A Retrospective: Jak II

I absolutely loved the Jak and Daxter series. The first two Jak and Daxter games were probably the biggest games of my childhood. I don’t think it was just because I was a kid either. Even given it’s obvious influence from other games, diving into the humor, mystery and lush environments of Jak and Daxter after a hard day at school was like diving into a virtual holiday. Playing it recently, I loved it just as much. Even now, I think it’s one of the best looking games ever.

So naturally, I was keen to play Jak II straight afterwards. After all, Jak II was also one of my all time favs. Surely it would hold up just as well.

Before I start talking about it, I’m going to conjure up my 13 year old self to do his review of Jak II. So here we go.

Welcome back 13 year old me.

Good to be here.

Right, now, you’re a pretty big fan of Jak II aren’t you?

Well yeah. It’s awesome. It’s, like, not a kid’s game anymore. Y’know? It’s got guns in it and you can steal cars and stuff. Also, you go around doing missions for crime bosses and resistance members and stuff and you can fight the evil government. Oh, and Daxter is really funny and makes loads of raunchy jokes now. It’s f*ckin awesome.

Cool, thanks man.

No problem. 

Great, so now that he’s gone, I can talk about what my 24 year-old self thought of the game. Okay… here it goes….

Oh man. This is pretty hard. After all, my fond memories of Jak II are such a big part of my childhood that it’s pretty hard for me to admit that I actually didn’t like it that much.

So here’s the thing: Jak II has the feel of a children’s game. It has a cartoony style, kid friendly puzzle mini-games, talking animals and lets you ride around on hoverboards and has all the kind of stuff, right? At the same time, it also wants the audience to feel like they’re not playing a kid’s game. It’s got car-jacking, crime, guns, swearing and tons of adult jokes. One of the weirdest details is that you can attack random pedestrians when you’re walking around the city (kind of like how you can in GTA) only when you kill them, they kind of just fizzle into the air and disappear like force ghosts. If Jak were actually going to go around recklessly murdering people and their bodies were going to stay lying limp on the ground, the game would probably not be suitable for it’s target audience anymore. But there isn’t an inbuilt thing like… say, the pedestrians just move out of the way when you try to hit them (like in the first “Driver” games). The game does this weird compromise where you aren’t really killing anyone, but you can have the satisfaction of feeling like you are.

It’s a weird combination of both styles which feels even weirder considering the game that it’s a sequel to. Look, I really don’t want to come across as sounding like Mary Whitehouse here and, don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to see all the old faces and settings from Jak and Daxter getting an adult reboot… when you’re a kid. However, as an adult, it doesn’t quite have the same effect.

It really reminded me a little of how I felt when watching Russel T Davis’s Torchwood series. That show had the ‘vibe’ of a childish, campy sci-fi show in the vein of Doctor Who. Then, out of the blue, would just come a tidal wave of gratuitous gore and sex. It left a rotten taste in my mouth (which wasn’t helped by the fact it was a terrible show anyway). I remember watching a making-of about Torchwood back in the day that featured Davis saying things like “We’re making this an adult show. So the question is: just how much gore and sex do we put in?” Let’s make one thing clear; putting more gore and sex in something does NOT make it more adult. Making something more adult potentially means making it a little more complicated, more morally ambiguous and more reliant on greater life experience to fully appreciate. Otherwise, all you have is a childish product with lots of sex and violence in it.

Playing Jak II directly after Jak and Daxter was a mistake. Jak and Daxter is a beautiful game. Jak II is ugly as shit. The levels are dank, grey and miserable and always take place in slums, sewers, digging sites or swamps. I fully understand that this is to make it seem a little grittier and further its disassociation from the 1st game. However, I can’t help but compare the swamp levels of Jak II to, say, the swamp level in Jak and Daxter; a level that was dripping with atmosphere, felt damp and icky and used the weather and the lighting to great effect. It was a grittier level in the context of the first game, but it still had a rich atmosphere. There is a distinct lack of richness in Jak II. Even the levels that take place inside temple ruins (a regular of the first game) feel chalky and static rather than feel mysterious and sacred like they did in Jak and Daxter. In the first game, I remember loving the changes from day to night and remember what a difference it made to the feel of the levels. In Jak II, I hardly even noticed when day and night changed  and most of the levels take place underground anyway. This, to me, highlights a sequel that has lost a part of its character. That doesn’t necessarily make it bad. However, like I said in my last article, when making a sequel or remake of something, you have to at least make some effort to capture the essence of what made the original great in the first place. Otherwise, what kind of property have you got?

I remember reading interviews by the Naughty Dog staff around the time Jak II was released. They referred to the kid friendly nature of the first game as if it was something to be ashamed of…

“You won’t find yourself doing missions for a farmer who needs to have his cows herded back into a pen. It will more in common with a game like Grand Theft Auto…”

Can you imagine if Disney did things like this? What if the studios decided that the kids who liked Frozen may have grown up a few years and were now watching films like Fast and Furious?

Well, because I like to do these things, here it is! Fast, Furious and Frozen.

Here’s the synopsis: It’s been a few years on since the events of the first film. Elsa has fled the palace once again only, this time, she’s the become the head of an underground street racing organization. Anna and Kristoph have to go undercover, enter the street racing tournament with their pimped out snowsleds, and try to win Elsa’s friendship back. However, once they become seasoned street racers, they realize just how cool and hip the loveable rascals of the underground 19th Century, scandinavian street racing scene really are and eventually decide to help Elsa in her plan to rob that douchebag Prince Hans (who is running a corrupt law enforcement ring and always getting Elsa’s way) of a big stash of money that he’s got locked up in his castle. In the climactic scene, Elsa uses her ice powers to create a big ice ramp to launch her car into the castle, knocking Han’s money vault into a big net attached to a helicopter which Olaf is piloting.

Hans goes “Noooo! That’s my money!”

“It’s ours now Motherf*cker!” Olaf yells back.

And then our heroes are all like: “What do we do with all this money now?”

And then Anna says “Did somebody say: beach party in Hawaii!?”

The credits roll over all the characters partying on a sunny beach while “Hot in Here” by Usher plays us out.

Hey, that sounds f*cking amazing!

Quiet 13 year old me.

Anyway, playing Jak II as a 13 year made me feel more adult. Now, as an adult, I yearn for the confident, kid friendly atmosphere of Jak and Daxter.

Okay, thanks for reading that. Now here’s an excerpt from the annotated transcript for an honest-to-god fan comic I made of Jak and Daxter back when I was 13. It features a plot about Daxter getting amnesia and… then some other stuff happens. I truly truly would love to share it with you all…

dax

(man, I was so damn proud of that ‘holy cow’ joke back then…)

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