Have you ever tried to eat a gourmet dinner, but using your bare hands? Have you ever watched an important sporting event, only to have most of your view obstructed by a pillar? Or what about trying to play Call of Duty with one hand tied behind your back?
Sadly, some truly fantastic experiences can be dampened if you are unable to fully appreciate the event as it was intended. This is the case with Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within. The core game is frankly delightful, with a compelling story, logical puzzles, and some great characters. But when you have to play this game with broken controls, soul-destroying bugs, and a camera view that appears to be under the payroll of your enemy, you must genuinely question whether it is worth fighting through a tidal wave of vexation to uncover the hidden gem within.
With a nod towards classic Lucasarts adventures, Jack Keane 2 combines a simplistic cartoon animation style, and some very unique characters to create a truly memorable game environment. The story whisks you across several continents in search of various artifacts (yawn), but the fun is in solving all the puzzles en route. So you’ll pick up whatever the game will let you, and combine them or use them with other things to formulate some wacky improvised solution. Traditional adventure fare, but with a healthy dose of character.
Unlike some adventure titles, which have the most obscenely illogical solutions, JK2 never makes things too difficult or obscure. Sure, you’ll be scratching your head in bemusement in several places, but the answer just requires a bit of searching and common sense. You will also never be bombarded with so many items that you are constantly trying to figure out what bit to use next, or spend most of your time trying to combine your inventory. Instead, you get a steady stream of useless junk, which you must use sensibly to generate useful equipment. So you are kept in reasonably tight rein, never acquiring too many inventory items, or having too many places to visit at one time. This keeps the action flowing, and ensures you get stuck less often.
Throughout your journey, you get to form relationships with some of the people you adventure with. You are presented with a variety of speech options for most scenarios, and the way you treat people will affect your relationship. There are no vast storyline differences gained from this, but it does give a slight difference to the game ending, depending on whom you bestow your attention upon.
As you would hope for an adventure game of this style, there is a commendable sense of humour conveyed through both the story, and the communication with the characters you meet. German developers Deck 13 are clearly aware of their national stereotype, but they actually use that very stereotype in-game to mock themselves. Having such an attitude shows that these guys don’t try and take themselves too seriously, but are purely focused on giving the player a fun time. One particular scene contains the following speech sequence (paraphrased): “Are you Ralph?” – “What? No. What makes you think I’m Ralph?” – “Because it says ‘Ralph’ when I hover the mouse cursor over you”. Genius!
So it all sounds good right? Well it is good. Until you factor in the technical aspect of controlling and playing the game. Then things get a whole lot more challenging. I won’t spend too long dwelling on these failings, but here is a brief list. Jumpy hit spots; a camera angle which is usually working against you; items floating in mid air; cumbersome controls, especially when jumping and at one point a character walked across thin air to reach her target, only to complain about not being able to reach a target only inches away.
And finally, the worst flaw of all. There is a frequently occurring bug, which means that your character refuses to examine or take action on the item you just clicked on. So imagine you want to go examine a rock. You click on the rock. Nothing happens. Click again. Nothing happens. Click 20 times repeatedly in frustration, and your character finally starts moving, only to realise that your last click was off target, and your character ran off the screen instead. At one point, this bug completely denied game progression, as the mission-critical item simply refused to be clicked on. It took half an hour of repeated attempts and game restarts, pounding my keyboard and mouse fruitlessly, before the item finally allowed itself to be clicked on. This bug alone added well over an hour on the time it took to complete the game. To say that it is somewhat vexatious would be an understatement of grand proportions.
So, the ultimate question: Is it worth playing through a technically incompetent game in order to enjoy the story and puzzles locked within? Taking everything into account, the answer is yes. There will be many moments of irritation as the game attempts to thwart your attempts at playing, but the delicious fruity innards of Jack Keane 2 are worth the endeavour. Venture forth and conquer this game, bugs and all.
Now I’m off to feast on a succulent banana casserole. With my hands.
Note: The Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within review was written based on the PC version of the game provided to us for review.