Jak II: Renegade
Cast your mind back to the early Nineties, when Bryan Adams was putting the fear of God into music fans, Noel’s House Party somehow stumbled onto our TV screens and puffa jackets were a viable fashion option. They were horrible times to live in, but at least gamers were catered for in this traumatic era thanks to Sonic and Mario, two giants that battled for hearts and minds of console owners while inspiring many other lesser attempts to imitate their platforming antics. However, while they excelled at running from left to right, the eventual move to 3D didn’t treat these two icons kindly and with the ensuing vacuum in titles that let you leap platforms and collect coins, gamers turned their heads to grittier titles that offered blood, guts and sniper rifles. The platforming genre was left alone and hurt in the corner, clutching a tattered Sonic T-shirt that it once wore with pride.
In fact, it’s taken almost ten years for platform games to come full circle and rise phoenix-like from the ashes, thanks to the sterling efforts of Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank. Yet the cynics in us suggest that the resurgence might not last long, especially if we keep seeing dismal games such as Dr Muto and Vexx gatecrashing the platform party. So, while we’re happy to see the sequel to Jak And Daxter arriving to smack these inferior efforts out of the way, we know they’ve got their sights set on becoming the essential platform game; not only beating Ratchet & Clank’s forthcoming sequel but proving the genre has legs.
Jak II: Renegade picks up the strands of the story where the original Jak And Daxter ended, with the two protagonists getting sucked through a warp and into the future, where Jak is imprisoned by archetypal villain Baron Praxis. Daxter gets away but returns two years later to liberate Jak, who vows to return home and get his revenge on Praxis. The premise may sound as though it’s been lifted straight from the Sci-FiBible of Crap, but things do improve as you progress. You meet some interesting characters and the tasks are more involving this time around, thanks to the storyline giving them some purpose. Ratchet’s personality has been reworked so his wisecracks will make you smile, instead of reaching for the mute button. Overall, the story is a little darker and a little moodier so it gets the thumbs-up for that, if nothing else.
When the opening scenes fade away, you’ll notice how the in-game graphics easily live up to the standard set in the cut-scenes. Too often we see cut-scenes that effortlessly look gorgeous, only for the game itself to be rougher than an Essex chip-shop girl, but here the high quality of the visuals is consistent throughout.
The animation is some of the best that we’ve seen from any game, and every drop of colour has been squeezed dry from Sony’s hardware to decorate the expansive worlds, crowded cities and glorious sunsets. The bright disco colours from the original outing are still here in bursts, but by contrasting them with some of the metallic, grungier areas, the sequel looks stunning and diverse.
The good news isn’t limited to the visuals, as Renegade plays every bit as well as it looks. The controls are the definition of pick up and play with running, jumping and spin attacks all chimp-like in their simplicity. Jak’s repertoire now includes new moves such as the long jump, and more can be added by collecting and trading skull gems.
There have also been changes to the blond-haired adventurer’s arsenal to reflect the darker mood of the game, such as Jak’s ability to morph into the faster and more powerful Dark Jak – nothing spectacular, but a nice addition nevertheless. What has made a big difference to the gameplay is that Jak is no longer confined to spinning or punching his way out of trouble, as he now comes equipped with hi-tech weaponry.
Renegade is packed with more action than its predecessor, and leisurely strolls around the spacious levels can turn into frantic firefights when you get ambushed from all directions. Some of the combat-heavy sections can drag because shootingisn’t much more than pointing your gun and pulling the trigger, but it’s still an excellent addition to the gameplay.
A lot has been made of the new Grand Theft Auto structure that’s been integrated into Renegade, so let’s explain how it works. Jak can now find missions on his map and then hijack vehicles to carry them out or get to his destination faster. Like Grand Theft Auto, he has to obey the laws, because running over pedestrians or ‘borrowing’ a vehicle under a soldier’s nose will result in the city guards trying to shoot you down. Like Grand Theft Auto, Jak has been given a voice in the same way Tommy Vercetti was, and also spends much of his time grunting and issuing various threats.
So many similarities! Where will the Grand Theft Auto comparison madness end? Actually, it’ll end now because that’s all there is to it. Jak won’t be threatening to cut off Baron Praxis’ genitalia and mail it back to him through the post, and Daxter certainly won’t be picking up any prostitutes – the only influence is the way in which missions are discovered and how you make your way around the gaming world. It helps keep the slick pace going, especially when you consider there’s no waiting for loading screens or for the game to save. Ten years from now, all games will be made like this.
Sadly, the camera hasn’t managed to make the same advances. For the most part it behaves itself, but some of the trickier jumps send it spinning right, right round. Like a record, baby. Like a bloody Bryan Adams record. This has been the boil on the bottom of platforming games for too long, and it seems that while the gameplay has made massive strides forward, the camera is awkwardly stumbling along, getting stuck in bits of scenery. How depressing.
Wonky camera aside, the other staples of the platform genre are present and correct: there are items to collect, secrets to find and the old favourite, crates to smash. Whether this will please you or not largely depends on your disposition for the genre, but thankfully Naughty Dog has managed to spice things up by throwing in various subsections. These play differently but don’t feel disjointed from the main game itself. For example, you might find yourself protecting an ally from nearby creatures or you might be strapped into a gun turret defending yourself from incoming robots. It’s these sections that prove the most fun to play and break up the action, so there’s always something to hook your interest.
Jak II: Renegade does exactly what a sequel is supposed to do – it improves on its predecessor with additions such as guns, vehicles and a new structure, as well as bringing something fresh for anyone who completed the original. This is the evolution of platform games that we’ve waited nearly ten years for, and it is great news for everyone. Except for Ratchet and Clank, of course…