Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within Review
Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within is a 3D point and click adventure game which is trying to both emulate and pay homage to Monkey Island (specifically, the later games in the series such as Escape From and Tales Of - which most people tend to view as inferior when compared to the earlier entries), as well as throwing in a dose of Indiana Jones and King Solomon's Mines for good measure. Unfortunately it fails as both a love letter to adventure games of old and as an original adventure in its own right. This is a real shame because it's clear that its heart is in the right place. Much of what it does wrong (and there is a lot) has the potential to be put right if only some more sensible decisions had been made during the polishing stage. The core plot and puzzle design is actually rather well put together, but it's marred by weak characters, bad dialogue, a poor English translation, a mix of acceptable-to-terrible voice acting, an awkward control system, dated graphics and numerous bugs.
Where the game does succeed, to some degree, is in its storytelling and puzzles. The plot revolves around the eponymous English explorer Jack Keane and his partner Amanda searching for the treasure of Ukumba and travelling across various parts of the world (Shanghai, Germany and Africa). It's not the most gripping tale, but a lot of variety has been implemented meaning that you continually feel like you're doing something new. You’ll regularly find yourself in colourful and diverse locations and several sections of the game are even broken up with trippy dream sequences. For some parts you will find yourself in control of other characters. The puzzles are all logical and there is a good mix of simple to somewhat fiendish with the most difficult puzzles appearing towards the end of the game. For the vast majority of the time you will find yourself with very small areas to explore which has the effect of making everything feel quite simple and restricted (everything you need to solve most puzzles will be right there in front of you). The game begins to open up more as your reach the end and it’s quite a jarring change which requires you to start solving puzzles with a bit more forethought.
One of the biggest things which lets the game down is the control system. After many years of 3D adventure games, the old fashioned point-&-click interface is what works best and is what people want. Jack Keane 2 doesn't use this, instead opting for a horrible system in which you click and drag the mouse in the direction you want to go; the closer to the edge of the screen you move the mouse, the faster Jack will move. Sounds okay in principle but it just doesn't work very well. Jack invariably ends up running all the time and will continually get stuck on objects and scenery. There's really no excuse for this cumbersome control system to be implemented these days. The option does also exist to use the keyboard to move around and in some respects this is preferable as you certainly have more control, but once you start playing this way it stops feeling like an adventure game.
It also doesn't help the game that visually it looks like it could have been released around 2005. There is very little detail in character models or environments, and everything here is in full 3D - no hand-drawn backdrops, just ugly modelling. It has the feel of the earliest adventure games which were making the transition to 3D from the 2D we all knew and loved. Still, the character models are very expressive in their design with a pleasant over-the-top cartoon style and there’s some rather slick animations to be found at times. The version of the game we played did contain numerous visual and audio bugs: during conversations the camera would often get confused where to look and would end up focused on Amanda's heaving chest, or be positioned far too close to a character's face. The volume level of dialogue would randomly become too quiet to hear or characters would talk over each other. Quite often, the mouse button would become unresponsive when trying to interact with anything and we would have to move our character around a bit before it would start working again.
Despite all this, it's worth remembering that Jack Keane 2 was not made with the intention to revolutionise the adventure genre or to be a triple-A game and was created to appeal to a niche market - a market of pre-existing fans, given that this is the sequel to the original 2007 game. It's intentionally light-hearted and does have some amount of charm hidden away. The game continually bombards you with attempts at humour (which rarely work) and even likes to break the fourth wall. This casual attitude, while fun, is a double-edged sword as it prevents the game from having any real depth and makes for extremely two-dimensional characters.
An obvious reason for the humour not quite hitting the mark is the fact that the game has been translated from German and humour is notorious for not crossing the language barrier very well. It goes further than this, however, as much of the translation itself doesn't seem to have been done to a high standard. There are a lot of conversations which suddenly stop making sense as a character responds with a line which doesn't particularly match up to what has previously been said. Jack will say odd things like, "it fits!" when pouring baking soda on an inventory item. One of the most unintentionally bizarre lines which seems to have gone astray is delivered by Amanda as she's trying to construct an object from various pieces of junk: "This could be the right size for Carl's thing, but it needs holes."
Jack Keane 2 will do nothing to convert people to the adventure genre and it's difficult to recommend it to adventure fans. It appears to be designed to appeal more to casual players given the relative lack of depth to the whole experience, and the colourful but cardboard-cutout characters aimed at a younger audience. There’s never any sense of danger and the story never quite manages to engage you. So many issues get in the way of making it enjoyable and it’s ultimately very forgettable despite it being quite clear that the developers wanted this to be more than it’s turned out to be.