worse one, considering that Dark Jak is the "evil" power inside of him?) Dark Jak's model is pretty much the same way, except his skin and hair is white, with beady black eyes on his face, and dark claws at his finger tips. Both of Jak's appearances, his friend Daxter, and everything else in the game are developed to a level of crispy, colorful, and suitable styles fitting for their character. Even as the pedestrian models in the game look decent with fat, pointy eared, mustached male characters and short shirt, short shorts wearing female characters walking and cruising above the block, and the Krimzon guys that wear red and later yellow Master Chief replicated body armor suits, there really isn't much variety -- or interactivity for that matter -- in this "attack of the clones" lineup.

Characters move lively though, yes they do. Put Jak and Daxter together anywhere, and they'll lighten up the dimmest of metropolises' (of which the so-called inhabitants look majorly depressed in, as most of them slump their heads down when they walk). When Jak spins, Daxter clings onto Jak's backside like being glued to a plane's propeller when it's in motion. When Jak surfs with the jet board, he crouches just like a skater type would, performing 360? twists and upside down flips in midair, and even scaling the half pipes all the way a skater does so. It's also a very slick touch how the different weapons function in battle. Fire the Scatter Gun for instance, and a huge red light shatters every enemy's hope of getting close to Jak in time are shattered. Then when all are dead or Jak stops shooting, he twirls the gun once just like in the movies. Equip the Vulcan Fury on the other hand, and Jak gets in tommy gun "mobster" stance and starts pummeling away at anything in front of him. Enemy reactions this time around are again cleverly devised, as there's scorpion-like creatures that pop out in surprise from beneath the sand, Krimzons' inside floating metal contraptions that fire laser weapons, and tumble around and blow up when you fire back, and even giant lurkers (the first game's baddies) make a triumphant return in a couple missions where you'll be required to set them loose from Krimzon captors, watching them hop aboard your getaway vehicle and letting their furry hair breeze back into the wind as you chauffeur them to a safer sector.

From which arenas these goals and others emanate from is also another beauty queen to behold. While some tasks make themselves at home inside Haven's domain, it's outside where most of them initiate in that of a mucky sewer route, a crumbling mining facility, and even a mystical mountain range, where falling boulders block your way upward and a lush forest with camouflaged metal heads will lead you on a game of hide and seek. The level designs are detailed to the brim with glistening, purple Dark Eco surrounding hefty dirt piles in some and grassy fields and water of a new real in others. Special effects only further add to the mouth watering, eye candy galore with sparks flinging left and right as you slam any speeding jet board along surfaces, or gaze over as inside any of the game's locations the weather patterns randomly change on their own, from night, day, or rain sprinkling down upon whatever lies below. Renowned for its ability to seamlessly blend the game's bevy of plateaus into one pile of the story was also another feat the original Precursor had going for it -- and a tradition that follows through with the second chapter, because you can literally enter certain sections of Haven City in a view from the top, and start clearing the floor of jaws as an entire scale of Haven's miniaturized self is absorbed into your brain.

Making games with a rich plot is like making a movie. In both it's preferred if the main characters look like they were made for the part...but to also sound good while they're at it. Jak, Daxter, and the remaining cast appeal to everything you need for a hero, a sidekick, friendly faces, and treacherous ones too in the vocal strings. "Wait up. Hold on a minute...Jak can talk?" That he does, and that he will through story progression. All you need to know however is that with Jak's deep voice, but not too deep, you won't regret chiming into his alternating remarks. Daxter's voice is yet again the same old Daxter, providing packs of puns like no animal ever could (or will). And while all the actors and actresses aren't the big shots you want them to be, these guys are just as good, or in fact unparalleled to what anyone besides them can offer. The only real minute problems with listening to speech in the game is outside story sequences and in the town's belly. Trekking to that distant spot on the map can get repetitive having to hear the Krimzon guys' repeat the same exact four or five sentences they know about 10 times before you reach the "go to" target, whether they're confirming being on foot patrol or simply just don't like the smell of that part of the city.

Last but not least, the audio effects and music found within the game are fairly well off in any job they can muster. Dart across various surfaces and you'll get the pitter-patter of Jak's feet in a semblance with the platform he's on. Speed through the air, and the flames in the back of your bike charge up, and let the clinks, clanks, and scrapes sound off as you'll bump into things (eventually making them go, "Boom!"). Fire a weapon, any weapon, and the differences in the blasts will surely come to pass. Enemies too can stir up some noise with their growling, scattering, and shock weapon firing methods when they want to meet death the easy way. Music in the same sense is as easy to get wrapped up in (with its adventurous theme that heats up in any tussle) as it is with the audio. Mind you, both aspects aren't good like, "I'll take five!" They're just your good listening gears attached to the larger part of the clock.

Bottom Line
It is impossible to alter the past...but shaping the future is a path everyone must follow. Two years ago Naughty Dog saw an opportunity in Jak and Daxter's future. Either take the game up a notch, or completely separate it from itself and many other platform games. Fortunately for fans of the first and newcomers alike, the company went with the second option. Jak II is a different game. It's a little harder, a little darker, and yeah it has a few flaws the first journey couldn't foresee. If you could look past a couple flies squashed on the windshield of your car, you can certainly look past the minor glitches of the game and decide to see that Jak II has arrived, and it's definitely got more greats than goods on what seems to be the best of what platform games have got going on this year.

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