I am six hours into a brand new video game called Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within, which just came out on Steam today. Before we begin, this game is a sequel and you should know that I did not play Keane #1, so I'm judging this game not as a sequel, but as it's own thing.
In this series, you never have to wait for my opinion: the beginning of Jack Keane 2 was fantastic and the characters have absolutely made this game an enjoyable experience.
But as I approach the middle, it's starting to lose it's edge. I find the graphics to be fantastic and the story makes me laugh, but the bugs and the loose ends in the plot are really starting to wear down my enthusiasm.
But is it right for you? Well let's find out.
What is it?
Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within is a 3D point and click adventure title. In it, you play as Jack Keane, an Alan Quartermaine-esk adventurer who meets a mysterious shaman while incarcerated in a Chinese prison. The shaman informs Jack of a mystical treasure, but hides the specifics in Jack's subconscious mind and then dies before he has a chance to clarify.
Along the way, Jack picks up other companions who follow him into adventure and danger while looking for the shaman's treasure. His chief companion is Amanda -- the histoire d'amour from the first game. She saves Jack from the prison and then serves as navigator aboard Jack's ship. That is until Jack meets another beautiful woman who he invites on board.
This game is about fun, adventure, treasure, and self exploration, as Jack must search not only the real world but his own consciousness and memories to find the treasure he seeks. The game tackles not only a group's quest for treasure, but also one man's battle with commitment and his own inner demons.
The game was developed by Deck 13 -- the house that brought you not only the original Jack Keane but also the 3D necromancer-conspiracy title Venetica -- which you might have played on the PS3 or 360.
- The characters are fantastic. I have a genuine and deep interest in seeing how their story develops. Even the bad guys make you curious.
- You play the game in both a dream world and the real world of Jack Keane. That may sound contrived, but it's done really well. Many of the plot points revolve around solving puzzles in Jack's subconscious to help him become a better person as well as a wealthy treasure hunter.
- Most of the puzzles are fun and have challenging solutions -- though finding the parts to fit the puzzle can be daunting. For instance, at the start of the game, the bone you need to get the lighter is out on the ledge below the bombers window. That one took me about twenty minutes to find and was a huge pain. But things like that are a rarity.
- Unlike most point-and-click adventures which require you to use mouse clicks to get around, Keane 2 lets you use WASD. This is done very well and made the game much more enjoyable.
- The background music is great; very adventurous and it really sells the action-oriented side of the game.
- The jokes in this game are so funny. I am always looking forward to what Jack was going to say next. Some of the puzzles contribute to the whimsy, as you sometimes have to provoke people into throwing their clothing or appease a gorilla to solve the puzzle. The really funny stuff is the side banter between your companions. They take turns of first being at each others throats and then helping each other out of jams. I really think the writers did a good job overall in writing believable quips to break up the action.
- The tension between Jack and Amanda is well developed and you really find yourself at times rooting for and then at other times rooting against their amorphous relationship.
- There's a fighting mechanic in which you have to select cards to determine your defensive and offensive maneuvers. I enjoyed this a lot and wished there had been more of it. Every offensive maneuver has a defensive maneuver that counters it. The key to winning a fight is to remember what stops what.
- Your dialog options can change the relationship standing between Jack and his companions. In fact, when you make the choice, you'll see a little icon come up telling you that you have gone up in estimation for one character and down for the other. This happens most often with the two ladies in your crew. I am a huge fan of this game mechanic in any game, as it adds a good deal of replayability because it makes you want to play the game again but making different choices to see what new content the alternate choices get you.
- Only one of the puzzles involving multiple components had a specific order (and if you permit the spoiler, it was packing a cannon, in which you have to put the powder in first). I hate puzzle games where you have all but one component but because that component is first in the computer code, you can't do anything until you find it. As far as I can tell, this game does not have such limits.
- The voice acting can be brutal at times and then fine the next. Often, the voices don't match the emphasis in the captions. This is particularly noticeable when it's Jack doing the talking.
- The camera is locked and changes location frequently as you move from one room to another. Sometimes, this is agonizingly annoying. Often, when changing rooms, the WASD directions get screwed up, resulting in several occasions where pressing up to move to the next area resulted in an endless loop where as long as I held down the "W" key, I just kept switching back and forth between the two locations. Another beef I have with the camera is that sometimes it makes the jumping puzzles -- particularly those in Jack's subconscious -- very difficult. Even hopping on top of a crate can be ten times trickier than it should be because of the camera.
- Some of the dialog choices end the game. I don't mean it crashes, I mean the credits roll as a way of telling you that you made the wrong choice. I can't imagine a dumber mechanic. At one point, you have the opportunity to send your enemy away with a worthless piece of a map in exchange for many thousands of dollars that could be used to fund your quest for treasure. If you try this tactic, the game ends because Jack apparently isn't that kind of guy. I was pissed I couldn't trick a billionaire out of a couple hundred grand. THAT seems like something Jack would do. HELL, that's something I would do. And since the bad guy takes the piece when he leaves anyway -- and we all saw that coming (especially now because I told you it's coming) -- that makes it even worse.
- After you find the second piece of the map, the plot starts to get a little out of control. There are more and more loose ends as you go along and one considerable jump cut where you're suddenly someplace else and you get tracked down by your enemies on the other side of the Earth without any explanation of how that could happen. You also are confronted with the possibility of death and at the last second, the guy who could clearly have you killed simply walks away. It's all very weird, but I haven't finished the game, so I can't swear that it won't resolve itself in the end.
- This game is actually quite buggy at launch. At one point while standing on a dock, Jack disappeared and I had to reload from a previous save. At another time, I was fooling around at a cave entrance and I fell through the world. My final glitch was when I couldn't figure out how to kill a massive, carnivorous plant, I decided to go back up to the surface using the dialog shortcut they provided and the game crashed. I'm sure these things will get patched out over time, but they're only adding to my concerns.
- There are a series of minor physics issues that I had. At one point Jack stands directly behind a cannon as it's being fired; an act that should have killed him instantly. At the same time, all the other people standing right next to him seem completely oblivious to the fact that he just set off a piece of artillery. These are some of the loose ends that I'm talking about that start to creep up more and more in the later stages of the game. And since we're talking about it, you cannot scare bats with the flash bulb on a camera; bats are blind they navigate via sonar. Stuff like that bugs me.
- You can only talk to companions when you are standing right in front of them; occasionally, this means that after clicking on a companion to start a conversation, you have to wait for Jack to walk around to their front.
- Too often, the camera when it's on one of the busty ladies of this tale is literally pointed directly at their boobs to the exclusion of their heads -- even though they are actively speaking. It's hard to say if this is a camera glitch or a creative choice because I found another issue where a dude was speaking and the camera spins 360-degrees and comes back to his face for no particular reason. Any way you slice it, it borders on the misogynistic.
So, final thoughts.
Point and click puzzle games can leave a bad taste in your mouth if their interface is poorly designed or the solutions to the puzzles are too obscure. So far, Jack Keane 2 has passed both of those tests.
This game shot out of the gate and was well on it's way to winning the race for my approval, but then it start to get a little gassed in the middle.
I don't know if it's going to have enough to make it to the end of the race, but it has made enough of an impression on me with it's humor and great story and interesting characters that I want to finish the game.