I swear I used to enjoy games like this, the old school point-and-click, puzzle-heavy adventure titles. Maybe that's just it: I used to. Games of this ilk are great when you're younger and have ample time to kill, no responsibilities, and aren't concerned with concentrating your fun-to-time ratio. Jack Keane is slow, plodding and keeps trying to put me to sleep, and despite its charms, it never reaches the lofty levels of the games it tries so hard to emulate.
LucasArts still holds the crown in the point-and-click adventure (PACA) genre. The Monkey Island games hold a revered spot in gaming lore, being witty, clever, funny, well-designed and engaging. But were these simply rose-colored times, enhanced only by their distant proximity to the present? Not really. Partway through playing Jack Keane, I fired up Escape from Monkey Island on the PS2 (the only franchise entry I had handy), and it was every bit as wickedly entertaining as I'd recalled.
Admittedly, it does take a certain type of person and mindset to get into this type of game. It just seems Keane makes it all the more dull. Despite the vibrant environments and some interesting details, the vocal performances and pacing brought out more yawns and groans than chuckles. The characters speak slowly — too slowly. Enunciation is important, sure (unless you just read the subtitles), but you can toggle subtitles on and off, so why not have the option to nix the vocal track entirely? It might have helped.
Still, the story is hamstrung on its own, vocal or textual. Dear Jack is supposedly a famous pirate, but not for deeds of bravery and gallant action. Rather, he's famous for being a klutz and a moron. This would have led to great comic exchanges had they been capitalized on in a more crafty manner. Instead, we end up acting out this character in just as dull and brainless an affair as his reputation would imply. How someone so slow on the uptake could crack puzzles this convoluted and nonsensical is beyond me.
I get that the puzzles are supposed to be tricky and force players to closely examine the environment. However, when the game sends you deliberately looking for the wrong item (in one case, a tiara instead of the brooch you actually require), that's just wrong. In another instance, I understand you might need a worm on a hook to go fishing for actual fish, but to snag a plank floating in the water, I really doubt bait is a requirement. But it apparently is.
The thing is, none of these overly complicated puzzles really pushes things forward as much as I'd like. The goals aren't very big. In Monkey Island, you had to convince a crew to join you so you could set sail, one member at a time. Was it tedious having to get a contract, get a signed contract, and then get a "cushy" signed contract? Sure, but at least you knew clearly what you were after, where to find it, and who had to sign it. You also had to prevent a thug from lobbing rocks at your house via catapult. These are worthwhile objectives.
But having to scrounge up some rum by forcing a guy to prove he'd been to the Canary Islands, just so your crew will go on shore leave … what? And all this has to happen simply so the secret agent will discuss your mission with you. I wasted hours in that town just going to and from the boat. As for getting the stamp off the postcard, a row boat with a puddle in the bottom that — as the game even told me — is moored and not actually leaking, why send me off to get a bowl instead? Just when you think you're figuring it out and feeling smart, the design in Jack Keane throws a few more needless wrenches into the works. It's less about being intuitive and more about trial and error. Who leaves a pack of hot spices lying around on a deserted cliff, and why would it occur to me to use those on some oysters I found to make them sneeze out a pearl? Nothing in the game makes this connection apparent, and I had no idea oysters could sneeze (they can't), but that's what you have to do. Personally, I'd have tried prying an oyster open with my pocket knife … because that makes sense.
The visuals in Jack Keane are pretty nice, featuring lush colors and a cartoony design aesthetic. Post-processing effects and HDR show up here and there, adding to the overall look of it, though they may add some choppiness now and then on lower-end systems. Fortunately, the PACA genre doesn't depend too heavily on solid frame rates or quick reflexes, so even if you see some stutter from time to time, it's not going to make it unplayable for you.
Going back to the characters, rather than making a typical prototype of a character and sprucing him up with wit and in-jokes, they wind up being all too stereotypical. The Italian guy sounds like a mobster and plays the Don part from The Godfather to a tee. The problem is, it's not really an inspired performance, and he doesn't seem to fit with the surroundings. The British guards are too stuffy to be believable, and all Indian people sound roughly the same, to the point that I'd be surprised if real Indians weren't offended by it. All of the characters are too much like what you'd expect. It goes beyond being caricatures to the point of being irritating. They tried too hard to fit all of the norms instead of making unique and interesting characters.
At the end of it all waits Dr. T., evildoing magnate and chief resident of Tooth Island. He's been setting loose tea-eating plants all over the area, which alerts the British government when their tea trade (and intake) is threatened. Why send the SAS when you can send Jack Keane instead? Sure, the trip was supposed to be fatal for our hero, and he manages to stumble out of harm's way, but it still lacks that genuine comedic touch. Certainly there's nothing as clever or amusing here as Insult Arm Wrestling from Monkey Island. At least they animate well. Lips don't always synch up exactly, but gestures aptly match the discussion at hand.
One major plus of the game is the ability to hold the X key to highlight everything you can interact with in the environment. It's not entirely thorough, as I still found pathways and items that didn't get emphasis, but it certainly helps in finding everything, particularly items that count toward the unlockable bonus content in the game. The unlockables amount to wax figures and Historical mode, which adds a sepia-toned filter to the game's visuals to make it "look" old. I was secretly hoping it would be the whole game redone in "spritely" 2-D or something, but it's not. Aside from the unlockables, there's really no reason to play Jack Keane again, unless you're really into the characters, though I'm not sure how you could be.
There were occasional issues with the camera and controls. If only I could manually pan the view around even a little, it would reveal some important items just off-screen and make the click-to-move controls a bit less cumbersome. The repetitive clicks can be mitigated by enabling a Diablo-style control setup, where you hold down the mouse button and keep moving toward it. The problem is that this isn't an option in the game itself; you have to edit the settings.ini file to enable a feature that's there by design, but the developer intentionally didn't make it available to the end user in any simple or normally accessible way. You can also run the game in a window by editing the same file, but be careful if you go messing around in there. You get the option of a fadeable inventory, making what little there is of the HUD go away if you're not using it.
I ran into a couple of random crash bugs as well. It's not clear what caused them, but it stinks to lose progress to a problem like that, especially in a game of this nature. Other problems persist and have been documented by other players, including a toolbox that remains invisible unless you walk out of the frame and back in. Whether you can see it or not, it's there, and the X-to-highlight feature points to it, but you still can't see it.
If you loved doing Fed Ex quests in World of Warcraft, imagine having to do nothing but those from beginning to end, with uninspired, sometimes annoying characters and overly clichéd performances throughout, and that's Jack Keane. It's likely too difficult for the kids, and while older players may appreciate the complexity of the puzzles, it's really only going to appeal to a narrow set of people who enjoy enduring this sort of thing. Fans of the genre, dive in. Everyone else, try the demo first. It's OK for what it is, but if you're expecting a rebirth of the magic of Monkey Island, you're bound to come away a little disappointed.
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