You Don't Know Jak.
Long ago and far away in the magical land of the 2001 holiday season, PS2 gamers met Jak, a happy-go-lucky XXL Keebler Elf with a manic ferret on caffeine for a sidekick. The evil Dee Snider (yeah, this one) was messing with some weird Dark Eco goop and some long lost Precursor technology in an attempt to ruin everyone's day. With some well placed punches, spin moves and other acrobatics, Jak was able to save the world and uncover a mysterious Precursor gate that led to Who Knows Where.
Jak II picks up right where the original left off, with Jak and pals about to kickstart the old portal. But instead of being greeted by some mystical stairway to heaven, Jak's met with a boatload of menacing fruit flies on crack called Metal Heads, which stream out of the gateway and into Jak's peaceful word. Oops. Then Jak and his crew get sucked into the void with a one-way ticket to – you guessed it – Who Knows Where. Fade out. The end.
Two years later, Jak's back and he's really pissed off. After passing through the portal, Jak was captured by a bunch of thuggish G.I. Joe Crimson Guard wannabes (called Krimzon Guard, which is just so Xtreme) and sent to Baron Praxis, the Big Cheese in town. Jak is then invited for a little stay in the Baron's dungeon resort, complete with 24-hour torture chambers and a world-class toxic Dark Eco spa. Very refreshing'in a Toxic Avenger sort of way.
The result is a Jak that we've never seen before, complete with goatee, an actual voice and Incredible Hulk-like (the gray one, not the green one) powers thanks to those Dark Eco experiments. When enough Dark Eco is collected, Jak goes into a berserker rage, growing claws and doling out super-elfin attack combos that would make Wolverine jealous. Don't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
So the tale of Jak II turns out to be one of revenge and payback. It's quite intriguing and I would hate to spoil it for you, but just know that there are more twists than a bucket of Red Vines in this three-way battle between Baron Praxis, the Metal Heads and our heroes. I do love a game with a good story, and Jak II doesn't disappoint.
Fans of the original are in for quite a shock with the mature theme of the sequel. Instead of a brightly colored happy land, we get an industrial cesspool that vaguely resembles a cross between a redneck outhouse and the bathroom of a third-world country. It's gritty, dirty and downright ugly, though you'll still find a few bright spots outside the city. And no matter where you are, you'll see a great-looking game that rolls right along with zero loading screens and great framerates despite a zillion things going on.
With its seamless world, free environment and sweet look, the original Jak and Daxter was certainly an ambitious project. Jak II takes all that and expands upon it, throwing in various gameplay tidbits from every corner of the videogame universe. You'll borrow hover vehicles and mob around the enormous Haven City ala GTA. You'll careen down the streets on a hoverboard, a sort of Tony Hawk meets Marty McFly feature complete with move lists and combos. You'll jump into a powersuit with a nod to Naughty Dog's other boy, Crash Bandicoot.
At first, these disparate gameplay elements seem like an awkward mish-mash of top-selling games, but after a bit of playing, it's clear that Jak II isn't trying to be any of these games – it just uses bits and pieces of their gameplay to enhance its own. It's a great way to break through the platformer stereotype of incessant "Goomba Stomping" and keep the genre alive.
Another major change is the removal of Jak's Eco powers and the addition of guns to make the rooms go boom. Your upgradeable arsenal will grow to include the Scatter Gun, Blaster Weapon, Vulcan Fury chain gun and Peace Maker. Jak's history with traditional spin/jumping attacks makes the guns feel a little strange, but in truth the weaponry does match the new darker world. You'll accumulate a body count higher than John Woo's Hard Boiled. Let the bodies hit the floor!
With so much going on, it's almost a given that problems are going to pop up. Haven City is a big place but there aren't many tourist spots. Unlike GTA, there isn't a whole lot to see or do outside of the game's missions. That said, you'll be spending more time than you'd like driving from point to point with little to make the trip interesting. Jacking vehicles and serving up a large portion of pedestrian roadkill (even in front of the "cops") won't do a thing. To get some action, you'll need to jack a Krimzon Guard or run one over. Even then, you'll just end up zooming away or taking on a near endless stream of grunts for no particular reason.
This makes the time between missions a drag on the game's flow. A reason to explore the city would have been great (i.e. Secret Packages!). That way, you could still feel like something was going on even though you weren't doing anything in particular. And what about those Precursor Orbs that we collected in the first game? They're still here (unlocking a few things such as the infamous goatee toggle), but the vast majority of them aren't found in the city proper.
Jak II's other snafu is the cursed platformer camera. No matter where how skilled you think you are, you will at one point or another: A.) Miss a jump because you had a bad angle on the platform; B.) Get shot/hit by an enemy that's offscreen; C.) Throw your controller through the TV screen because A or B happened right before you reached the next save point. A shoddy camera in a 3D platformer is nothing new, but it does take away from the overall enjoyability of blasting endless onslaughts of enemies. Curse you, voodoo camera!
But even with these issues, Jak II manages to include the original's numerous highlights while simultaneously adding a ton of new gameplay features. A great storyline, excellent delivery, top-notch voice acting and fun, varied gameplay help Jak II continue Naughty Dog's tradition of high quality games. It's simply not to be missed.