Naughty Dog's games have always resonated with me. Be it my first experience with the original PlayStation playing Crash Bandicoot, or becoming completely enthralled with Jak and Daxter on PS2 and the Uncharted games of this generation, I've been a fan of their work for quite some time. That being said, my preference towards Jak out of Sony's three PS2-era mascot franchises shouldn't come as a big surprise. In particular, Jak II left a lasting impression on me, having replayed it two or three times since its 2003 launch.
Before getting into my experience with the game, a little context would help. Jak II picks up right after the events of its predecessor, placing Jak and his campions - Daxter, Keira and Samos - in position of the mysterious Precursor Rift Gate. After activating the gate, Jak's crew is quickly thrust into a portal that sends them to the unforgiving streets of Haven City. Things take a further turn for the worse when Jak is captured, and subsequently imprisoned, by a group of guards. During his incarceration, Jak is subject to painful experiments that the hands of Haven City's tyrannical leader, Baron Praxis, who is attempting to craft a warrior with enhanced abilities. Daxter finally springs Jak from prison after two years of anguish, and the quest is on for revenge.
The opening events of Jak II immediately set a much darker tone than that of the original Jak and Daxter, one that continues throughout the story. The dramatic shift in setting and tone is handled really well, because the game manages to continuously relate these new events to its predecessor as the plot unfolds, while keeping the series' signature charm and humor intact. In short: Jak II makes the overall universe a much more intriguing place to explore.
Story wasn't the only thing that saw a major change for the better since The Precursor's Stone, the entire game felt a little bit more "adult" this time round. The combat placed a much greater emphasis on gunplay, and the overall design turned to an open-world, sandbox style mechanic, which was likely influenced by the runaway success of Grand Theft Auto III two years earlier. It was simply a great package, aside from the occasional, unexpected difficulty curve spike - fighting my way past hordes of Krimzon Guard drop-ships in the slums was hell my first time through the game.
(I think the statue of limitations on Jak II has been up for years now, but here's a slight spoiler warning none the less.)
There were plenty of memorable moments throughout Jak II - one of which in particular still stands out to me today. After an ongoing struggle, the Metal Heads break through Haven City's defenses, causing mass panic, and completely changing the dynamic on the streets. The Krimzon Guard, who once took pleasure from nothing more than chasing Jak down at any opportunity, are now preoccupied fighting off the infestation. Choosing to battle Metal Heads alongside your former enemies felt very natural, and was a great way to represent the overarching plot through gameplay. Whenever I see that dynamic repeated in games today, I think of that experience.
Jak II still remains a fantastic game. The story, combat and design expand upon the series' roots, making for a very enjoyable and memorable experience. For those who haven't touched a Jak game in a while, you may want to dust this one off - and to those who've never tried any of them, I definitely recommend checking them out one of these days.