Thursday, June 6, 2013

Jak II HD - Review


Do you remember Jak and Daxter? The platforming game with the funny looking guy, and his strange animal friend? During their adventure, they ran around a colorful world, collected hundreds of egg like objects, and neither one of them really had a care in the world. While Jak was the young boy who just went with the flow and never talked, Daxter brought excitement to their world with his funny random comments, and with the crazy messes he got the duo into. The game was a great family friendly platformer from our friends at Naughty Dog, and no one could wait to see what came next. It really was a nice game wasn't it? Yeah, well, FORGET ALL ABOUT IT!

This is the review of Jak II! Yes, not Jak and Daxter II, but Jak II. While the game is in fact the sequel to Jak and Daxter, this is not the game you remembered, and it just may not be the game parents would want their kids playing. All of that happy go lucky stuff from the first game, you can just forget that it even existed. From this point on as you read this review, pretend that Jak II is a completely new game, that just happens to be connected to another game universe; with some of the same characters from it. Really, I cannot stress this enough; this is a completely different game, and it is not what many of you might expect from the series.

Now, before I continue on with the review I would like to point out one thing. Although this is in fact a review of the HD version of Jak II, it is in fact the same as the original PS2 version (as well as the PlayStation Vita version). The only difference is that the visuals have been updated for wide screen, trophies have been added, and some minor touch screen features have been added in for the Vita release; other than that, it is completely the same game. Now with that being said, lets get to the review!

The Story of Jak II:

The Story of Jak II opens up right where Jak and Daxter left off. If you got all of the collectables in the original game, you would unlock a scene where Jak and co found some strange portal like device, and the game would simply end as they all looked at it in awe. Well, it turns out that this device is in fact some sort of portal, and some type of strange vehicle was found along side it. Although their motives are quite unclear, Jak, Daxter, Keira (Jak's love interest), and Soma (Jak's guardian and Keria's father) decide to jump into it, and enter through the gate to parts unknown.


After going through the gate, Jak and company find them selves in a strange world, in the middle of a city, with guards everywhere. It seems that the guards are at war with some sort of race of robots called "Metal Heads," and Jak has now been caught up in the middle of it. Not too long after his arrival, Jak is captured by the guards, and he is separated from his friends. Before long, Jak is thrown in jail, and becomes a living test subject to test the effects of a substance known as "Dark Eco." Two years later, things have completely changed. Jak is still a prisoner, but he is no longer the Jak we all used to know. He has aged, he has grown a beard, his hair is now slicked back, his mussels have grown, and he is pissed; he personally makes this clear.

Not too long after the screen jumps to the new older Jak, Daxter finally makes his return to save his long lost friend, and it seems he too has changed over time. Although it is never shown in game, it turns out that Daxter had set out on an adventure of his own to save his buddy, and during that time he has seen his own share of horrors. Now no longer depended on his friend for help, Daxter has matured, and so has his vocabulary. Upon seeing Jak, Daxter quickly jumps on top of his friend, shakes him, and asks him if he is okay. As Daxter begs Jak to say something for once, much to his surprise he gets his wish. Jak opens his mouth for the first time, and simply yells "I'M GOING TO KILL PRAXIS!" At this moment it is clear; the Jak we once knew is gone, and the new Jak isn't going to let anyone get in his way.


Soon after proclaiming to kill his captor, Jak transforms into an evil looking form as the result of the Dark Eco tests, and he busts his way out of his cell. Daxter once again climbs on his friend's back, and the two set out into parts unknown. From that point on, both Jak and Daxter decide that no matter what, they will do anything to reach their goals. Even if it means teaming up with criminals, or braking the law; they are going to get revenge for what Praxis did to Jak, and above all, they are going to find their way back home. The world they are in now is ruled with an iron fist, and it is a world of pain and suffering; nothing like their peaceful land.

The Gameplay of Jak II:

While Jak II is a lot different from its original, a lot of the same gameplay mechanics are actually still in place. The game is still a platformer, Jak can use his roll move to dodge out of the way, and he can still roll jump to make it across larger gaps. On top of that Jak can still preform a double jump move as well, and his basic form of attacking is a weak punch attack and a spin attack; which can also help him stay in the air longer. All of this is the same from the last game, and Jak can even still make use of a ground pound type move. All of this is what you might consider "platforming 101," and it is what fans of the series may have come to expect; however, that is all that has remained the same.


The original Jak and Daxter was a sort of open world platforming game where each area was a level of its own, and each area was filled with different goals to complete, and items to collect. Well, that style of play is basically gone. Although there are some "levels" that you will run through, Jak II is actually a sand box game, and it features just about everything you would expect from the genre. The game has a main city, there are towns people running around (which you can actually kill if you wish to do so), you can hijack hover vehicles and take them for a spin around town, and story events play out in missions which are accepted by talking to people on the map, or by going to a specific location. Although, all of this is only half of the changes made to the game.

This time around Jak isn't going to only be using his fists to fight, but guns as well. Throughout the game you will be able to unlock a wide verity of weapons to use, and all of them are quite deadly and can be used in anyway you want. If you want, you can run around shooting up the town until the cops come after you, or you can use the ammo to take out the enemies that have invaded the area. Really, it is up to you how you want to play, and there really is no pros or cons to being a good or bad guy.

The other main aspect of gameplay comes in the form of the vehicles. As I said above, you can hijack vehicles to drive around, but their controls are VERY sloppy. They truly do feel like hover crafts, and because of that you will be slipping and sliding around as you try to gain control. Although each vehicle had two modes of flight, one in the air where they are meant to be flown and one on the ground, chances are you'll end up sticking to the ground. Since the controls will have you sliding around, you will crash into things, and you will soon find that vehicles can only take so much abuse. Since running into other vehicles quickly damages your hover craft, you'll find that it's just better to stick to the ground and run over everyone in your sight. Like I said, there's no pros or cons for being the bad guy, so what's the difference if you run over a few people? As far as Jak is concerned, it is their fault for being in the way.


As far as missions go, there are a wide range of them in Jak II as well. While you'll come across some missions in the city that will require you to race, others will be focused on target practice, or finding a hidden item within a set amount of time. Completing these missions will net you a Precursor Orb (yes, the very items that used to be so common in the original), and these in return can be used to unlock some nice extras and rewards from the bonus menu. From unlocking Jak with a big head, to unlocking unlimited ammo for a specific gun; the rewards really do vary, and they do give you a reason to work for them.

When it comes to the actual story aspects of the game, these parts do play out a lot like the original game. Most of the time Jak is sent to an outside area of the city, where he must use his platforming skills to make it to some set area, but this time around the game is a lot more combat heavy. Enemies will shoot at you, and take a lot more to kill, and danger lurks around just about every turn. Sometimes you'll also be required to use a turret to protect yourself, or you may even have to use Jak's new hover board to preform tricks to make it across a gap. Platforming really isn't as simple as it was in the original, and navigating the enemeis around you truly do pose a threat.


Although the standard Eco Powers from the first game don't make a return in Jak II, Jak does in fact have an alternate form. The Dark Eco from Jak uses at the start of the game is actually playable, and it is something that can be used to help you through the main parts of the story as well. In this mode Jak becomes much stronger, and over time you can unlock different abilities for it as well. Although these abilities are mostly attack based, some of them can help you progress through the levels, and make things quite a bit easier. And trust me, you'll want to make things as easy as possible.

The Difficulty:

One thing that really stands out about Jak II is how hard the game is. Although the original Jak and Daxter was pretty much a cake walk which could be 100%ed without as so much as looking at a guide; the same cannot be said for Jak II. To put it simply, THE GAME IS VERY UNFORGIVING! Jak has a limited amount of health, enemies are hell bent on killing you, bullets will fly at you non stop, there are escort missions where your party will happily commit suicide, platforming sections require you to be dead on, and the vehicle challenges can seem flat out unreasonable (the controls make these sections even worse). This game is not easy at all, and because of that it may be too hard for younger gamers. The game truly is unforgiving, and checkpoints can sometimes been ten or so minutes back past an extremely challenging platforming section, which just so happens to be filled with enemies.


Although the game is hard; you don't have to worry about it being unfair. If you keep failing, or have a hard time getting past a section; it is due to your own skill. Not once will you feel that the game is cheating you, and because of that you will find yourself pushing yourself harder as you try to overcome that next obstacle. Still, as I said before, the challenges may be too much for younger gamers, but this really isn't a game they should be playing in the first place.

Jak With a T Rating:

This is something I felt I should flat out point out in this review, especially because of what this game is. Now this aspect of the review is aimed more towards the parents that may be reading this as they decide on what to buy for their child, but this may come as a shock to gamers in general as well.

While the first game in the series was rated E for everyone and was aimed more at kids, it seems that Naughty Dog decided to keep the game aimed at their fan base. You see, at the time Jak II was released Naughty Dog's fan base had aged. The kids who grew up playing their original series Crash were most likely in their pre teens by the time Jak and Daxter came out, and by the time Jak II entered the picture they were young teens. Since their fan base was now older, it seems that Naughty Dog felt it would be alright to make their next Jak game a bit edgier, and that allowed them to include content that would other wise be inappropriate.


At the start of the game Jak flat out tells the players that he is going to kill someone, but that's only the start of things. The game does in fact have mild language with both Jak and Daxter using words such as piss, hell, damn, and so on. On top of that quite a few perverted jokes can be heard throughout the game as well; such as when a bird tells them Jak and Daxter that his name is "Pecker." Upon hearing this, both Jak and Daxter look at each other and laugh, as the bird sort of brushes the whole thing off. Upon farther inspection, at the local bar a poster with a girl in a tight shirt can be seen as well, and it is quite clear that there are bumps sticking through her shirt. Although it really doesn't show anything, content such as this is quite shocking coming from a sequel to a game like Jak and Daxter.

On top of the language and "partial nudity," the game is quite violent as well. The game's story is a lot darker, and it freely deals with death and pain. Also since you can in fact shoot up the town if you wish, innocent people can die, and Jak really doesn't seem to care what he does. His character is a lot darker in general, but what else would you expect from someone who has been tortured for a year?

The Light and the Dark:

Jak II is actually a really good game. Although it may not be what everyone expected from a sequel, that doesn't change the fact that it is a solid platformer/sandbox hybrid, and it is also one that really packs a punch. The game is challenging, it is packed full of content, it greatly expands on the combat system set by the first one, and it actually has a really nice story. While in the first game you really didn't care what was going on, this time around you truly did care for the characters, and the game made you want to see what happened next. On top of that, despite the game being a bit childish, there were quite a few funny jokes to laugh at as well. Even though the game is what you might call a black sheep compared to the original, it really is a pretty nice game; however, that doesn't mean it is perfect.


As I've mentioned at least twice now, the vehicle controls are bad. They take a lot of time to get used to, and they are a flat out pain. Some parts of the city are a nightmare to navigate by vehicle because of this, and you will almost always have the police chasing you due to you running over innocent towns folk. The fact that the game is challenging may turn some people off as well, but what might turn people way the most is the fact at how different the game is. The once innocent Jak now actually talks and throws around curse words like it was second nature, and Daxter has become quite a bit more perverted as well. Some people may like the change, while others may not.

In the end, despite its problems, I give Jak II an 8/10. While I realize this is the same score I gave the original, I gave it this rating for its own reasons; not because it was a sequel.

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