by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
While the gaming industry at large seems to have dismissed the Turn-Based strategy genre as a thing of the past, a handful of companies are attempting to bring the 'oomph' back to what once was one of the most popular types of games around. Among those are Kalypso and bitComposer who are working on Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, a proper remake of Jagged Alliance 2.
In Jagged Alliance, you are asked to dethrone the queen of Arulco, an evil *beep* who wrested control from the rightful ruler of the small island state and is now oppressing its inhabitants. With only some startup money and a laptop in hand, the player sets out to put together a group of mercenaries strong enough to oppose the queen, one turn at a time.
True to the Formula
Developer bitComposer has put a lot of effort into staying close to the original Jagged Alliance formula. You still recruit your squad the same way, they still have action points to spend, and there are a lot of familiar faces to those who have played the original. The voice work will be completely redone and while that obvious means some differences, bitComposer is working hard to stay true to the original voices and dialogue.
The most welcome change to the series is that it is finally going 3D. The previous instalments have both been in 2D and even if Jagged 2 is still very playable today, the game engine is showing its age. A slew of new vehicles, buildings and other objects have been added to bring more variety to the game, each modelled in crisp looking textures that may not rival Modern Warfare, but certainly do the trick of reeling you into the game. In addition to improving the graphics, the new engine also allows for a far more flexible camera. Players can rotate the screen, zoom in on the action or out to get a more strategic overview of the battlefield. One great advantage of zooming in is that you will be better able to gauge whether your mercenaries are safe in cover at the end of their turn, or if they will have line-of-sight when they move to a new location.
Seeing the new “play and go” gameplay in action is a little disconcerting at first but it may do wonders towards opening the game up to a wider audience and make the genre hip again. Don’t get me wrong, Back in Action is still a turn-based game, but it hugs very closely to being real-time. This is most apparent when moving around on the map: you give orders to your mercs and set things in motion. The enemy moves at the same time and when the two parties meet, things really explode. Multiple characters (yours and the opposition's) react at the same time, making conflict feel more dynamic than it would if the game had been purely turn-based. You’ll still be able to interrupt and make changes though.
As more things are happening simultaneously, it is fortunate that you can queue up multiple orders so that mercs that you are not focusing on will still know what to do while you are giving more detailed commands to others. You can even modify your merc’s responses to new situations. For instance, you can set your merc to drop to his knees when under fire, or take a shot at the first enemy he spots. Better yet, you can link one merc’s actions to another. Remember how one merc firing a shot would alert each and every enemy soldier in hearing range, spoiling the plans for a surprise attack by the others? This is where linking comes in handy. By linking actions you could define which actions should take place at the same time, allowing your little surprise to have much greater effect.
Sceptical? Don't be
I am sure that many fans were hoping for a new game in the series, but personally I’m glad we’re getting a remake first. It means bringing the game up to date with the latest technologies while keeping much of the original gameplay and storyline intact. In the case of Jagged Alliance, ‘more of the same’ is hardly a bad thing and this remake gives the developers a chance to get their feet wet in the game ‘universe’ that we have come to love so much.
Like many fans that have been waiting for the franchise to be revived, I have seen numerous attempts to do so fail each and every time. I was wary about yet another attempt but I’m glad to finally be able to say: “Yes, it’s really going to happen this time”.