Jak II: When Naughty Dog Found the Plot

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Although I am pathologically, fatally prone to exaggeration, it is but a mere statement of fact to say that Naughty Dog’s 2003 platform adventure, Jak II, is approximately as addictive as crystal meth. Breaking away from its colourful, Disney-esque prequel, the story is set in the dark, industrial metropolis of Haven City where hours can be spent hijacking speedy hoverbikes and zooming around its neon lit streets. With big characters, bigger open world maps and bite-your-fist-in-glee-big guns, Jak II revolutionized the platformer genre and most importantly told a compelling story that glued you to your controller for the twenty-hour campaign.

Of course, there are those that would say the Last of Us – an effusive ode to human fragility and compassion with visuals so slick you could slip on them – is a more worthy paragon of Naughty Dog’s capabilities. “Games are art,” they will say, “and art is about revealing resonant insights into the human condition.” Well, to be honest, how many insights into human nature do we need in one lifetime? Once you realise that no one has a clue what they’re doing either, any further insights into ourselves can start to get depressing. On the other hand, what humans do need are witty one-liners. Pithy remarks that can defuse today’s real societal problems of awkward situations and prolonged silences with a round of hearty guffaws. And thanks to a small furry orange ottsel, Jak II’s script throws these out in abundance. The characters that inhabit Haven City are as richly textured as its stunning vistas.

So as rendering technology advances with the advent of next-gen consoles, producing graphics so vivid our TV screens will be transformed like glass gateways into gaming Narnia, I will still be sat on my sofa, PS2 whirring contentedly, immersed in Jak II’s narrative . Because really that is the heart of gaming: story. From epic poems around the campfire to Renaissance plays to the birth of the novel, the beauty of a plot’s presentation has always been second to the script itself. As the most modern reincarnation of storytelling, Naughty Dog have fully realised the centrality of plot to a decent game and it is precisely this element that make all their games so successful. That is something that no console, whether it’s packed with 500GB HDD and an x86 processor or not, can guarantee.

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