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2/16 - Why can't Naughty Dog just re-write Crash Bandicoot again?

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The Man in Blak




Jak II

(PS2 - 2003)


Sometimes, video game critics get too wrapped up in what a game is supposed to be and forget exactly what it is. You know the games, the ones that are endorsed by a seemingly endless line of critics - the games that you pick and play a couple of times and wonder "am I playing the same games as these guys?" Black & White is my personal favorite of this type of game; critics just couldn't shut up about it, despite the fact that there were plenty of people who couldn't even get past the interface of moving around in the game. What was the point? Why?


To a certain extent, Jak II falls under this category. On the surface, it seems like the series takes a substantial leap, taking the plotline into a darker direction, and incorporating all sorts of new gameplay elements, including guns, vehicles, and a gigantic cityscape with citizens and police officers that adapt to your every move. With such ambition on display here, perhaps a lot of critics are willing to excuse substandard execution, but I'm not so forgiving.


The game design here is a ten car pileup on the interstate, a handful of muddled ideas that manage to screw up each other. The wonderful platform gameplay of the first game is virtually muted, as the level design tries and miserably fails to accommodate all of these new tricks and treats under one circus tent. And the tricks themselves are lacking too; the gunplay would be considered a joke at best, especially if you played the game that challenged Naughty Dog to up the gameplay ante (Ratchet & Clank). The vehicle control for the hovercars - hovercars that are virtually the only way to navigate around the spacious Haven City, I might add - is embarrassingly bad, ricocheting you between buildings and other hovercars as though you were strapped to an Acme rocket by a rubber band. The Crimzon Guard, which plays the role of the police in Haven City, patrols the streets looking for Jak with MGS-style vision cones that you can see on your radar, but they're apparently just for show, as I steered our faithful hero in front of more than one Crimzon Guardsman. The inclusion of the police is, in itself, quite puzzling; can you ever imagine Rockstar attempting to place 3D platformer elements into Grand Theft Auto?


Some may applaud the darker direction that the storyline has taken, but the contrast between the whimsical comedy of the first game is just too much to swallow. Part of that may be due to the ineptitude of the writers, who warp Jak & Daxter from high-fiving and break dancing heroes into battle-hardened warriors that toss out flaccid one-liners like "Kill Metal Heads? Get Toys? Sounds good to me" without much of a build-up. Sure, the original game isn't exactly Hamlet and there are some traces of the previous game's humor sprinkled throughout, but the plotline induces groans at every turn and reaches far too desperately in its attempt to paint an epic revolution against tyranny.


There are a few positives - the graphics throughout the game are still impressive, even if the darker tone puts a damper on a lot of the aesthetic surroundings. The environments have flourishes of personality in them, with walls that crumble as Jak nears them and videoscreen advertisements that wouldn't seem out of place in Blade Runner. Character design is a plus, as Jak gets updated with a cool goatee and turns into a visually impressive "alter-ego" during the use of Dark Eco powers.


Overall, it just seems like Naughty Dog lost their way with this one. The transplant of Jak and Daxter's cartoony platform action just doesn't mix well with the darker direction the series has taken, and the entire game suffers for it. Other reviewers may disagree, but it is my opinion that Jak II is an unbelievable disappointment; it's not without redeeming elements, but it's certainly a title that demands a rental, especially if you're not real keen on integrating action gameplay into your platformer.



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