Jagged Alliance: Back in Action Review

Tactical Warfare

Despite the fact that the niche of such strategies was becoming more and more saturated with each passing year, the new Jagged Alliance, if done right, could have made a decent amount of money. The game was not exactly eagerly anticipated, but we still waited for it. The game jumped from developer to developer, changed release dates, disappeared from the scene and then reappeared, going through the classic stages of a “cult project with a troubled fate”.

I had hoped for the developers of Jagged Alliance: Back In Action and believed that the final product would at least deliver on the promise that the designers would not try to fix what wasn’t broken. A thousand years ago, in the distant and ancient times of the popularity of turn-based tactical and not-so-tactical strategies, JA set the trend: mercenaries invading the diamond-banana republic, creating a foreign revolution through the best laws of two-dimensional tactical combat, capturing cities from under the feet of the hysterical Deidranna, constantly dying and resurrecting by the spell of Load, sinking into the hearts and not letting go of loyal fans even after Silent Storm and 7.62.

Did I, and thousands of other gamers with a never-aging gaming soul, get what we wanted? No. But now I can tell you what it’s like there in Arulco.

How are things there?

The first ten minutes everything goes as planned. They show us the expected low-budget 3D video, introduce us to the well-known plot twist that has been around for decades, and hand us that very virtual laptop with “Bobby Ray’s Shop,” a mailbox, and a list of available mercenaries. Everything, just like in the good old days! Well, except that the character portraits have become somewhat ugly (or is it just my nostalgia speaking?), and there’s this broken Russian language, challenges through a “modem,” dossiers… Everything else is positive. It’s even hard to say if it’s our own fault for making it cheap again or if they’re intentionally joking for their own amusement.

Everything is so good and familiar that you start the first mission in high spirits. But upon arrival, everything starts to go downhill. First of all, I didn’t expect to see all the enemies marked on the map at once. Having all the enemies marked in a tactical turn-based game is such an obvious mistake that it shouldn’t have been left in the game. But here are my two brave mercenaries, without any reconnaissance, climbing up a tower, taking out the first airport guard, and then, without any reconnaissance again, sneaking through half the map with stealth tanks to reach a convenient position. From there, I successfully make five consecutive surprise attacks on the enemies’ backs because apparently they’re telepaths. Then why don’t I have any magicians throwing fireballs in my mercenaries’ list? I would love to see how they handle a revolution with colorful lightning bolts, seriously.

Reconnaissance in Jagged Alliance

Night Ambush

But our soldiers, as usual, eat and shoot with makeshift food and trophy bullets. Then they take the last guns from the corpses, distribute them to the local socially and politically active citizens, so that they can prove their firm position with action. Further involvement of the locals in the political process is lost, although maybe it is all too well hidden from me.

As I found out a little later, this easy mode is not only spread on the starting battlefield, but also on all other clashes. Like other innovations-flaws that came out of nowhere. The first and main one is the terrible-terrible unworked-unworked controls. Who would have thought that a keyboard and mouse could really be turned into a big and inconvenient gamepad, without interchangeable commands, tested by years of controllers and other joys of life of an adequate PC project. It took me about three hours to find a way to rotate the camera. Tip of the day: hold down “Alt”. There are no other ways. You can’t steer the camera by holding down the middle or any other mouse button, or press something somewhere on the keyboard to change the angle. Well, maybe there is a way, but these functions are too well hidden for me to reach them. Which is bad in any case.

Dogs on bicycles of war

And the mix of Real-Time and turn-based strategy has gone completely crazy. Before, when the grass was green, everything was simple – we had movement in the location and turn-based battles. Now we have a madhouse. Everything has mixed up in the mercenary house: shootouts turn into real-time, in pauses you can only give orders and, pressing pause, watch the circus and chaos happening on the battlefield.

Chaos, because it is completely unclear what will follow what and who will shoot when, and a circus, because clowns with guns are running across your screen. As Jagged Alliance: Back In Action has shown in practice, the best Western mercenaries aim for six seconds, they never shoot at moving targets, never shoot at close range, and also get stunned after any injury. Broken combat can easily mimic real entertainment while you perfectly prepare ambushes and flawlessly execute them. Neither your wards nor enemies have time to fully reveal their talents, killing/dying after a couple of successful long-range shots, but as soon as a more or less prolonged shootout unfolds or a clash occurs at close range, wonders begin.

Operatives on a Mission in JA: Back in Action

The main location of the opening part is the nearby diamond mine.

A successful hit on the enemy “resets” their intended move, and vice versa. As a result of a frustrating miss from five meters away, your mercenary can easily die because they won’t find the strength to gather themselves and take a second shot. Although it may seem like the situation is perfect for generously distributing lead to anyone who wants it.

Yes, remember one more thing: peasants with machetes are more dangerous than you think. Much more dangerous. Clearly more dangerous than guys with guns. Because they will rush towards you headlong, and be glad if you manage to hit them at least once (well, to slow them down and activate that damn move reset system), otherwise your fighter will be chopped down. Because shooting at close range is unfair, and mercenaries start using their rifle butts. If our soldiers are in good health, they might even survive this attack with a couple of hit points, if not, welcome back to the loading screen.

And also, if you run back and forth in real-time mode right in front of an enemy armed with something firearms, it’s very possible that they won’t shoot at all. Not at all. Well, until they find another target. We don’t shoot while running, which probably evens the playing field for two shooters-sprinters who collide with each other.

The only thing left for all of us is to turn the disability of the local real-time-turn-based system to our advantage. Especially since, until the cactus turns its thorns, who would have thought after all this, it can be eaten. As long as the operations go according to plan, we can forget about fancy, twisted, clownish shootouts, tolerate the fancy, twisted, clownish controls, and mediocre graphics don’t cause irritation.

Strategic Maneuvers in Jagged Alliance

Tactics and strategy in action.

Who here wanted to be better?

Great, now a few kind words. Gamers from the 90s and early 2000s are turning into complete schizophrenics. On one hand, we have the excellent new Deus Ex, and on the other hand, there’s Postal 3 and the new Jagged Alliance. While some developers are working and making good games, others simply have their audience that hasn’t completely dried up yet, so they can.

The other side, however, argues that developers are trying to adapt old machines to new standards. After all, who needs these turn-based two-dimensional relics, except us old folks, and how many of us old folks are still around in the gaming world? So, comrades optimists, if you are right, then this attempt to bring the old school onto new tracks is a complete failure. All the new elements are alien, the game relies on what remains of the old.

And like the skeptic in the joke, the third side sees the lights of the train – the controls were made with feet, as well as the combat system, which in any case does not allow one to fully enjoy Jagged Alliance: Back In Action, whether it’s just a careless attitude towards development or good intentions.

The return did not happen. The old games are better in almost every aspect, regardless of the degree of nostalgia.

Jagged Alliance: Back in Action
Simulation, Strategy
bitComposer Games, Kalypso Media Digital
Bigmoon Studios, Coreplay GmbH
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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