by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
The hits (cntd)
The change from turn-based to real-time, pausable combat proves not to be as drastic a game changer as was feared. I would still prefer the game to be turn-based as I loved spending time micromanaging my mercs’ action points, but the Plan and Go system works quite well. It took an hour or two for the ‘Pause and Go’ system to lose its somewhat unnatural feeling but then I started to enjoy pausing the game to set targets and queue actions. Another advantage of Plan and Go is the line-of sight overlay which shows streaks of green indicating which areas are visible to your mercenaries, allowing you to quickly gauge the optimum position for your mercenaries.
Wounded mercenaries can be healed in the field, removing weeks of waiting before wounded mercenaries can go back into the field. Similarly, broken weapons can be repaired on the spot so you no longer have to juggle your squad member’s inventories and hire a dedicated repair guy just to keep your gear in top condition. In all honesty, not everyone will see this as positives as it does remove a layer of depth from the Jagged Alliance concept.
A definite plus, however, is that the map is no longer divided into strict, rectangle shaped sectors and that there are gaps in the area of control that locations give you. It’s entirely possible for your squads to roam around the without having to engage the enemy, allowing you to pick targets anywhere on the map with the only restriction to do so being the size and level of the queen’s forces on site.
Other changes are a little more difficult to appreciate, or even understand. Perhaps the most disappointing change is the removal of a major economic aspect, namely the recurring fees of your mercenaries. Hiring mercenaries for a fixed fee to employ them for the entire game is an unlikely mechanic as it is doubtful that any mercenary will accept a contract under those terms, no matter what the cause. This part of the game was so integral to the originals that it is sorely missed in Back in Action.
Another change I cannot fathom is that you are able to see all enemy soldiers on a map without requiring them to be in the line of sight of your mercenaries. It is entirely possible that this was done in support of the 'Plan and Go' system but it has a tremendous impact on the game's ability to thrill and surprise. In the same vein, it effectively nullifies nighttime combat as a game mechanic and instantly renders hearing aids, night vision goggles and night scopes useless. It also highlights the somewhat weak AI as you can see exactly what they are doing. Droves of enemies carrying knives, axes and light guns will run straight at your mercs while you have them positioned so far away that the enemy can never hope to reach them alive. Watching the ensuing turkey shoot, it is difficult not to wonder why the enemy soldiers aren't staying out of sight until your mercs get closer. Even worse, enemy soldiers will often stand idle while only meters away their peers are being shot to hell by mercenaries that are out of sight and hearing range.
Inventory mechanics such as the ability to craft items and choose between armor piercing and flesh shredding ammo types have been removed which I’m sure not everybody will appreciate. On the positive side, unequipping weapons now automatically unloads ammo and rifle scopes are tied to a person rather than a gun, making a switch between weapons a little less work.
The roleplaying aspects feel a little downplayed. Inexperienced mercenaries with the right equipment are as effective in combat as their experienced brethren, making the experienced ones only stand out in areas such as healing, lock picking and repairs. Perhaps because of this, I never quite felt the same connection to, or placed the same value on my mercs as I did in the original games. It is a little easier to keep track of quests but, like in the original, I found myself mostly skipping these for lack of reward.
The original Jagged Alliance games have entrenched themselves deeply into many a gamer’s heart, including mine. For some, the changes will be difficult to swallow. However, one also has to appreciate the fact that a modern-day Sir-Tech-developed Jagged Alliance may well have looked very similar to the game Kalypso has on offer today. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action has the Jagged DNA, even if some of its changes make it seem otherwise. Meeting Jagged Alliance: Back in Action head on and with an open mind will show you a tremendously enjoyable strategy game; one that will keep you entertained for weeks on end. So, while I cannot answer my opening question with “army boots”, I can wholeheartedly say that the game wears a pair of sturdy hiking boots that many will appreciate.
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.