It has been over a decade since players have last visited the island of Arulco in Jagged Alliance 2, in which they were tasked with overthrowing a corrupt monarch from rule with the help of armed and willing mercenaries. Kalypso Media and bitComposer Games have taken on their own mission of remaking the original by introducing a 3D graphics engine along with removing its series tradition of turn-based gameplay in favor of the ‘Plan & Go’ waypoint system. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action is partly a modernization of the classic series, while also keeping some of the ‘90s era charm with such details as the dial-up connection sound when phoning mercenaries or even permanent death of characters on the battlefield.
It would be a mistake to think of Jagged Alliance: Back in Action as simply a high-definition remake of the original. The addition of the 3D engine alone adds a new perspective for fans. The option of being able to rotate the camera allows for a complete view of the battlefield. This addition works hand in hand with the new ‘Plan & Go’ system that partly returns to the series turn-based gameplay experience. However, the publishers described the change to a real-time setup as modernizing the series for a new generation of games. Players can instantly command their mercenaries or switch to the ‘Plan & Go’ system by hitting the space bar. This system pauses the games and allows players to set multiple waypoints for each member of their team. The waypoints can be as simple as sending the team to a location or complex ones that target specific points of an enemy’s body. It is up to players if they would rather issue commands in real-time or plan their every move before proceeding into enemy territory.
The basic premise of Jagged Alliance: Back in Action has players taking back key locations on the island of Arulco to re-claim it from a corrupt monarch. By using the in-game laptop, players can hire mercenaries from a roster of 40, buy weapons and equipment, read emails, and issue teams to specific locations on the map. Each of the 40 mercenaries can be hired for a certain amount of money based on their skills and starting equipment. If mercenaries are wounded in battle, they can be healed with the use of medical kits from another team member. However, mercenaries that die on the battlefield will be gone from the laptop roster. Once all of the 40 mercenaries die within battle, it will be game over for players.
After spending time setting up various waypoints and selecting the best equipment, the gameplay was quite reminiscent of the first games in the Rainbow Six series. It was an absolute delight to find a current game that offered the freedom for planning out every aspect of a mission. The strategy of deciding to conquer a city versus a mine for added profit offers further flexibility to gameplay. In the quest to retake the island of Arulco, players must pay attention to the game’s night and day cycle, time required for team movement, and also the ability for enemies to recapture locations on the map.
With all these various factors that affect gameplay, it was quite jarring to discover the lack of any tutorials in the development build. After a short cinematic that sets up the premise, players are thrown onto the battlefield without any sort of guide. Since much of the game’s control is based around the laptop, it was a task alone in learning how to move mercenaries on the map and trade items between team members. Veterans of the Jagged Alliance series will most likely have no problem in adapting to the game’s various changes. If the remake is being modernized for a new generation of games, then the lack of tutorials can’t be overlooked in the process. During actual gameplay in missions, some issues arose with difficulty in selecting targets and issuing commands for squad members. Some of these difficulties lead to cheap deaths at the hands of enemy soldiers. We have been told that this will be fixed in the final build of the game when it's released later this year.
Despite these minor issues, Jagged Alliance: Back in Action provides an addictive and tactical gameplay experience that is further expanded upon in each mission. Between the tactical planning of missions to the managing of team members, it was hard to refuse taking up arms in the fight for the island of Arulco. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action should be on the wish list of every gamer looking to add some much needed strategy and tactical warfare into their new year routine.
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action will be available exclusively for Windows PC in February.
Kalypso Media provided airfare and hotel accommodations for the press event that included Jagged Alliance: Back in Action and The Dark Eye: Demonicon.
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