Jagged Alliance: Back in Action
When it comes to the complex, tactical games of yesteryear, many have either evolved or been remade into simpler versions of themselves. Games such as Rainbow Six and Fallout once demanded greater tactical resolve. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action is the sequel that does not break down in the face of scripted set pieces, but rather holds onto its desire to be a complex, tactical game. The problems that litter the game are miniscule in size, maximum in number. It’s an ambitious project, but so unrefined that it becomes difficult to believe there was ever a diamond amongst so much rough.
Like previous Jagged Alliance games, the goal is to infiltrate and topple the current dictatorial regime of a nondescript Caribbean-esque island. Various mercenaries can be hired and munitions acquired to perform that task. War isn’t cheap. Talent costs money and you’ll need to earn it if you expect to build a team with the proper skills to lay waste to your enemies and defend the territory you’ve gained.
It all begins with a simple, overworld map that shows the layout of the island. It’s there that you direct the movement of your mercenaries, as well as access your laptop to manage hiring, firing and the ordering of weapons. Shuffling your mercs around the map will uncover enemy locations. This map acts as a planning phase, both to set up your offense and your defense. Enemy patrols are infinitely spawned, and it’s necessary to maneuver your mercenaries to defend against them while you plan out your attacks.
When defending the objective is to fight off a small, oncoming patrol. On offense, the tactics put you in charge of scouring the map in search of enemies. Every objective is going to be heavily garrisoned, and it takes both brain and brawn to out maneuver them all. On one hand there are checkpoints in which control can be taken, but then on the other hand victory is only granted when there are no enemies left on the map.
Unlike previous Jagged Alliance games, this one controls in real time. In conjunction with that, there is also the ability to pause the game and assign movement and attack orders to individual mercs, as well as align their orders with each other. That feature helps greatly due to the fact that fractions of seconds matter on the battlefield. It also makes planning any attack, especially one that co-ordinates several mercs, a lot cleaner and more efficient. There’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained when a well executed plan goes off smoothly.
It’s however, in this combat phase, that the flaws begin to show up and detract from the experience. For instance, your mercenaries don’t seem to want to live. There is no desire to survive the battle that fuels their actions, and as such they take significant amounts of time to perform. The simple act of aiming and shooting takes between one to two seconds per shot. It doesn’t sound bad at first, if not for further errors that compound it and make it greater. A second little flaw is that your mercs cannot perform point blank shots. They just can’t. While standing in front of their target, they will merely exclaim that they have no shot, and then attempt to smack with the butt of their gun.
This leads to a lot of cheap deaths. Part of it is due to the fact that up close it only takes two or three hits from their blade to kill. Another part is that it can take a merc up to two seconds to fire their weapon. Within those two seconds an enemy with a knife can run across a room and then suddenly the merc cannot take a shot.
Mercenaries can carry several weapons, including melee, but mysteriously when a gun is re-equipped, the ammunition that was once inside is gone. The gun needs to be reloaded again. Also, the attachments have been removed. Try for a stealthy kill and get spotted, and not only will the weapons have to be swapped, but another couple seconds get added on for reloading time. Get shot while reloading and the reload will be interrupted, no matter how little damage is done. There is no way to exchange items between teammates on the overworld map. Explanations are vague as to where purchased items arrive. Enemy patrols become more of an annoyance than a challenge.
This is all padded by bad, boring AI. When enemies attack the only functions they know are how to run directly forward, or to sit still. Any appearances of teamwork are most likely just enemies happening to be traveling in the same direction. At times they seem too smart for their own good, detecting near silent footsteps with accurate precision. At other times they spin around in complete circles, even if they’re standing in the corner of a room. Perhaps they expect their opponents to bleed in through the walls.
The Jagged Alliance series has a lot of potential to be excellent, it just requires a lot of attention to the little details to construct a product that acquires that perfection. Back in Action isn’t quite that product, though after a few patches it’ll likely be heading in the right direction.