Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Jak II

It’s rare in the history of gaming has everything come together so spectacularly to make a game which is, to all intents and purposes, perfect. A radical departure from its predecessor in both tone, mechanics and intent it manages to be both respectful to the franchise and bright, bold and brilliantly inventive in new ways.

In essence Jak II plays very much like Jak & Daxter, with plenty of cohesive and tight platforming from start to finish. Whereas before you traveled across a range of locations (beach, jungle, ocean, mountaintop, volcano) Jake II has you roam around a single city, leaping from area to area, climbing up ledges, punching villains and so forth. Like Jak & Daxter it has vehicle segments, although they are much more intricate than before because the upgraded zoomers (now capable of achieving limited flight) are everywhere about the city and Jak’s primary means of getting from A to B. The entire game is set around Haven City, a vast totalitarian state full of citizens, Crimson Guard (this worlds version of the police) and a resistance faction. You’re capable of hijaking vehicles from passers by, attacking anyone you like and watching everyone else flee, tangling with the police until you either evade them or escape or even doing various missions for rewards. This slight GTA style addition is hardly integral to the plot but a brilliant distraction that beefs up the single player experience. Yet that is not the largest change to the gameplay mechanics...

Jak II introduces an arsenal of weapons which give the player the ability to shoot down enemies from a distance. Each of the four weapons works differently and there’s some slight tactical work required to tell which enemy needs which gun. One will take them down quicker than another, but do you really want to waste that ammo? The guns integrate flawlessly with the leaping and punching, not just complimenting but forming the core of the games battles. The other new addition is a rather bulky hoverboard allowing Jak to zoom around on a skateboard like accessory, letting him grind down rails and perform tricks, and even though it doesn't control as well as everything else it still works perfectly.

There is also the addition of a new 'Super' form of your character. Corrupted by Dark Eco Jak has the ability to take enemies out with a single touch, blast entire areas with large Eco Blasts and grapple vehicles to the floor. You can unlock more moves as you go through the game, and even once you've completed the game three times there is no feeling like watching an invincible psycho demolish a Crimson Guard cruiser and watching the burning rubble collapse to the floor in a satisfying explosion.

The fact Jak II contains such a large array of content is not particularly surprising, what shocks here is how flawlessly everything holds together as one single experience.

Visually the game still holds up as well as a pre-HD video game can. Every character is well animated, explosions look and sound real, the city looks grim and environments range from dank sewers, quarry sites, green lush forests and on the skyline high above the city. The game boasts an ensemble cast stemming out from the original Jak, Daxter, Samos and Keira to introduce a fully fledged new world. Everyone relates to our heroes in one way or another and all have their own moments to shine. From Damos, soon to be Jak’s new boss and second in control of the underground rebellion to Sig, the bodyguard for an extremely fat crime lord who’ll almost become a sort of mentor to Jak for surviving in this newer, darker world.

The plot is full of twists, slowly pulling together several disparate threads into one whole as the city locks itself down to an invasion. Although mainly told in cutscenes they are snappy and to the point, and are packed with death, betrayal, bombs, heroes, villains and a very special young boy. Everyone is well voiced and characterised, amusing and realistic. Jak’s new voice actor fits him as well as Daxters does and it all adds to the experience.

Longetivity, this game will last you a decent amount of time. You may spend a while finishing it, then again, and again to unlock all the extras, completing all the missions and getting all the hidden orbs to unlock the secrets. Jak 2 is hardly lacking in unlockables, from jokes like Big Head Mode, Mirror mode, to Dark Jak upgrades, movie players, a gallery to see some artwork and much much more.

In short, possibly my favorite platformer from the PS2.

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