Jack Keane has the potential to be the next cool action hero. Not only did he thwart an evil scientist’s plans for world domination in his last game, but he now finds himself tracking down the whereabouts of a mysterious treasure all over the Eastern Hemisphere. Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within is just as charming, and features several touch-ups to Jack’s first point-and-click adventure. But while you might discover a few gorgeous sights on your trip, you’ll find that the game is riddled with problems that makes Jack’s voyage ultimately one of frustration. Tracking down treasure may be hard work for Jack and his crew, but that’s no reason Fire Within should be just as painful.
Since much of the game is told through cutscenes and interacting with characters you meet on your journey, it's fortunate that the cast does a good job of conveying emotion and making sure you’re interested in what you’re hearing. You can also select humorous choices during conversations, and while most don’t affect the overall course of the story, some can affect Jack’s relationship with his crewmates. Of course, it’s always hard not to insult someone when the opportunity comes up.
Similarly as impressive is the game’s cartoony presentation and colorful environments. In addition to dark Chinese prisons, European ports, and vibrant jungles, you'll also visit worlds within Jack’s mind that are as imaginative as they are impressive. Much of the game is about exploration, so it's great that its visuals are quite good.
Humor is at the heart of the game’s narrative and makes the story worth unraveling. Fire Within is well aware that it draws inspiration from games like Escape from Monkey Island, and even makes several jabs at itself and other titles from time to time. One scene, for instance, makes a direct Donkey Kong reference, and features a literate Gorilla who loves cookbooks.
At its core, Fire Within involves examining your environments and solving situational puzzles to move forward. But this process can often be more tedious than interesting. You’ll need to keep a sharp eye and click on almost every item laying around to see if you can add it to your inventory and combine it with others to turn them into useful tools. Puzzles aren’t that difficult to figure out, nor do they require a high degree of logic, but it still feels good when you find a solution.
While you’ll most likely just mix and match items until a combination works, what’s more difficult is actually spotting these items on your screen. You're able to have the game highlight items you can pick up that are nearby, but the smaller ones may still elude you. The unreliable camera makes them even harder to spot, and because it’s fixed, you’ll have to move to the ideal position to make certain items show up. Even a subtle hint system would have eased the pain of running around feeling lost and helpless.
To make this frustrating object-finding task even worse, the game runs into a plethora of technical issues that put an even bigger dent on your fun. You can move Jack with your keyboard or by clicking where you want him to go, but moving him around a pseudo-3D environment isn’t the most fluid experience. Clicks don’t always register when interacting with objects, causing Jack to walk in front of an item and do nothing. This can happen a lot. We also encountered a bug that prevented us from picking up a crucial item, which only went away after quitting and reloading the game. These problems might make you wander around in circles thinking you did something wrong, when in fact it’s the game that’s at fault.
In addition to puzzles, Fire Within also includes a handful of combat and platforming sequences that are more trouble than they're worth. Since the controls are irksome enough to begin with, having to jump from one platform to the next is simply frustrating, and doesn’t add much to the experience. The game’s idea of combat, on the other hand, has Jack facing off against an enemy in slow motion, and requires you to select moves as a way to counterattack. You’ll need to watch an enemy’s stance and select the right attack to win, so it adds another puzzle element to your playthrough. However, there’s no real strategy behind it; ultimately, it turns into a guessing game that you’ll need to replay anytime you mess up.
It’s great to see a 3D point-and-click game like Fire Within try to offer something new to the genre, but it ultimately falls short of being impressive and leaves you feeling lost. While its well-crafted array of puzzles are fun whether you’re new to the games or not, its controls and technical hiccups take away from wanting to play the game. Jack Keane may have what it takes to be your next daring adventurer, but Fire Within may not be your next go-to adventure.