LucasArts had a major impact back in the 90s with their graphic point-and-click adventures which can even be felt in today’s market. German developer Deck13 already proved that it could offer fun in puzzle and character design with their Ankh games. Now it’s time to say goodbye to Egypt and hello to Colonial England.
Adventurer Jack Keane takes on an escort job for bringing a British secret agent to a mysterious island where a mad doctor experiments with apes. On his mission he also meets the attractive Amanda, and finds out more about his own past.
No time for storytelling love, Dr. Jones!
Storytelling in comic adventures usually takes a backseat to the comedy on screen, and Jack Keane is no different. A villain who doesn’t seem very intimidating, suspense rarely rearing up its head, it hails back to old LucasArts adventure games like Monkey Island or Maniac Mansion. The only problem is: the game is just a tad too long. This may sound strange in a world of less than 10 or even 5 hours playtime, but the rather drawn-out story makes it a bit tedious to progress. Surely an old-school adventure gamer wouldn’t want it any other way with so many puzzles on offer, but when the main storyline isn’t that interesting, it’s hard not to feel bored at some point. Only in the later parts of the game does story and character development become more intriguing and even offers some touching scenes.
Character strengths and flaws
In general, characters fare much better, even though they never reach the old classics’ highs Deck13 tries to imitate, or the Ankh series the developers created before. There are without a doubt some funny dialogues and slapstick moments, but the sense of humor is more of the slight-chuckle than laugh-out-loud variety. A long playtime is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, quite a few memorable moments of fun can be found, but there are also quite a lot which feel too forced or just tame. References to popular games and movies are easy to spot, but subtlety and more originality would have been nice in some cases.
Even if the story takes quite some time to be interesting and the NPCs are the standard run-of-the-mill funny stereotypes, Jack becomes quite an interesting character. Granted, his relationship with Amanda is handled in a rather clichéd way, but it helps to make him likeable and more intriguing. Her character could have done without the exaggerated eroticism, but it doesn’t distract from the fact that Jack and Armanda are a perfect match for the funniest dialogues and most comic situations in the game.
Puzzling like in the old days
Puzzle design again suffers from the same problem of overdose: there are a lot of locations to visit, items to pick up or to be combined, and various tasks to complete. Some are rather ingenious and fun to solve, others become too obscure as not enough hints are provided. Like today’s Deponia, it’s a playground for adventure gamers to try out a lot of things, because some don’t necessarily have to be done in a specific order, so the level of frustration is usually kept to a minimum. Still it’s certainly not the most accessible for beginners in the later stages of the game.
What makes the game’s puzzles really fun is that no stupid tile-moving or code breaking has to be done, and in the last part of the game, some action scenes are handled quite well. No time limit, but with the cinematic presentation and orchestral soundtrack, inventory-based puzzles become more intriguing to solve and are well-implemented in the action on screen. These and some genuinely funny moments (without spoiling it now) show the developer can do a bit more than most of the playtime consists of. Not just running around, solving puzzles in a pick-up-combine-everything manner, but creating genuinely memorable scenes in which story and gameplay go hand in hand and become more fluently.
Minor and major niggles and wiggles
A map function is sorely missed, so running around aimlessly is just as annoying as going through the same places just to reach a specific location. A hotspot key is nice to have, but with the 3D space it’s not that easy to click on the right pixel. Navigating with the point-and-click interface isn’t without its faults either, as the camera is a bit shaky at times and reaching higher or lower places by climbing ladders or jumping down rocks needs precision plus patience and can lead to some biting-the-computer-mouse moments.
Something which can be mentioned as well is the use of bonus items: These can be found throughout the game and unlock extra content in the options menu. As it’s usually just artwork, most players won’t really look for them as they’re not integrated in the puzzle design.
Like they show in the movies
Even if gameplay and storytelling aren’t perfect, the game’s presentation is nearly flawless. Even with today’s standards, character animations deliver a cartoon-like fluidity few 3D models in the genre have achieved so far. Backgrounds visuals are a bit hit-or-miss, as there are some nice details to be found, especially in the interiors, but some textures look rather dated. Still water effects impress and for an adventure game the graphical fidelity is pretty neat.
Like the adventure movies it imitates, the cutscenes are dynamic and offer enough action and fun to entertain. It’s also a good thing that they’re done with in-game graphics, so transitions are smooth and don’t clash with the rest of the game. A catchy score and excellent voice acting (at least in the German version I played) add to the level of comic immersion as they are both chosen well for each character and situation.
Light entertainment with nice presentation
Jack Keane set a new standard for high-end graphics in 3D adventure games when it was released. It looks (and sounds) even great today, but gameplay and storytelling show their age. With lots of fun puzzles to solve and zany characters to talk to, it will surely please fans of the genre, but the lack of suspense and the tame humor can be disappointing for those who wish for a revival of LucasArts quality.