A whole new world
Moving away from the linear roots in the first game, Naughty Dog flung you straight into an open world. From here, Jak II adopts the usual sandbox mission structure. So yes, Triangle is used to hijack vehicles and doing naughty deeds will mean the fuzz will descend on you in a heartbeat. So far, so GTA. Yet, Haven City’s distinct charm meant that it rarely felt like a boorish clone. On top of that, anything that hovers will also be better than anything that doesn’t hover; so the liberal splashing of hover bikes, jet boards and hover mobiles were instantly gratifying.
The open world approach worked for me because it wasn’t just oppressive slum after oppressive slum. As the game progresses, it treats you to areas that keep things from being too bleak. There’s the Mar Memorial Stadium, which houses the racing tracks and Jet Board initiation test. It, in addition to being a speedway, boasts the classiest entrance to any stadium I can think of, with massive fountains, golden statues and trees with fire raging at their base. Olympic stadiums for 2012, take note.
The actual city itself is built around the majestic and overpowering Haven Palace, a skyscraper that dominates the skyline; lest you weren’t aware that Baron Praxis, who lives in it, is indeed evil. And this huge scale isn’t lost when you get to mooch around inside it either, with one boss battle taking you to the highest heights of the tower. It’s a testament to the ingenious level design that progression through these areas and boss battles feels natural.
The areas outside the city are, somehow, even better. The first bit of the wasteland you encountered combined beach, ocean and machinery, all clashing together and requiring various expert leaps to navigate. The desert and Dead Town also gave my platforming expertise a solid workout. That’s without mentioning the serene Haven Forest, where the game hits the height of its beauty. There were few moments in the PS2 era that matched the zen-like calm of scootering around on the Jet Board, zipping past trunks and flying across the forest lake.
All the idiosyncratic areas that the game throws up shouldn’t mesh together the way they do, but the level design ensures it works. The slums are gloomy and cramped enough to give you a reason to help the resistance; the wasteland’s offer traditional platforming challenges to sink your teeth into and the stadium is simply astonishingly grand. The world might not be as heavily populated as Liberty City, but it oozes character from every corner.