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Impressions: Get Reacquainted With Jack

Featured post AAARGH! THE FACE THAT HAUNTED A THOUSAND NIGHTMARES!

Given the dietary habits of tortoises, what would the Teenage Mutant Ninja TORTOISES most likely order at Pizza Hut? What do a Victoria’s Secret model and the mineral feldspar have in common? Considering their natural life cycles, which Muppet Baby shouldn’t have arms? How many Earths could you stuff into the volume of Uranus? If I wanted to whack one ‘mole’ worth of moles during a game of Whack A Mole, how many moles would that be?

You Don’t Know Jack is back. It’s about damn time.

The first You Don’t Know Jack hit the shelves back in 1995, and since then, it’s barely changed at all. It hasn’t had to. It’s the best quiz game on the PC. It’s one of the funniest games period. Over fifteen years it spawned an endless set of YDKJ sequels – Sports, Television, The Ride and so on, along with a spectacularly vicious British version – plus a free web version (sadly no longer online), and its one big failure, the TV version that took everything great about the game and replaced it with Paul Reubens being an arse. Let us never speak of it again.

Now, as then, it’s the simplest game in the world – the trivia quiz “where high culture and pop culture collide”, where all you have to do is buzz in, answer questions and win fake money. And laugh. Lots. The questions revel in the kind of tortured thinking that the Geneva Convention was specifically written to address, happy leaping from questions about American Idol to the Ten Commandments at the drop of a hat. There are standard ‘pick the right answer’ questions, the classic Dis Or Dat round where you have to say whether or not the names on the screen are, for instance, ‘a video with over 250,000 views on YouTube’ or ‘a painting by Renoir’, totally off the wall stuff like ‘Who’s The Dummy?’ (answer questions posed by a bad ventriloquist) or Nocturnal Admissions, in which the host describes his most recent surreal dream and asks you to work out what the hell he’s talking about. In the case of the question titled “My eyebrows are lettuce and my gym teacher married me”, it’s Avatar. Of course. You idiot!

If a money-making machine counts, all of them are disqualified by default.

All this is wrapped up in design and writing that pulls the ultimate gaming con – to make being really, really smart look easy. The most impressive part of the game is how well it manages its flow, with the questions, background music, throw-in gags, call-backs to previous questions, randomly picked adverts and wacky throw-ins all seeming completely natural. Before the game, you fill in your details to the overlapping sound of studio chatter and random jokes; when you’re done, the credits roll to comedy adverts. In-game, invisible host Cookie Masterson (writer Tom Gottlieb, who puts in an absolutely stunning performance despite clearly having been trapped in a recording booth for centuries recording the endless script) makes every episode a genuine pleasure, belittling you for playing alone, throwing in visual gags, serving up your daily dose of abuse if you get ‘easy’ questions wrong, and never running out of jokes to tell.

This version of Jack is slightly different to previous ones, mostly because it’s now on the consoles too. Most of the changes are good ones – for instance, you don’t buzz in to answer any more, but simply pick your choice before the timer runs out. A few rounds are missing in action, notably the type-the-answer Gibberish Questions (which means an end to the sweary Easter Egg of old), but there’s still plenty of variety, and riding the insanity is just as fun as ever.

By far the biggest change in this version is that previous YDKJ games just took a big stack of wacky questions and randomised them. This one offers 72 ‘episodes’, each with 10 set questions. When I first saw this, I wasn’t too fond of the idea – it means that realistically, you’re only going to get 72 games out of this. Then I realised: you’re going to get 72 games out of this. 72 completely original, no-repeated-questions games out of this. That’s pretty damn good for a trivia game, and with 720 questions in total, it’s certainly not an excuse to cheap out on content.

I shall answer this question, but first, I shall be in my bunk, thinking about a particularly hot Aphrodite I saw a few years ago.

Against all this, YDKJ’s problems are utterly ridiculous. Not only is it only available in North America so far (presumably because of all the local pop-culture questions, although they’re really not a problem), the version on Steam is bizarrely cut down compared to the Xbox and PS3 versions. The console versions let four people play at a time, the PC version only two. There’s no DLC support yet, despite several of the Steam achievements mentioning it, and the first pack being out (containing ten new episodes for 400 Microsoft Funbucks, with another three packs on the way). The console version have online play. Here, you’re on your own. None of this makes any damn sense at all. Do they not want our money? Do our wallets have cooties?

One second, I’ll check.

Damn, there’s a lot of dust in here. Let’s see…

Okay. No. There are no cooties, Jellyvision. Only money, which could have been yours, but will now be spent on sweeties. I shall eat them while I stare daggers into your soul. You feel that? That’s your soul being daggered in the face. By me. And this bag of Mars Planets.

If you are able to play it though, and get past what can only be described as treasonous betrayal (at least until the DLC does eventually land, since clearly it’s going to at some point) it’s well worth it. Not many games can stay the same for 15 years and still feel as fresh as the original demo back on a Windows 95 sampler disc, and in most cases, it wouldn’t be a good thing. Jack is the exception – still the best trivia game in the world, and easily the funniest around.

And if you disagree with any of that…

Damn, I’ve forgotten what I was going to say.

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