Version tested: PC
Push your finger here. No, it's ok. Just give it a little poke. That's my soft spot for Ankh. German developer Deck 13 showed a genuine love for the classic 90s adventures, and for once demonstrated an understanding of how they worked. It was imperfect in many ways, but for a bright, cartoon point-and-click adventure, it stood out from the crowd by not sucking out loud. We got a slightly inferior sequel, and now we have Jack Keane.
Maybe it's over-confidence. Maybe we celebrated Ankh's not-awfulness too much. But Jack Keane is a depressingly poor game. A big, elaborate, beautifully drawn game. But one that just doesn't make a satisfying result.
Jack Keane is an Indy-style adventurer (with a bit of pirate thrown in), who begins his adventure tied to a chair in the clock room at the top of Big Ben. That's a bloomin' brilliant place to start an adventure game! He has to talk his way into being punched until he can reach his handy penknife. That's a really good puzzle! He then has to go through a series of incredibly dull procedures to clean some bird poo using a rag and a bucket in order to, er, get his knife again, and then escape by making Big Ben strike 3, which would be a superb puzzle if only you realised that was what you were doing before it happened... It starts to crack.
Jack is then charged with the task of aiding a British spy in making his way from Capetown to an obscure Indian island, which all leads to a peculiar story about saving the world from tea-eating plants. Describing it like that, it all sounds rather good. It really could have been. But, well, it isn't.
A big part of this is due to the puzzle structure. There are two types present. The one where you've got a key, and a keyhole, and the puzzle is to figure out which to put into which. And then there's the ones where you're supposed to know that if you use the knife on the clock you'll remove the hands which can of course be used to pick the lock on a wardrobe.
Then there's the voice acting. Jack's voice isn't too bad. He sounds a bit like Bruce Campbell, and delivers his lines with gusto (but when he gets drunk - oh boy, it's awful). But he sticks out from a dodgy crowd. This is made far worse by a clear lack of voice direction, and lines recorded in isolation. You get those really awkward moments where someone's intonation is completely wrong. A moment that was supposed to go,
"I eat goons like you for breakfast."
"You're about to LOSE your breakfast, mate."
Comes out as,
"You're about to lose your BREAKFAST, mate."
Sure, it seems picky to pluck out one unimportant line. But it's the case throughout, where two supposedly interacting characters are clearly not in the same room, nor having the same discussion. It's remarkably off-putting. Originally written in German, there are some translation issues too. A lot of the time the spoken text doesn't match the subtitles, sometimes dramatically so, often with the actor not bothering to fix a clearly mistranslated sentence.
The worst effect of all this is the timing is destroyed. Jokes that would obviously have worked in its native tongue are awkward and confusing, with the pacing mismatched throughout. For a comedy game, this is a big, big problem - it's very rarely funny, and far more often you're left with the thought, "Ah, I see how that would have been funny if they'd got it right." That's not a satisfying way to react.
There are all sorts of other issues. Really stupid game-breaking bugs, like an object you're meant to pick up at one point being invisible, or a lack of testing, like seeing the location description as, "Enter IACTOR_VILLAGE_JUNGLE_ LEAVETO_CLIFF_DESCNANSE". At one point there's a line of recorded dialogue missing, the sound levels aren't matched, and there are typos throughout.
Another issue that's tricky to get around is the portrayal of various nationalities. This begins in the African port where you don't meet a single non-white character - very odd. But gets a lot more unsettling when you're in India (where you spend the bulk of the game), with the innumerous "hello-please" faux-Indian accents on offer. Some sound realistic. A lot sound unpleasantly like a 1970s sitcom.
The scale here is excellent. It's a big game, with a lot of locations, all designed really nicely. And there's an awful lot to do, lasting ten hours or more. Deck13 don't scrimp in this department, and this is probably why Jack Keane is such a disappointing experience, rather than the more usual dismissible. It's reminiscent of the Runaway games in this respect (but in this respect alone - Keane is never misogynistic) - a big game, lots of effort, but very little satisfaction. I'm prone to love a game where the solution to a puzzle is to have a monkey eaten by a killer plant (don't worry - he survives), and the developer constantly demonstrates a passion for the genre, and the LucasArts games that dominated it. But this time, the game doesn't reflect it.
Later on you're given the chance to play as the female hero, Amanda, offering an alternative perspective on the story. But this arrives so late, and is used so fleetingly, that it feels like a last-minute extra. To have been able to go back and forth between the two throughout would have offered so many more opportunities for decent puzzles, and given the romance story a lot more grounds.
But if anything captures the experience of Jack Keane, it's the gags during the closing credits. I love credit gags - I'm such a sucker for them. And what they've done here is create fake outtakes (Pixar-style). But not a single joke works, each mutilated by horrendous translation and lines delivered by an actor who clearly hadn't been told what was going on in the scene. They're the drifting ghosts of a murdered joke - something that struggles to lead to funny. That's Keane - a potentially enjoyable game, broken by terrible performances, and puzzles that make little sense.
5 / 10