by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
A Jagged Pulse
Kickstarters that aim to revive a long-dormant franchise have a habit of flaring up hope. In many cases, hopes are rewarded. Wasteland 2 was great, Divinity: Original Sin fantastic and while Shadowrun Returns might have been a bit light for all their funding, it was certainly great to be back in the Shadowrun universe.
All of these games were met with ever growing excitement before their release, but Jagged Alliance: Flashback only met with greater scorn. Love for Jagged Alliance runs deep and the Early Access releases did not impress. A hopeful backer, my heart sank seeing the state of the game when a big update mere days before release seemed to introduce more bugs than it fixed. Thankfully, two more updates brought the game back from its impending ruin, stabilizing the game to the point of being a fairly decent turn-based experience. Did they also magically turn the game into Jagged Alliance? No, but there's a pulse.
In Jagged Alliance, you play the good guys. You are in charge of a bunch of mercenaries tasked to overthrow the evil dictator of some little known banana republic at the outskirts of civilization. The local population, impoverished and fatigued, are no match for the soldiers that police the republic with an iron fist. You're their only hope. If that feels very A-team, then your brain is on the right track.
Taking over sectors, locals will swing their support in your direction to aid the rebellion that you are fighting for them. Conquered mines and farms produce income that can be put towards hiring skilled mercenaries and buy better weapons and equipment. Important sectors can be fortified by training militia that will go head to head with enemy troops looking to take back control.
Using weapons, repair toolboxes or health kits will increase the skills of your mercenaries and occasionally level them up, adding points to their base stats for intelligence, physique and coordination. Experience can also be gained by completing quests, and some of the locals will also reward you with new items or a pledge of support.
Reading the above, you would think that all the ingredients to make a Jagged Alliance game are there. This is true in the same way that you can make an omelette with just eggs and butter. It's wholesome, it stills your hunger and you may even enjoy a bite or two. A tasty omelette, however, would have cheese, ham and maybe some veggies. That omelette you would come back for. Jagged Alliance: Flashback, unfortunately, is the eggs and butter omelette.
Fans of the series will notice the ham and cheese is missing right from the get-go. The cartoony graphics don't hamper gameplay but they don't exactly set the right vibe of 'cheesy realism'. Ordering your starter merc around the helicopter crash site that is the starting sector, all hope for decent voice acting flies out the window as he starts acknowledging your requests with shouty, short replies. When a specific reply is unavailable, well, then the game simply serves you the reply with a different voice entirely. Your "first contact" with a talkative local doesn't instil much of a sense of role-playing either, showing uninspired dialogue that barely exceeds placeholder quality. An overuse of the rain mechanism that turns everything grey and unattractive dispels the idea that you are on a tropical island, though one could argue that it feeds into its destitute state.
Entertaining combat saves the day.
Not stable, lacks depth and personality.