- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

Here's a look at new hardware and software that may make life more enjoyable:Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, by Sony for PlayStation 2, $49.99. A nother group of elves might steal some thunder from "The Lord of the Rings" this winter by way of Sony's latest entertainment console. This incredible new leader of 3-D platform challenges for children stars two little guys who just try to cause a some mischief but end up in an epic quest.
Three years in the making, "The Precursor Legacy" comes from the creative brains at Naughty Dog, previously known as the creators of the mango-munching legend Crash Bandicoot.
With the feel of a living cartoon, the adventure uses the classic formula of tall, silent hero Jak, teamed with comic sidekick Daxter (think Shrek's Donkey). They're placed in an adventure that only needs an Alan Menken score to resemble a Disney classic. The story involves good vs. evil, mixing the mysticism of life forces with breathtaking imagery, all set in a magical realm.
Against the advice of Samos Hagai, the village sage, our heroes Jak and Daxter begin exploring some ruins when they come upon the evil Gol and Maia plotting something sinister with their Lurker minions. After Daxter falls into a river of primordial goop called Black Eco, he is transformed into a mongooselike creature called an ottsel. Jak must find a way to reverse his friend's transformation and save his lands from a threat that ultimately could destroy them. They need and get plenty of help from Samos and his daughter, Keira.
Set along a massive piece of coastline and a couple of islands, the game involves conquering 12 levels with eight tasks in each, playing through eight minigame areas and three bonus races, and battling a couple of bosses for good measure.
At its simplest level, "Precursor" defines the seek-and-acquire gaming experience. Jak, with Daxter mostly riding on his shoulder, must gather small green balls to maintain health, power cells to access new areas and orbs to trade for power cells. The pair roam areas, avoiding sand dragons, bullish dogs and spike-laden traps while smashing boxes, climbing, hopping and collecting. They also can engage in one-sided conversations that lead them down further avenues of adventure.
The tasks performed are integrated seamlessly with the lands. The player isn't just amassing a bunch of stuff to stay alive, but has a relevant reason to grab the items and advance the story. For example, the mayor of Sandover Village will give them a power cell if they fix his town's energy supply, or a farmer will give them a cell if they herd his cattle back into a pen.
Additionally, gamers familiar with Naughty Dog's tricks will notice an homage to Crash Bandicoot. Besides the fact that most of the game involves collecting stuff to continue in the fantasy, Jak's spin move looks very similar to something from the ratlike marsupial's arsenal of maneuvers.
I was thoroughly absorbed in the game, thanks to its wonderful look, easy-to-use control scheme and myriad adventures.
I usually gauge how amazed I am with a game by how long I spend staring at it rather than playing it. I spent many minutes just admiring the water reflections, the lifelike portals that jettison the pair to different islands, the sunrise and sunset, and sand on the beaches.
Jak and Daxter will mesmerize any family member and make him or her quickly forget about that Italian dude Mario.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, by Konami, for PlayStation 2, $49.99. Another game sure to be an instant classic, "Metal Gear Solid 2," brings back a key hero on a mission both Rambo and James Bond would admire.
Developer Hideo Kojimi offers a staggering blend of action, violence and cinematic detail in his newest effort, which tells the story of retired commando Solid Snake, who has returned to wipe out the powerful mobile assault system code-named Metal Gear.
Essentially a third-person genre title akin to the "Resident Evil" franchise (although a first-person perspective can be used for scouting and precise targeting), this tactical strategy game allows one player to enter a world and either brutally attack it or subtly and safely maneuver through it, using destruction as a last resort.
The title unfolds as an R-rated action movie, and only players 17 years old and older should experience Mr. Kojimi's vision. Extremely intuitive enemies, weapons such as tranquilizer rifles and surface-to-air missiles, hand-to-hand combat, the extraction of equipment at gunpoint and even the tapping on walls to bait the enemy all combine to give the player an unforgettable experience
I could spend pages writing about the intensity and impact of the game, but this simple recommendation should suffice: "Sons of Liberty" is a must-have for fans of the genre.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C., 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]).

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