Jagged Alliance: Back In Action is Coreplay’s remake of Jagged Alliance 2, a tactical role-playing game back from 1999, aiming to improve the original concept and visuals of the original, while keeping the original’s characters and plot. It was released in late 2011, 13 years after the original one, changing the storyline a little so it would adapt better to the gaming world of nowadays.
One of the first major improvements in Jagged Alliance: Back In Action over the original is the complete overhaul of the user interface, and a comprehensive tutorial – bringing newcomers up to speed. It’s a very good tutorial, and I was eager to dive into the 70 hour single player campaign I’d heard so much about. This is where the trouble started.
As good as the new interface is, there are one or two areas that it falls flat on its face. Next to the portraits of the mercenaries you’ve hired, there are not one, not two, but four different bars to manage. One for health, one for stamina, one for the noise you’re making at that moment, and one for your current visibility. These are all important, and other games have had similar mechanics. Only here, these bars are pushed to the top left corner of the screen, when really they should be mapped onto the floor around the character, making the character selection reticule more informative, and avoiding a disconnect between what’s happening on-screen at any one time, and what the bars are reporting.
Time and time again, my ingenious stealth masterplans were foiled by the guards somehow hearing me. Even when my mercenaries were crawling. In the dark. Looking for the answer (Hoobastank reference mid-review, don’t say we don’t break boundaries and pave the way for a brighter day in video games journalism here at PGN). Even, in fact, when judging by the ambient sound in the game, my mercs weren’t making noise that could possibly be heard by the guard. They still heard me didn’t they? But what did they do when they could hear me? Well, they ran towards me. Quite why they did so when they could easily have gotten back-up if they just turned a corner is beyond me. But in many ways their strategy was flawless – because for some reason my pistol-wielding mercenary is unable to shoot a target less than a meter away from them. Something of an Achilles heel, I think you’ll agree.
Back In Action marks a series shift from turn-based to real-time combat, in another effort to reel in newcomers. To appease the Jagged Alliance purists, and allow for more complex strategies a Frozen Synapse-esque (yes, I know Frozen Synapse wasn’t the first game to implement a system like this, but it was one of the most recent and successful, so hold back on your emails proclaiming my ignorance, for the love of God) planning mode is in effect here, pausing the action, highlighting enemies and civilians, and revealing enemy cones of vision. This allows for the development of intricate, synchronised strategies between your recruited mercs, and it is just as satisfying to see your plan working perfectly here as it is in Frozen Synapse and its contemporaries. This didn’t happen very often for me, but I’m horribly impatient when it comes to strategy games, having grown up with a RTS diet consisting of Command And Conquer sequels, with the occasional bout of Star Wars: Galactkic Battlegrounds (which was effectively Star Wars Age Of Empires).
The combat of Jagged Alliance: Back In Action is old school, clunky and unnatural. But given enough time to fully learn and appreciate the number-crunching and strategy involved in a flawless runthrough of a mission, you’ll find a lengthy and rewarding campaign where you can level up your characters, dress them up, see them die on the battlefield and then immediately shop around for their replacement. I don’t think the shift to real-time combat really works here, despite the best efforts of Coreplay. The series would be better off sticking to its turn-based roots, especially with the upcoming release of Firaxis’ X-COM: Enemy Unknown title. Hell, maybe we’ll see a resurgence in the genre. As it stands the efforts made to modernise the Jagged Alliance formula are just not successful for the newcomer, and might be alien enough to cause purists to stick with the Jagged Alliance 2 they have known for 13 years.
Graphics - Sharp and polished, but graphically, Jagged Alliance: Back In Action just doesn’t have any personality, and I need to be able to connect with my mercenaries in some way to make them worth keeping alive!
Sounds - Awful voice acting – sure it’s deliberate to evoke the Jagged Alliance 2 voice acting, but I would have appreciated a toggle for JA2-like voice acting and “real” voice acting.
Gameplay - Given the time to master the multitude of mechanics in Jagged Alliance: Back In Action you will be rewarded with a lengthy campaign and a wealth of customisation and progression options for your chosen mercenaries. But if you aren’t willing to put the time in, you won’t get very far.
Review copies were provided by gamersgate.com and kalypsomedia.com.