Jack Orlando manages to avoid most of the clichés that plague adventure games inspired by film noir. And the one it doesn't avoid is the most obvious--Jack Orlando, who is a down-on-his-luck private eye, has been framed for murder. He has 48 hours to clear his name. You, as Jack, must solve a series of pretty good puzzles, stomach some of the worst dialogue and acting ever heard in a game, and navigate so many red herrings that you'll occasionally wonder if you're playing a game or swimming in Agatha Christie's fish pond. Jack Orlando is a strange game that manages to be both very good and very bad at the same time.
But it isn't just a strange game--it's a strange game that's three years old. Originally released in 1998 by the Polish developer TopWare, Jack Orlando is being released in the US for the first time. The only difference seems to be the addition of "Director's Cut" to its title, but by all accounts, it is primarily the same game. The fact that a 3-year-old game can seem so unfinished is equally strange. Many of the game's problems, from the endless streams of meaningless dialogue to the enormous areas in which there is nothing to do, seem to imply that the game isn't done. You'll navigate a huge catacomb of ancient artifacts and secret passages, and all of it is completely unnecessary. You'll walk through an abandoned café filled with dozens of TV sets, and yet the game takes place in 1933, six years before the introduction of commercial television.
These are simply surreal moments in a game that is, at its heart, a straightforward murder mystery. There's no link to the Knights Templar and no strange alien technology to be found. The murder at hand is a case of organized crime and the military, and there's little more to it.
The game takes place at the end of prohibition, and Jack Orlando has gone from being a hero of the people to a drunken lout. He happens to witness a murder on his way home from getting soused and gets sapped on the head and left at the crime scene. He's the only suspect, and the police chief gives him 48 hours to solve the crime and clear his name. That's the whole story, and you'll be investigating a pretty generic organized crime syndicate from the beginning on. With the 48-hour deadline, it's strange that the game takes place in what appears to be a single night. But the thin story is not a problem because puzzles, not plot, make up the backbone of the game.
The puzzles you'll solve are straightforward--they stick to the standard inventory-based and dialogue-based puzzle types that adventure gamers are used to. But what makes Jack Orlando interesting is that it isn't simply a case of trying everything with everything. You can pick up dozens of things that are completely useless, and most conversations in the game will lead you nowhere. It makes for an interesting change of pace from the standard adventure formula, in which your every step is outlined by the things you can interact with.
Unfortunately, the extensive amount of dialogue in the game is also one of its biggest flaws. Jack Orlando was obviously translated from another language. Much of the dialogue doesn't make sense, and there's an abundance of strange responses and non-sequiturs. The voice acting is so bad that it almost seems brilliant. The first voice you hear, an elderly lady, sounds like a 20-year-old male pretending to be an elderly lady. And doing a poor job. The best voice acting is merely bad, while the worst is unbelievable. The voices in Jack Orlando make Resident Evil's infamous voice work seem like a beautiful production of Under Milkwood in comparison. Luckily, the music--decent if generic "smoove jazz"--makes up for the voices in some respect, if only because it seems professional and competent.
Despite all that is wrong with it, though, Jack Orlando has some good elements. The graphics are its most notable feature. The art is mostly two-dimensional and hand-drawn, similar at times to the Broken Sword and Circle of Blood games. The only exception is the cars in the game, which are 3D models. Jack Orlando's animation is a nice change of pace from the standard 3D of most modern games, and though it would be better at a higher resolution, it makes for a unique, if slightly dated, look.
The puzzles and the graphics are enough to recommend Jack Orlando to serious adventure game fans. There are no mystical overtones, no science-fiction angle. It's a straightforward whodunit puzzle-solver with terrible dialogue and some really strange dead ends.