As the first screen of Jack Keane 2 opened on my monitor, I made a silent prayer to the Higher Entities of Gaming: please don’t allow my complete ignorance of the original Jack Keane (and there must surely be one, what with the ‘2’ concatenated to the title of this one) detract from my ability to figure this one out. Fortunately, my lack of backstory didn’t adversely affect my efforts. In fact, when the game began there was no sign of anyone named Jack to be found. Instead, I was playing the role of a cleavage-bulging blond embroiled in a gunfight with two bad guys. With most of my previous gunfighting experiences having been in the form of first- or third-person shooters, I was somewhat confused as to why the blond couldn’t seem to hit either of the opponents, despite their weak cover.
“Oh, yeah, it’s an adventure game!” I reminded myself. This isn’t a shootout, this is a puzzle! After realigning my view of the game, I was able to figure out how to dispatch the offending crew members using ancillary objects in the scene. It was actually a pleasantly logical way of eradicating the attractive woman of her problematic crew -- intuitive and logical solutions are always appealing to me when it comes to adventure games. I could only hope that this paradigm would carry through the entirety of the story. And just to avoid any sense of suspense, I’ll go ahead and tell you now: for the most part, it did.
Cutting to the next scene, I received my introduction to Jack Keane. I do not believe our first meeting was as auspicious as either of us would have hoped; poor Jack was wasting away in a Chinese prison cell. The length and scruffiness of his beard indicated that he had been there for a notable amount of time. Sharing his cell was an old Shaman, and as is typical with the breed, the Shaman spoke primarily in excruciatingly frustrating riddles. Have you ever noticed that you rarely meet Shamans at parties? This would be why. They’re irritating. Throwing out quests and amulets and such with very little explanation as to why you should bother with them, supported with nothing but useless hints and facile philosophy -- what a bother. It’s even worse when the dude keels over dead without even having explained what the reward of the quest would be.
Jack, what with being a starving captive and having been informed that he has been selected to have an arena fight with someone called the Skull Crusher that very day, decides that the ambiguity of the quest is something he can live with, and one way or the other he would be best served by breaking out of the prison. And thus the adventure begins. Along the way we will learn a little more about Jack, including that he is inexplicably blind to the romantic aspirations of his gorgeous companion and that he has an irreverent side that exhibits itself at the worst of times, primarily in the form of wiseass retorts that invariably do nothing to assist in his travails. That said, they also seldom had a deleterious effect so after an initial reticence borned of fear of failure, I decided to embrace my inner Jack and let fly with the insults to other characters, many of which were somewhat amusing. Others were, at times, kind of childish.
That was pretty much the underlying style of the story. It never took itself too seriously, but did get weird now and then as Jack was forced to literally get in touch with his inner feelings by virtue of surreal soirees through his own brain. There were also clever allusions to characters from other legacy video games to lighten the mood.
Setting aside the story itself, the gameplay is for the most part straightforward, although at times it turned out to be very important to try to get Jack or the aforementioned stacked blonde (whose name we eventually learn is Amanda) positioned just right to allow the fixed camera to show an item that can be picked up or interacted with. It could be a tad fussy at times. And as with pretty much all games of this type, you will find yourself clicking on every possible item in a scene to make sure you gather up everything you need. On one occasion, this all-inclusive click-fest caused a crash back to the Windows desktop. That, as you might expect, somewhat tempered my enthusiasm for clicking everything I could see.
Probably the most difficult thing about solving the puzzles turned out to not be the lack of logic in how and when to use items either independently or in combination with other objects. Rather, it was remembering the need to go back and speak to characters over and over to make sure you have extracted every possible bit of information from them. There are also characters that you have to fight even though you cannot win until such time as you received hints or training from other characters, The fighting itself is via the selection of ‘cards’ that define your defensive and attack moves. Frankly, the fighting was not particularly interesting or gratifying, but was more a payoff to further puzzle solving.
Other than the minor difficulties encountered in getting the characters positioned where they need to be to hit triggers and some of the creepier scenes, Jack Keane 2 tells an interesting story with clever writing and an attractive art style. It might not be as difficult as hardcore adventure gamers might prefer, but it is definitely suited to those new to the genre. The controls can be particular at times and could potentially cause a little frustration and the voice acting can seem a little disjointed every now and then, but all in all it’s a pretty good adventure.
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