Publisher: 10tacle Studios
Developer: Deck 13
Release Date: March 2008
What do carnivorous plants, all the tea in the British Empire and an army of trained monkeys have in common? The answer: Jack Keane. What do you mean you've never heard of him? He's the dashing and bold rogue captain of the Charming Princess, the fastest ship on the London-India route. At least he is in his own imagination, because everyone else knows him as a perennially poverty-stricken, would-be adventurer with a faint air of cowardice and an irrational fear of snakes and heights.
Jack Keane is the somewhat incompetent titular hero of Deck 13's latest point-and-click adventure title set in the 19th century Colonial British Empire. The game starts off with Jack having the snot beat out of him by a pair of violently inclined debt collectors at the top of Big Ben in London. After his improvised escape, he agrees out of necessity to take on a lucrative assignment to escort a British Secret Service agent from Cape Town, South Africa, to Tooth Island, somewhere in the Indian Ocean. On the way, he meets Amanda, an audacious American with her own secret agenda, and he begins to unravel a dark conspiracy to bring down the Empire involving the nefarious Doctor T.
The third-person perspective, point-and-click interface is practically idiot-proof (of course they're always building new and improved idiots). Left-click serves to give small observations about items, and right-click performs an intelligent context-sensitive action such as "take," "talk to" or "use." By pressing and holding the X key, all of the available interactive spots are highlighted so the game is further simplified by removing the need to hunt for elusive hotspots. Jack can also speed through environments with a double-click of the mouse buttons so the overall pace of the game is kept fluid. His graphical inventory resides at the top of the screen for easy access, and you won't get anywhere without combining items, such as the rotten peg leg with the scurvy-ridden voodoo doll. OK, I made up that one.
Jack Keane features 13 chapters, six of which were playable in the preview build. In each chapter, you're restricted to a certain location so you won't be wandering around irrelevant areas wondering if that starfish you saw a few hours ago might have something to do with the bicycle-riding chimpanzee you're stuck on now. In addition, pressing the Tab key brings up a short list of things you need to do, so the frustration factor is kept to a minimum.
The simplicity the designers went for is reflected somewhat in the nature of the mostly logical puzzles littered throughout the game, which are never too taxing, especially for fans of the genre who will easily recognize some obvious solutions, such as those involving fuses and gunpowder, or fishing poles and sewing kits. The good news for veteran know-it-alls is that the puzzle difficulty curve climbs at a nice rate as the game progresses, so some of the later ones can be pretty baffling.
Jack's adventures take place in brightly lit, diverse locations saturated with lush primary colors. The style is straight out of toon-town, with crazy exaggerated angles and vibrant textures similar to the more recent Monkey Island games. The art serves to call attention to the comical content of the game, which not only attempts to parody a number of genres and adventure game conventions, but also includes some instantly recognizable references to pop culture material, such as "The Godfather."
A full orchestra-style soundtrack delivers some inspiring Hollywood-esque crescendos and fanfares along with a couple of jazzy numbers to fill in the silence while you adventure away.
The locations are strewn with various cartoon caricatures, complete with exaggerated mannerisms and brimming with dialogue. Voice acting is fittingly over-the-top and features plenty of posh-accented servants of the British Empire and a comically clichéd villain who stutters and cackles incessantly.
Talking to these characters, the obvious comparisons are with old LucasArts games where you have multiple interactive dialogue options from which to choose. Some of the chat is snappy and well written, and it's neat to note that the responses you get are often specific to your particular choice of branch in the dialogue tree. You'll also find out pretty quickly that you need to talk your way through certain situations, so the characters aren't just there for looks.
In addition to playing as Jack, certain portions of gameplay put you in the boots of the probable love interest, Amanda, who offers a fresh perspective. Since she is a sharpshooter armed with a musket, you also get a new skill set that the game lets you put to good use in solving her puzzles.
An unusual addition for the adventure game genre is unlockable extras, which add to the usually absent replay factor. While it's never made clear during the game, and this feature wasn't available in the preview build, it seems that going the extra mile to solve puzzles or collecting random items will unlock bonus features accessible from the main menu screen.
The obvious appeal of Jack Keane is for nostalgic point-and-click gamers seeking a new Guybrush Threepwood-inspired adventure, and while the references and approach are certainly there, Jack Keane looks to be less of a trip down memory lane and more of its own game with a different set of quirky characters, sun-drenched locations and style of witty banter.
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