“Jack Keane is back!” …and I never knew he’d gone away, been here before, or otherwise existed.
Having never heard of the first game by Nordic Games, I was a little bit perplexed and intrigued by the prospect of trying out Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within. Based on the trailer it looked like a lower quality Telltale-esque adventure game which *ahem* pays significant homage to Monkey Island. Now, before I go on let’s get something straight; I have no problem with a game that is riffing on something else. If it’s done well, that’s all that really matters — as Oscar Wilde once said, “Talent borrows. Genius steals.” So, I was expecting a simple yet not-terribly-original adventure romp, and you know what? That’s pretty much what I got.
Jack Keane 2 takes place in a number of exotic locales at the end of the 19th century. The titular hero is a wisecracking, yet not terribly effective, adventurer who travels the globe in search of exotic treasure. Think Guybrush Threepwood with a dash of Nathan Drake and you pretty much know all you need to about Jack as a character. He’s actually pretty engaging and amusing but is let down somewhat by subpar voice acting; a common theme throughout the game but particularly apparent with some Asian accents that could charitably be referred to as ‘culturally insensitive’.
One way in which this game sets out to be unique is with combat scenes which act as minor puzzles themselves. The way it works is that when you enter a fight, the opponent goes first. You need to successfully defend their attack, and then strike with one of your own. As you progress and talk with characters, you learn new skills that allow you to defeat your enemies. It’s not terribly complicated or game-changing, but it is a pleasant enough diversion from the main gameplay thrust.
Jack Keane 2‘ s primary gameplay is basically Modern Adventure Game 101; you enter an area whose exit is inaccessible, you pick up items and talk to people, and you figure out how to use/combine/manipulate these items to get through to the next area. If you’ve ever played a game in this genre, you’ll immediately be familiar with this approach. The puzzles themselves are intuitive and uncomplicated, which keeps frustration and ALT-TABbing to Gamefaqs (don’t look at me like that, we ALL do it) at a minimum.
Unfortunately, these puzzles suffer from the annoying situation in which you know how to solve a puzzle and acquire everything you need to solve a puzzle, but cannot do it until some arbitrary dialogue cue allows it. Not only is it frustrating from a player agency perspective, but it actually ends up making the game harder — and not in a good way. One example of this happened as I spent way longer than I should have trying all sorts of unnecessary item combinations to repair a hole in a boat. Finally, I talked to the character and he says, “Hey, you should use that bucket of tar and mop that you got 15 minutes ago.” Okay, he didn’t say those exact words, but the point stands. While game design by its very nature guides the player along a particular path, it is bad form when the player is able to figure things out quickly, but must wait around for the game to get its act together and jump through its arbitrary hoops.
Another element of Jack Keane 2 which has and squanders great potential is with its controls. Along with the standard walking around and interacting with items, there are also light platforming sections scattered throughout. Character movement feels like it is designed for an isometric space, but you only use the 90 degree WASD configuration to move around. Probably the biggest time sink in this entire game was inching around crates and ledges, trying to jump onto them and completely going the wrong way because of these controls. I can appreciate that the developer tried their best to add something to mix things up with the gameplay, but the platforming here can only be described as a complete misfire.
In spite of these issues, and they are not small ones, I actually had fun playing through. I’d recommend giving Jack Keane 2 a spin…when it’s around $10. It’s regular-priced at $30, and frankly there’s just not enough charm, polish, or whatever other video game reviewer cliches you’d like to throw at it for that to be a remotely reasonable price; especially when you can buy an entire season of something by Telltale for about that much. My advice is this: There’s almost certainly a big Steam sale coming up. If this game goes on sale, pick it up then. Otherwise, you’d be better served digging into LucasArts’ back catalogue.
[+Fun, simple puzzles] [+Enjoyable, albeit derivative, romp] [+Interesting fighting system] [-Bad voice acting] [-Terrible platforming sections] [-$30? Really?]