by Sergio Brinkhuis, reviewed on
Survival of the toughest
Reviving the Jagged Alliance franchise has proven to be no easy feat. Fortunately, its survival skills rival that of its star mercenaries, as the series proved to be tough to keep down. Today the aptly named Jagged Alliance: Back in Action arrives on Steam; a remake of the brilliant Jagged Alliance 2. It has tank-sized shoes to fill and will be scrutinized by press and longtime fans alike. Everyone is looking for an answer to the question: “Are we looking at army boots or sneakers?”
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action takes the player to Arulco, a small, unremarkable tropical island ruled with an iron fist by a coldhearted queen. It is a miserable place but that was not always the case. Before queen Deidranna wrested the power from her husband Enrico, the island had a thriving economy and its people lived their lives were in merriment and joy. Thus far, local rebels have been ineffectual against Deidranna's well provisioned military forces and Enrico is looking to you to lend them a helping hand. Things are looking up for Arulco.
A game of throne
In Jagged Alliance, you are tasked to dethrone Deidranna by any means necessary. Your first order of business is to recruit a team of mercenaries and take over the local airfield to gain access to a supply line that will support a larger military campaign. The campaign map shows you the locations of towns and other points of interest. You won’t visit any of these as tourists so information about the scenery is of little use. No, what you’re looking for are places that will give you a strategic advantage, usually in the form of additional income or likely places to recruit people to your cause. The funds initially provided by Enrico will quickly run out so getting a steady, sizeable supply of cash is vital to your success.
Your starting mercenaries are well equipped to deal with militia but will have to gain experience and better equipment before they can handle Deidranna’s elite troops. As you fight your way through the weakly defended locations closest to the airfield, you will start meeting people willing to trade with you, ‘relieving you’ of the spoils of war and providing you with armor, weapons and munitions. You can also shop for high grade military gear online which will be delivered at Drassen Airport and thus will need to be picked up by your team before it can be used. Other NPCs will ask your help, triggering quests that can lead to a variety of rewards, ranging from information to the location of a recruitable NPC.
When your mercenaries engage the queen’s army, the game zooms in on the combat location to give you direct control over your mercenaries. Combat plays out in real-time but can be paused by activating the game’s ‘Plan and Go’ mode at any time. In this mode, you can plan out the actions of your mercenaries in detail, assigning orders such as attacking an enemy, tending to wounded mercs or simply running away to take cover. It’s possible to queue multiple orders and even link the actions of multiple mercenaries so that they are carried out simultaneously.
To attack, mercenaries need an unobstructed view of the enemy and you can take aim at individual body parts for maximum effect. Being a strategy/role-playing hybrid, weapons come with their own stats such as damage, range and rate of fire. Many rifles have a burst mode that decreases their effective range but makes them far more deadly at short range. Even in burst mode, a rifle is a lousy weapon when a foe is standing right in front of you so either you stop enemies before they are getting to close, or you switch to a melee weapon such as a combat knife or a hatchet.
Once a location us under your control you can trade with locals and talk to NPCs. You can also recruit militia forces and equip them with weapons and armor to better withstand the queen’s forces should they come back.
Developer Coreplay set out to bring Jagged Alliance into the modern age and started by giving it capable 3D engine. The graphics, though updated, won’t blow anyone away but the ability to twist, turn and zoom the camera is a welcome feature. Arulco looks more alive and more organic than ever before, featuring multi-story buildings, underground passages, factories and shacks that have all been designed with great care, even if the character artwork leaves something to be desired. Every town has its own unique layout, objects and buildings and they fit the location on the map brilliantly. Grumm, for instance, really looks like a harbor town with huge warehouses and steel mountains made up of stacked containers that are waiting to be transported. As a vital part of the country’s infrastructure, Grumm is protected by a strong garrison that poses a serious challenge for your mercenaries.
Plan and Go is a good alternative to turn-based combat, rich map design.
Oversimplified economic system and removal of fog of war keep the score lower than it needed to be.