previews\ Jun 4, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Jak II - PS2 - Preview 2

Long before Ruben Studdard became an American idol, there was a man who was idolized not because of his voice, but because of his marsupial friend: Jason Rubin.  Rubin created Crash Bandicoot, the only action/adventure series to sell more than 20 million units on the PSone.  With such huge success under his belt, it was a huge surprise to find that Naughty Dog (Jason Rubin's company) had said goodbye to Crash Bandicoot forever.  Both Sony and Naughty Dog gave (sold) the game's rights to Universal, who previously had a business-related connection to the series.  Was Naughty Dog barking up the wrong tree, or had they found a new bone to bury?


Naughty Dog did what does do best: they sniffed an opportunity and didn't let it go until it was held tightly between their teeth.  The opportunity was to develop a brand-new game with its own gameplay style.  This game wouldn't be a spiritual successor to Crash – it didn't have to follow any of Crash's rules either.  Instead, the goal was to develop something much bigger and better.  The result was Jak & Daxter, one of the greatest action/adventure games ever made.  (You could call it the greatest platformer ever made, too, but those genres are so closely related that it really isn't necessary.)


Nearly two years have passed since the release of Jak & Daxter.  As we speak, Naughty Dog is putting the finishing touches on the game's sequel, Jak II.  Why the shortened name?  I can't say for certain, but it probably has a lot to do with the game's slightly darker image, and the fact that "and" game titles lead the player to believe that it's a kiddie game.  While Jak II appears to be perfectly suitable for children (there was nothing in the demo that went beyond the first game's content), this is not at all a child's play-thing.


Fans of the previous game will be glad to know that everything that could be done in the first game can be done in the sequel.  Every move and every attack is here, along with several new ones.  What stands out the most is the Scatter Gun Jak is holding at the beginning of the demo.  "What, did you say gun?"  Yes, gun.  Jak & Daxter hasn't suddenly gone all Tomb Raider on us, but it does have a new arsenal of weapons that closely resembles the weapon combat of Ratchet & Clank.


Based on the demo alone, it's hard to say if the weapons are the main way to defend yourself against Jak II's tough enemies.  Weapon usage is limited by the amount of bullets you have.  More bullets can be found, but since all of Jak's original attacks have returned, he can also punch the enemies or whack them with this tail.  He can also use the gun itself as a weapon and bash enemies with it.


One surprising change is the inclusion of missions.  There were some objectives in the first game that could be considered missions, but for the most part, it was very much an action/adventure game in which you did what you wanted, when you wanted.  There are two sections of the demo, and the first section forces you to follow the lead of a comrade and stand by him at all times.  If you fail to protect him from the enemies, he'll die, and you'll fail the mission.  It's a fun mission, but there is a lot of repetitive shooting, and all I wanted to do was abandon my main objective and see what else was out there.  The world is big, and it's clear that there's more to see, but the demo wouldn't allow me to see it.  Certainly, you'll be able to see it all in the final version, but whether or not there will be times when missions restrict you has yet to be seen.


The other section of the demo gives you the chance to ride Jak's new hover board.  Call it Jak's Pro Skater if you will, because that's how it feels.  This is an excellent addition to the game.  Jak can zip up and down mountains, jump over large gaps, and fly up ramps to perform some kind of task that has yet to be determined.  Jak can't attack when he's riding, but he can whip out the board and put it away at any time, so it's not an instant death trap.


Not at all surprisingly, Naughty Dog is set to take the top spot again this year with the best action/adventure game.  The new levels are fantastic.  They're extremely well designed, and feel like so much more than just a square island in the sky.  The weapons and new vehicles (more will be available in the final version) are awesome.  Sony is distributing this demo publicly, so it should appear in the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine within the next couple of months.  Watch for it, and look for the final game when it's released this September.

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