Despite the Playstation's smash debut as a console, the one area in which it really lacked was quality first party titles. Seriously, did 989 Studios EVER publish a good game? Anyway, even when the Playstation 2 hit the scene, it seemed as if nothing had changed. Perhaps we were going to have to accept the fact that Sony just couldn't produce a quality title. Of course, that all changed with the release of stellar games such as Mark of Kri, Ratchet and Clank, and, of course, Jak and Daxter. Hailed by many as the best platformer ever, Jak and Daxter was a truly amazing game. Since us platform junkies just can't get enough platform goodness, Naughty Dog is bringing a seriously tweaked-out sequel. Set almost immediately after where the first title left off, Jak and his furry little buddy soon find themselves transported over 500 years into the future, where they are attacked and Jak is captured while Daxter high tails his cowardly ass right out of town. Skip even farther into the future now, where Daxter has finally managed to rescue his pal (seriously, I don't know why Jak puts up with this guy). This isn't the beginning of a happy ending, however, as Jak has been experimented on during his time in the slammer, transformed into Dark Jak, and that name certainly bespeaks his character. Dark Jak is a brooding, morose, and surprisingly chatty guy, though in his current state of mind you'd almost wish he were as quiet as he used to be. Either way, it soon becomes clear that the future is one radical departure from where Jak and Co. left off in their previous adventure, and it is, in every conceivable way.
Jak 2 is a radical departure from the first game in the series, presenting a much darker, macabre world in which Jak is no longer himself. For that he blames the evil Baron Praxis, the overlord of this future time who authorized the hideous experiments Jak underwent. The daring duo soon set off on a mission of revenge. Oh yeah, they also want to find a way back home. I would, too. However, their adventures this time are going to be just a bit different than they were in the first game, and by a bit I actually mean a lot. Instead of the gameplay based, linear feel of the first, Jak 2 is more focused on a narrative style that allows for more free roaming exploration. You literally only have to collect one item. Everything else is your decision. What you do, where you go, branching storylines…. it's your call. There are reportedly over 100 minutes of cutscenes in Jak 2, but Naughty Dog wants you to know that this isn't just a short movie with a dash of gameplay added in. This game plans on having tons of gameplay on top of the impressive cutscenes.
Speaking of detail, Jak 2 has oodles of it. This game blows its predecessor away visually, and that is no small feat. Jak 2 features all new animations, visuals and a new overall design, thanks in part to a team up with some of Sony's other second and third party developers. For instance, Zipper Interactive, creators of SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals, helped Naughty Dog implement progressive scan in Jak 2, and we all love progressive scan, don't we? Trust me when I tell you, Jak 2 makes the first game look like Kabuki Warriors (alright, not that bad, but you get the point). Even more impressive is how much larger the game world is, especially when you consider how much better it looks. One great example is the opening level, which is 24 times larger than the first level in Jak and Daxter. There are hundreds of NPCs about, all virtually unique thanks to a new technology that allows Naughty Dog to assemble NPCs from thousands of varying body parts. This certainly adds a feel of reality to the game.
The gameplay has been upgraded as well. Jak now has 4 different guns, which he can upgrade through the course of the game. Each one of them is unique, easy to use, and slick in design. They've also done away with the 'eco' power-ups as well. Instead, you'll now have a set of permanent power-ups you can access whenever you wish. The coolest one by far has to be turning Jak into Dark Jak, making him amazingly powerful; ridiculously powerful; so powerful it's almost retarded. Of course, this power-up only lasts for a limited time, balancing the gameplay.
The biggest departure, however, is in the overall attitude of Jak 2. It's dark, it's dreary, it's action packed. It's a game with the word 'ass' in it. Naughty Dog seems to be shedding their overly conservative ways and living up to their namesake with Jak 2. All in all, Jak 2 is shaping up nicely. Naughty Dog seems determined to give us a sequel the way sequels should be done. That is, giving us more of the good, less of the bad, and innovation to top it all off. Jak 2 hits stores this fall. Make sure to check out our screenshots of this gorgeous game, and stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.
3/20/2003 Ryan Hartmann