After a well-received colourful and fun adventure, where should a series be taken next? To a grim cyberpunk dystopia, obviously! Welcome to Jak II: Renegade.
Introductions aside, itís actually impressive how this game manages to go under such a dramatic tonal shift while still keeping much of the originalís charm intact. The game still retains a healthy amount of platforming. Characters and concepts from the previous game are integrated in interesting ways and without intimate knowledge of it being necessary. On rare occasions the game feels like itís trying too hard to be edgy, but the change is mostly done well.
There are many cool additions, also. The different guns are an interesting way of bringing the first gameís eco powers into the new setting, and they each fulfill a crucial role in your arsenal. My favourite new feature is the JET-board. In most games a tool like this would be limited to one area, but being able to ride it wherever you want is fantastic. The new Dark Jak form is lacking, however, as it takes too long to build up.
While the first game was visually impressive, this is one of the best looking games on the system. The character models have been vastly improved, with just the right amount of stylisation to fit with the graphical capabilities. There is a huge amount of detail in the environments, and areas such as Haven Forest look downright gorgeous.
Where this game excels compared to other Jak games is in the plot department. A good job is done in establishing a believable world. All of the characters are interesting and have a role to play in the story. My personal favourite is Krew, who has a wonderfully over-the-top design and is a pretty diabolical schemer when it comes down to it.
This gameís major failing, however, is its difficulty - both the fact that itís so high and so inconsistent. The worst offender is the racing missions. These combine rubber band AI, wonky vehicle physics, and instant failure upon death to create the perfect storm of obnoxiousness. The checkpoint system is very unforgiving, and the lack of ammo replenishment means that things can become harder the more you die.
Ultimately, Jak II is worth playing for anyone who doesnít mind a bit of challenge, even those who are turned off by the darker style. Just be wary of broken controllers.