When I think of Jak 2: Renegade, I’m reminded of one specific mission. You’re tasked with blowing up an ammo dump, sending a body blow to the evil baron Praxis. Jak enters the foreboding building that seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. Upon entering, you are faced with two points of interest: a collection of health boxes and an opening to another area to the left, and what appears to be an out of commission tank to the right.
Little did I know that this would be one of the hardest missions in the entire game, perhaps, even one of the hardest missions I had played in a game to that point. Upon crossing the threshold, the tank activates, aiming with pinpoint accuracy at you. While getting chased by this tank you must perform perfect jumps and constantly evade the tank’s targeting system. It took at least fifteen attempts and a small amount of rage before I completed the mission.
Jak 2: Renegade holds an important place in my heart. I grew up in the era of platformer games, their face-value simplicity appealed to me. Platformers are a bit like stripping an onion: removing layer upon layer until you realise that what appears simple at first is anything but. My entry point to the genre was Crash Bandicoot, and I quickly devoured all three original games, eagerly awaiting what Naughty Dog would do next. Jak & Daxter was a natural progression of what Crash had been. Where Crash had been a linear experience, Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was a seamless, open word platform game that focused on collecting artefacts called precursor orbs & power cells to further your progress. But a lot of things changed in-between Jak & Daxter and its sequel.
Where Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was light, bright, & child friendly, Jak 2: Renegade was dark in both tone and subject, interspersed with comedic moments from Jak’s sidekick, Daxter. This shift in tone may be explained by another game that released In the fall of 2001. Video games changed forever when Rockstar North released the third iteration of their cops & robbers, top-down game, Grand Theft Auto. The game helped prove the potential of open-world sandbox games and much like Jak 2, GTA3 was similar to its predecessor in name only.
Instead of a simple top-down style, the game put you inside the 3D world of Liberty city. GTA3 created a paradigm shift in the industry and Naughty Dog was paying attention. A year later, in December 2002, Naughty Dog released Jak 2: Renegade. What was once a game that focused on simple platforming, had become the gaming equivalent of an angsty teenager: angry and looking to pick a fight.
The story of Jak 2: Renegade was far more complex than its predecessor, beginning directly after the end on the first game. The team of unlikely heroes are attempting to open what turns out to be a portal in which an unknown, hideous creature appears. Seeing no other way of escape, Jak drives headlong towards the portal, losing track of his friends in the process.
Crashing in a dystopian future city called Haven, Jak is quickly arrested and spends the next two years being tortured with a substance called dark eco by the baron of the city in an attempt to create a super soldier. On the brink of death, Jak is saved by his small friend Daxter. It is at this moment that the Jak & Daxter series changes from a bright platformer, to a gritty platform-shooter. Upon waking, Jak vows revenge on those who imprisoned him, exclaiming, “I’m going to kill Praxis!” This was an important moment because Jak had remained silent in the original game.
What follows is a well-weaved story of political intrigue, evil monsters, & untrustworthy allies. The story structure of Jak 2: Renegade was influenced by GTA3, featuring many characters who would give you tasks to complete in an open-world environment. Haven city was too big to walk around and therefore needed transport. Hover-cars and a hover-board would act as your main modes of transportation throughout the game.
Gameplay still had platforming at its heart, but this was masked by a new addition to the series: guns. Jak has four guns in his arsenal: a blaster, a rifle, a machine gun and a weapon called the peacemaker. The rifle is the only gun that ends up being useful and you’re going to need it because a spin-kick wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Your enemies varied from seemingly harmless frogs, the baron’s crimson guard, and the vile metalheads.
A metalhead is a creature born of dark eco and will attack Jak on sight and acts as the true enemy of the game. They come in different shapes and sizes: scorpions, wasps, and fully grown, dog-like metalheads. These are tough, agile creatures that can easily kill Jak within a few hits & this remains the case throughout the entire game. This is one of the many tough-luck moments you’ll find throughout the game. No matter how many skills you earn or guns you receive, you’ll never feel any safer, nor more powerful than you did when you started the game.
This can lead to moments of incensed rage on the part of the player. Jak 2: Renegade also suffered from a common problem at the time, a lack of checkpoints. There is a mission later in the game which involves Jak infiltrating the palace of baron Praxis. It’s one of the longer missions, but despite this, only has one checkpoint. You lose, too bad, return to the start.
For a game aimed at teenagers, Jak 2: Renegade is a hard game from start to finish. If it wasn’t for the bleak but beautiful world, well-told story & memorable characters, Jak 2: Renegade would be a needlessly difficult game to be avoided. Though at the young age of seven, Jak 2: Renegade taught me a valuable lesson… perseverance. I didn’t give up, I kept at it and eventually I succeeded. Seventeen years & many playthroughs later, Jak 2: Renegade remains one of my top ten games of the PS2 era. I would argue that the Jak & Daxter series is the best of the three big platformer series on Playstation; the other two being Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, a sense of nostalgia for a simpler time in my life and the gaming industry.
If you haven’t played Jak 2: Renegade or perhaps none of the series at all, I would highly recommend them. All three main titles as well as the racing game Jak X are available as a package on the Playstation store for £32.99.