Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within
Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within is the latest graphic adventure from Deck 13 Interactive, which also released Jack Keane in 2008. Both games feature a swashbuckling but not quite competent British ship captain named — you guessed it — Jack Keane, plus his beautiful partner in crime, an American mercenary named Amanda. In the original game, Jack thwarted the evil Dr. T, who planned to take over the tea market. This time Jack’s after the legendary treasure of Ukumba.
As Jack Keane 2 opens up, Jack is locked inside a Shanghai prison, and Amanda is trying to break him out. During his escape, Jack meets a dying shaman, who tells him about Ukumba, the “Eye of Fate.” The shaman then gives Jack a piece of an amulet, and he tells him that he’ll need to track down the other pieces in order to unlock the treasure. That sets Jack off on his journey, and along the way he joins forces with an engineer named Carl, a photographer and potential love interest named Eve, and a Gorilla cook, who mysteriously disappears halfway through the game and is never mentioned again. Jack also discovers that he’s not the only one searching for the amulet pieces: an evil businessman named Umbati has designs on it as well.
Tone-wise, Jack Keane 2 has a lot in common with Jack Keane. Both games take a humorous approach to adventure, and both are a little bit lazy and skip opportunities for jokes. For example, in Jack Keane 2, we never learn why Jack is in jail, and how difficult would it have been to create a funny backstory to set up the game? Not very. Deck 13 also went cheap with the dialogue and used generic responses as often as possible, instead of the funny responses you often see in adventures when you get stuck and start trying random things together. As a result, Jack Keane 2, like its predecessor, plays a little like a watered down Monkey Island game
The puzzles in Jack Keane 2 mostly involve inventory objects, where you have to find things and then use them in the right way. For example, at one point you need to shoot a cannon, and that means you have to search for a cannon ball, some gunpowder, a ramrod, and a fuse — or at least objects that reasonably resemble those things, with adventure game logic playing a key role. The puzzles work reasonably well, and they make more sense than you might expect, but they’re also fairly easy. Like a lot of modern adventures, Jack Keane 2 doesn’t contain many red herrings, and with only a few inventory objects and places to use them, the puzzles can usually be solved by exhausting all of the possibilities — on the rare occasions when you don’t immediately figure out the answer. Jack Keane 2 is also overly generous with hints, like when you look at a car and see that it has a “fruit basket-sized dent” in it. Gee, I wonder what the dent could be used for?
At this point, Jack Keane 2 might sound like it’s a capable adventure, but it’s not. That’s because it has the worst game engine I’ve ever seen for an adventure. Let me start with the graphics. For some reason, even though my computer’s specs are well above the recommended system requirements for the game, the animations are a mess, with stuttering and blocky movements and slow speeds. I had to reduce the graphics quality all the way to the minimum just to get the animations to synch up reasonably well with the sounds, but even then Jack Keane 2 plays a little like an old kung fu movie, where lips are moving and people are talking, but the two don’t have a lot to do with each other. Jack Keane 2 also has much more of a drab look than the original, sometimes making it difficult to see what’s going on.
Then there’s the interface. Just like in Jack Keane, Jack Keane 2 uses 3D environments where the camera moves sometimes to create new “scenes” for you to explore. However, unlike the original, the camera in Jack Keane 2 frequently shows you everything except what you want to see, preventing you from noticing places that you can go and objects that you can interact with. There’s also weirdness with the point-and-click interface, which I’ve never seen a game bungle before. For some reason in Jack Keane 2, when you click on something to issue a command, the game frequently ignores the click and doesn’t do anything, and you have to repeat the command half a dozen times before it goes through — if it goes through at all. When I’m playing an adventure, I want the difficulty to be in solving the puzzles, not in fighting against the interface.
Just how bad is the engine? I actually had it crash on me three times during the 15 or so hours I spent with it. Now, that might not sound unusual since computer games crash all the time — but not adventures. I can’t remember the last time I played an adventure and had it crash. Maybe Deck 13 should follow Wadjet Eye’s lead and go back to Sierra-style 2D engines, and then work their way back to 3D once they’ve figured out what they’re doing.
And so, overall, there’s little to recommend about Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within. The puzzles are varied and competent, but everything else needs a lot of work, and adventure games don’t usually receive much in the way of patches (of course, for most they’re not needed). And even if the engine was somehow spruced up, that would only elevate Jack Keane 2 to “mediocre” rather than “bad,” and so there isn’t much reason to wait and hope. Just skip it.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Nordic Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within for the PC provided by Nordic Games.