Classic game appreciation section: Jak II: Renegade

If there is one shade in gaming that is more feared than brown, it’s got to be grey. Whenever a game that started out as a colourful odyssey comes back resembling a moody teen’s bedroom wall, suspicions are alerted. But that needn’t be the case as Jak II proved back in 2003. It managed to mix the tight-as-a-tiger gameplay of the original, with a sprawling open-world structure that truly captivated.

Above: This zoomed-out view of the city gives you some idea of the sense of scale in the game

Before we get into it though, a quick confession. I had never heard of the series when I was first bestowed my copy of Jak II as a Christmas present. After making the usual chit-chat with my family, I retreated to my bedroom to survey the grinning guy with a goatee, gun and otter - or Ottsel, correct terminology fans - on his shoulder.

The original had passed me by and I hadn’t played a Naughty Dog game since Crash Team Racing. I was perplexed right through the opening – which saw the dude from the box getting tortured - and up until I got a chance to take control of Jak. At that point, every shred of doubt I had about the game evaporated, as I got to navigate away from the bizarrely cartoonish torture room and into the grimy slums of Haven City.

Above: That's a damn fine sense of scale for a last-gen game

Jak II remains one of the most engrossing and playable experiences of the PS2 era. Looking back, the game is as huge as Krew, the game’s oversized weapon smuggler with upgradable weapons constantly being drip-fed, racing sections that were actually fun in their own right, more collectables than a Crash Bandicoot reunion party and surprisingly strong story that saw Naughty Dog start to hone the skills that have given us the fantastic Uncharted tales.

Ripping Yarns

So, that story then. After being sucked into the future, Jak finds his home world to have gone from tropical paradise to industrial hell-scape. The city is under the iron fist of Baron Praxis, a name that can only exist in hell-scapes, who has the unenviable task of fighting two wars. One with a group of creatures known as Metal Heads who want to get into Haven City and the other with an underground resistance who aren’t a fan of the Baron. Considering that Jak was tortured by the Baron, it’s not a surprise he starts chumming around with the underground.

One of the things that, in hindsight, surprised me about the tale was that Naughty Dog was willing to see its mature new angle through. Jak seethed with anger regularly and vengeance was a concept he seemed to be pretty into. It was obvious Baron Praxis was a tyrant and when Kor – the old gentlemanly fellow who guides Jak in his quest – turns out to be (SPOILER ALERT… for an 8 year old game) a massive metal head, I was, I admit with a slight degree of shame, legitimately shocked.

I’m not going to argue my standards may have been lower back when I was 13, but Jak II has a story that stuck with me. Hell, the big twist ending is a concept that Naughty Dog has done well with in Uncharted. Some of the characters – okay, Daxter - may not have the same gravitas as Sully, but he still has a certain charm. Not only did Naughty Dog manage to mould a fairly bleak story onto a fairly cartoony game, it did it convincingly.

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  • JamesRadar - January 13, 2012 7:18 p.m.

    This game gives me that "Blade Runner" feeling. So much fun and and good memories to boot.
  • Henrys5002 - August 28, 2011 3:32 p.m.

    Your appreciation section is unique and thoughtful, but you're beginning to add games that AREN'T true classics. My first disagreement was with doom3, a game which had no 5 star rating in any review. Yes, I'm sorry, but it's NOT a classic. The second disagreement is now jak2. It's a good game, but NOT a classic. How could jak2 be in this section without mario64, the definition of 3d platforming? The second I saw these games I knew they didn't belong here. I'm happy I've been able to rend my opinion across as I really love this section. It's actually the reason I joined in. Just don't let it lose its way. Remember: REAL classics. Bye for now.
  • Yeager1122 - August 26, 2011 10:27 p.m.

    I absolutley love Jak 2 one of my favorites games always replay it at leat once every year or so.
  • Markstone - August 26, 2011 4:22 p.m.

    Loved this game, probably my favorite PS2 game besides Star Wars Battlefront. Maybe they'll make a new one after uncharted 3? PLEASE Naughty Dog, make it happen!!!!!
  • 08rpotter01 - August 26, 2011 1:26 p.m.

    Man alive Ben!! I remember playing the first jak and daxter when I rented it from blockbuster about a million years ago. I don't recall anything from it, and haven't played any of the games since, but your review makes me wanna buy them all, lock myself in my room, and play them until I die.
  • MeanwhileGuy - August 26, 2011 2:44 a.m.

    Ah, I remember my 14 year old self being hopelessly addicted to this game. Everything about it is just fantastic, bar some questionable difficulty spikes (as JJBSterling said THAT @#**ING DOCK ESCAPE). And Ben, I completely agree, that Naughty Dog has done nothing with the franchise since Jak 3 apart from a couple of racing and PSP games is simply criminal. Like any other PS3 owner, I love Nathan Drake and the Uncharted games, but it's time to bring Jak back, and show the other platformers like Ratchet and Sly how it's done.
  • yareet - August 25, 2011 5:29 p.m.

    Go bournemouth! I do wonder Ben if you have met Gordon the tramp; our local hero. This is an 80 year old tramp wannabe who can tell the time by just looking at the sky if anybody was curious. Back on the note of Jak 2 though. Easily one of the best platformers on PS2.
  • Ben Tyrer - August 25, 2011 11:27 p.m.

    Not yet, but I've still got another two years to bump into him, I'll keep an eye out for anyone gazing at the sky for too long!
  • SumthingStupid - August 25, 2011 5:14 p.m.

    Jak and Daxter is my favourite series ever, i wish they could make a ps3 jak and dax, like jak 4 or something, and a hd collection would be sweet too, i wish i never got rid of my ps2 :(
  • VagueRaconteur - August 25, 2011 4:13 p.m.

    Ahh nostalgia... I played all of the Jak games, and got to the 3rd to last level on every one. No idea why I never finished. Mfw spoiler alert: o.O'
  • kingsmikefan - August 25, 2011 3:47 p.m.

    Jak II is my favorite game of all time. It was the first time a game really shook me. Thank you for this.
  • gilgamesh310 - August 25, 2011 2:25 p.m.

    Jak 2 still stanndsas the best Naughty Dog game. I don't think Uncharted has anything on it. At least not in terms of gameplay.
  • FanofSaiyan - August 25, 2011 1:47 p.m.

    I really wish somebody would develop a true PS3 Jak & Daxter game...
  • JJBSterling - August 25, 2011 1:43 p.m.

    One of my favorite games of all time. BUT THAT DOCK ESCAPE LEVEL, OH MY GOD.
  • IsaacShadow - August 25, 2011 1:21 p.m.

    Ahhh...I wish I still had my PS2 and this game. This game was amazing.
  • ComradeKhani - August 25, 2011 1:11 p.m.

    Same story for me, I had received this for a birthday though, had never heard of the series. I would really love to see a sequel, it would make me want a PS3. Probably one of my favorite series of all time.
  • Errrrbo - August 25, 2011 12:15 p.m.

    One of my favorite games of all time. Making a sequel like this, where you go from cartoony to dark to this degree, and they pulled it off really well. The writing and story are really good, the gameplay is fantastic, and the graphics are some of the best on the system.
  • Terrorrizor - August 25, 2011 11:57 a.m.

    Jak ll I feel was one of those landmark games, it's transition for Jak and Daxter was like a splash of cold water, everything changed forever. Jak wasn't that little cartoony guy anymore he was a hardened, foul mouthed cartoony guy who could really kick some ass! It takes you where most games could not, and the environment in and of itself is a character! Like the article said, it was so sad bleak and depressing that you wanted to tear down the establishment! All in all, it's a good game with an awesome story that keeps wondering how it will all end, and then when it does end you'll wish it never did end.
  • Terrorrizor - August 25, 2011 11:59 a.m.

    *keeps you wondering
  • MrSuitMan - August 25, 2011 11:56 a.m.

    Thank you. Thank you so much for this. Jak II is one of my most influential games and thank you for recognizing it.