The promise of a reinvented genre is never upheld in Jack Keane 2.
Press releases are always funny things, occasionally accompanying the reviews I receive, full of pomp and hyperbole. It wouldn’t be the first time an email has told me I’ll be playing the best game ever made. Having never played Jack Keane before, my only preconception of the game was in a press release that describes the game as “full of Jack Keanesque humour” and “truly a 21st century adventure.” Though the humour is certainly there, abundant technical faults and old-school pixel hunting turns Jack Keane into an enjoyable but rather dated experience.
Taking place after the events of the original, The Fire Within stars the eponymous hero and his sidekick trying to break him out of a Chinese prison. They soon embark on a journey to acquire a legendary treasure, resulting in a globe trotting journey with a late 19th century backdrop. You don’t need to have played the original to get the gist of what’s going on, but I felt my ignorance of Jack Keane 1 led to a fair bit of misinformation regarding the characters and their histories.
Still, the writing remains fairly confident throughout, recreating a Monkey Island style of comedy with a light peppering of pop culture references. There are still a few clunky dialogues to be had though, and the script never reaches the pinnacle of humour that the original Monkey Island touched upon so effortlessly.
Whilst the promised humour is there (albeit in a derivative manner), the depiction of a modern adventure game is only partially realised. Jack Keane 2 certainly makes an effort to expand upon the core point and click mechanics the genre is known for. It adds jumping and fast movement speeds to the equation, but this has the side effect of making for a fiddly control scheme.
"Where Jack Keane sadly drops all hints of forward thinking adventure design is in its puzzles."
Multiple options revolve around a WASD set-up and standard click to move varieties. You can also click and drag to move, but this often means your clicks to investigate the environment go unregistered and just move your character in crazy directions. It’s annoying there wasn’t a way to disable certain movement types in the options menu.
The double-edged sword of originality further hacks at Jack Keane through its inclusion of combat. This is still an adventure game though so, naturally, combat is a turn-based affair. It simply involves you reading your enemy’s animations and choosing an appropriate attack or defence from a list. It’s a nice idea, but one that ultimately becomes repetitive later in the game.
Where Jack Keane sadly drops all hints of forward thinking adventure design is in its puzzles. The point and click formula remains tried and tested, forcing you to hunt for a variety of objects before combining and examining them in a specific order for a solution. Finding the objects is quite the task in the first place though, a trial painfully extended by fixed camera angles that often obscure the environment. A button on the HUD helpfully highlights items you can acquire but, even when abusing this feature, some objects are still so small that you may miss them altogether.
"Bright and crisp textures and character models are interspersed with uncanny and glitchy animations. "
Even when you get every item needed in your inventory, what to do with them isn’t always entirely clear. The puzzle logic is decidedly retro, requiring a specific and often obscure solution with little to no compromise. Case in point, I managed to create a makeshift torch and bomb to blast through a locked door. That must work, right? Apparently not, for a second DIY explosive was needed unbeknownst to me. That’s at least fifteen minutes of aimless wondering I’m not getting back.
Further issues occur when the game takes place in Jack’s unconscious. It’s a cool setting to utilise and one that is vibrant and creative. By removing real world logic though, the puzzle solutions become even more obscure. Though the puzzles are well designed, there is a reason why fewer point and clicks take on such abstract settings. A hint system would have helped immensely in assuaging these issues.
Just like the gameplay itself, the production values are a mix of old and new. Bright and crisp textures and character models are interspersed with uncanny and glitchy animations. Other issues arise from sound effects cutting out. The rest of the audio is better handled, with fairly expressive voice acting.
"A few technical areas break the immersion, but otherwise you are looking at a solid entry into the point and click adventure canon."
Despite finding Jack’s voice initially unbearable, the vocal track does grow on you after a time. My issue comes in some casual racism peppered throughout. Plenty of stereotypes are covered, so I’m not accusing the game of some targeted hate crime or anything so serious as that, but the faux British and Chinese accents aren’t something I was hugely comfortable with. Had the humour been a bit more clever I may have made an exception, but the old “Germans have no sense of humour” gag is getting old.
The promise of a reinvented genre is never upheld in Jack Keane 2, but that isn’t to say the game is deficient in any way. A few technical areas break the immersion, but otherwise you are looking at a solid entry into the point and click adventure canon. Of course, puzzle solutions are as cryptic as they always are in the genre, but the satisfaction is plentiful enough to appeal to fans of the genre who dig this style of gameplay. Particularly if you want another dose of Monkey Island style adventure, Jack Keane will cater to your tastes nicely. If you are new to the genre though, there are better point and clicks to start on.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Attempts to innovate, Decent sense of humour, Puzzles can be satisfying, Solid visuals
Boring combat, Controls are hit and miss, Dialogue is only okay, Limp animations, Puzzle logic gets annoying
A dash of effort and postmodern humour are not enough to bail Jack Keane out of its archaic puzzles and technical issues.