"I hear Germans have no sense of humour" remarks Amanda, Texas-born farmgirl and long-suffering girlfriend of the title character in Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within, as the crew's ship heads towards Hamburg. The comment shows some subtle self-mockery from Frankfurt-based developer Deck13 Interactive. Thankfully, there's not much truth in the statement, and Jack Keane 2 is an entertaining point-and-click adventure that never takes itself too seriously.
The game begins in 1899, where tales of an ancient treasure called Ukumba have led Jack, an incorrigible English treasure hunter, to the walls of an infamous Shanghai prison. Jack's cellmate is a mysterious shaman who holds a fragment of an amulet that unlocks the legendary treasure. The shaman mysteriously dies, and leaves the artifact in Jack's hands, sending him on a globetrotting race against the dastardly Umbati Corporation to retrieve the other pieces of the amulet.
Jack and Amanda must recruit some of the game's colourful characters to join their crew for the main part of their journey. They employee Carl, a master engineer from Hamburg, and Eve, a prissy city-girl who regularly squabbles with Amanda. Jack can side with either Amanda or Eve at certain points in the story, and this affects his relationships with the women by the end of the game. You'll get an opportunity to control some of the crew when Jack is incapacitated, which is more often than the brash hero would like to admit.
In a somewhat random running gag, Jack always gets knocked out after he collects each amulet piece, triggering a sequence in his subconscious. The sections feature some particularly trippy visuals: you'll encounter man-fish hybrids, shipwrecks in the desert, giant monkeys, and other psychedelic fantasies. These areas are more than just acid trips, though - Jack is given a glimpse at the lonely future he faces if he continues to put adventuring before his relationship with Amanda. It's quite a heavy subject for a game that is otherwise very lighthearted, but the character development is most certainly welcome.
When it comes to gameplay, Jack Keane 2 won't surprise point-and-click enthusiasts: you'll spend the majority of your time in dialogue menus, creating random item combinations, and clicking on just about everything in sight. The inclusion of a jump button is one that stands out as strange choice. The game gives players the option of WASD keys or mouse-based movement, but even the more responsive WASD controls are clearly not cut out for platforming, and jumping sections usually result in frustration.
The game's convoluted puzzles can be another source of frustration. A prime example of this is an early sequence in which the player must distract a guard. To achieve this seemingly simple task, they must first pick up a gas lamp and a plank of wood. After dismantling the lamp, they put the lampshade (which is sharp and dangerous, according to the rules written on the prison walls) through a hole in a cell door, then block off the hole with the plank of wood so the prisoner can't throw it back out. Finally, they talk to the guard, who runs off to punish the prisoner for having the 'dangerous' object. This solution came across as particularly over-complex, since there seemed to be other, more plausible ways to solve the problem. Thankfully, the puzzles become less perplexing later in the game, and require logical thinking, rather than random experimentation with objects, to complete.
Deck13 have made attempts to help players with the inclusion of a hint button which causes any objects that can be picked up to give off a subtle glow. This can be handy if you're missing a key item in the puzzle, but not so much when the solution lies in an undiscovered branch of a dialogue tree, or requires using a certain object on what seems like a completely irrelevant object in the environment.
Jack Keane's swashbuckling world seems heavily inspired by the Monkey Island series. In fact, some aspects feel outright lifted from them. The game borrows jokes such as "look, a three-headed monkey" and the addition of a (tm) sign to the names of fictional objects in the subtitles, among others. The references are probably made out of admiration from the developers, but they can't help but come across as lazy when the game already feels so familiar.
Despite being slightly derivative, the world of Jack Keane 2 is wonderfully presented by a colourful art style. Character designs are exaggerated. Environments are vibrant, varied and detailed. The overall clean and cartoony look, which wouldn't go amiss in a Pixar film, fits with the lighthearted spirit of the game. Although the rigid and repetitive character animations aren't quite Disney standard.
The same is true for the voice acting, which is mostly awkward and unconvincing. The game's soundtrack fares better, with ambient music that captures the mood of each locale. Whether it be pan flutes and Bongo drums when exploring the African plains, or grandiose brass arrangements during high-octane chases, the score sets the tone for the cinematic adventure.
I encountered several technical issues during my time with Jack Keane 2. The most major problem being that the game crashed on multiple occasions. Thankfully, the game saves pretty often, so I never had to replay more than five minutes of gameplay. I also ran into a few smaller problems such as characters becoming stuck in animations, although I found this could usually be solved by pressing the jump button (probably the only time you'll be glad the feature was included). The bugs were never more than a minor inconvenience, but hopefully Deck 13will release a patch to address these issues soon.
Jack Keane 2's jokes miss more than they hit (although they're never offensively bad), and the game has numerous issues, in both the technical and design departments. Still, there's something charming about Mr. Keane's adventure - the character development, variety of locations, and fun puzzles keep the game interesting throughout. In a world where big-budget adventure games are few and far between, Jack Keane 2 will undoubtedly satisfy fans of the genre.
Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
"I hear Germans have no sense of humour" remarks Amanda, Texas-born farmgirl and long-suffering girlfriend of the title character in Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within, as the crew's ship heads towards Hamburg. The comment shows some subtle self-mockery from Frankfurt-based developer Deck13 Interactive.