Baffling Video Game Sequels Part One: Jak 2: Renegade

Video games are second only to horror movies when it comes to shameless sequel-milking, but while no one expects the annual Assassin’s Creed updates to set the world on fire, every now and then a sequel comes out that is such a peculiar departure from the franchise’s roots it’s impossible to guess what the developers were thinking when they chose this path for their series.

So, to be clear: This isn’t just a list of bad video game sequels, because if it was I’d have to add a few zeroes onto the number in the title, to earn a place here a sequel has to have gone out of it’s way to really cock up a sure thing.

Jak II: Renegade

Jak & Daxter: The Precursor legacy was a platforming exclusive for the PS2, presumably intended to rival Nintendo titles like Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie. The format is almost identical; you explore various stages accessed from a hub map, picking up various collectibles and completing specific objectives to gather currency that is used to open more challenging areas of the game and, ultimately, the final boss.

It wasn’t anything revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, and in terms of challenge it never really rose above the level of baby’s first Crash Bandicoot, but it had a purity and streamlined approach that many of its contemparies – including later Crash Bandicoot sequels – couldn’t match: it was just a straight-up fun little platforming game, and it remains one of the few games from that generation which I regularly replay because it’s also aged impeccably, unlike Super Mario 64.

So, when it came time for the sequel, developer Naughty Dog – better known today for the Uncharted series and The Last of Us – had the world-beating idea of turning it into a third-person, open-world shooter with carjacking. Oh, also Jak got a hilarious soulpatch, became super moody and all the characters suddenly started swearing. It was clearly the natural evolution of a cutesy platformer starring a boy and his pet weasel that everyone was expecting.

It’s not hard to guess why this happened, but if you’re having trouble working it out let me help you: Grand Theft Auto III.

At the time, GTA III was a game changer, nothing of this scope had ever existed on consoles before, and it spawned legions of imitators. Combine this with the popularity of another of the PS2’s exclusive series, Ratchet & Clank, and I’d say it’s a fairly safe bet that Naughty Dog were getting a serious case of penis envy and decided to completely over-compensate with a Jak sequel that tried to do everything and ultimately only succeeded in being mediocre across the board.

Everything about this game felt awkward, and only served to cement my suspicions that a lot of the design features were implemented at the 11th hour: roads were extremely narrow making driving down them either extremely boring or frustratingly awkward when you were being pursued.

The gun combat was hampered by the fact that Jak can only ever take four or five hits before dying, unlike Ratchet who can upgrade his health and armour, and while this worked fine in the previous game where enemies had slow predictable attack patterns, the soldiers in Renegade are relentless, come from every direction and constantly bombard you with bullets.

What little platforming was left in the game was almost the sole realm of Daxter, (and again bore more than a passing resemblance to the Clank-only sections in R&C,) who had a far more limited move set than Jak did in the previous game, making the platforming fiddly and frankly amateurish when compared to its predecessor.

Simply put, there was nothing fun about the game and, worse still, there was absolutely nothing that hadn’t been done better elsewhere, already. Naughty Dog took what could have been a genuine contender to Nintendo’s platforming heavy-hitters and turned it into an embarrassing pantomime of hugely superior titles.

Also, even though I have no proof of this, I blame Jak’s sudden and completely incongruent change of character as the reason Ubisoft chose to do the exact same thing with their Prince of Persia sequel, Warrior Within.

Basically, I consider Jak II as patient zero in the epidemic of ‘gritty reboot’ sequels that plague gaming, today.

Tune in tomorrow for part two and a sequel that proves that more doesn’t always equal merrier.