Jagged Alliance: Back in Action Review

15 Mar 2012

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Kalypso Media
Developer:Coreplay
Release Date:2012-02-09
Genre:
  • Strategy,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person,Isometric
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action is the sixth entry in the Jagged Alliance franchise -- at least, sort of.  It's actually a remake of Jagged Alliance 2 (which was released back in 1999), where the broad strokes of the game have been kept but many of the details have changed.  I have no idea why a developer would want to remake an old Jagged Alliance game rather than create a new one, but there you go.  It's been eight years since the last Jagged Alliance game hit store shelves (Wildfire in 2004), so perhaps publisher Kalypso Media and developer bitComposer are banking on most people not noticing the difference.  Hey, if it works for movies, why not games?

Just like in Jagged Alliance 2, Back in Action takes place on the island of Arulco.  As the game opens up, you learn that a woman named Deidranna killed her father the king of Arulco and then framed her husband Enrico for the murder, and is now running the island as a despot queen, wringing as much money out of it as possible.  After laying low for ten years, Enrico has finally decided that enough is enough, and he pays you $40,000 so you can hire some mercenaries from A.I.M. (the Association of International Mercenaries), make contact with the rebels on Arulco, and knock Deidranna out of power.

To start out in the game, you have to take your $40,000 and hire one or more mercenaries so you can capture the airport on Arulco, which will then function as your base of operations and allow you to hire additional mercenaries and purchase equipment from an online store.  The battle at the airport is basically a tutorial, with lots of solo enemies just waiting for you to kill them, but then the missions ramp up in difficulty, culminating with confronting Deidranna at her palace.

The mercenaries in the game are much more anonymous than they used to be.  They have a purchase price (ranging from $10,000 to $80,000), traits (including "nudist" and "loner"), and stats (which you can build up as your mercenaries gain levels), but that's about it.  After playing through the campaign, only once did I discover two mercenaries who wouldn't work together, and they never refused to follow orders, or ever started a conversation.  The only thing that differentiates them is what they say when they spot an enemy, or take damage, or run out of stamina.  In other words, Kalypso pretty much wiped away all of the personality of the mercenaries and made them into the simple automatons you find in games like Silent Storm and X-Com: UFO Defense.  But at least most if not all of the A.I.M. mercenaries are back from Jagged Alliance 2.

The map of Arulco is highlighted by several locations, including towns, diamond mines, road blocks, a hospital, and more.  Each time you capture a location (by defeating all of the enemy soldiers there), you gain some sort of bonus, usually in the form of daily income.  With a location in your hands, you're also allowed to interact with the locals there, and some will give you quests, or sell you items, or offer to join you as new mercenaries (although in general, they're not as good as your purchased mercenaries).  Deidranna will sometimes send out attack squads to recapture locations, but you can arm the locals to form a militia, and they'll try to fend off the attacks.  Militia members aren't allowed to leave their location, and they're pretty bad in combat, but they'll usually hold off Deidranna's goons long enough so you can get there with one of your squads and save the day.

Combat in the game is conducted in real time -- which is at odds with the earlier Jagged Alliance games, which were all turn-based -- but you're allowed to pause the game at any time and issue orders, and even coordinate actions (such as ordering all of your mercenaries to open fire at the same moment), so it's not so bad.   Soldiers can crouch or lie prone, and the closer to the ground they are, the slower they move but the quieter they are and the better they aim.  You can also place your mercenaries into "guard" mode, which causes them to automatically shoot at any target within range, or you can take total control of them and direct where they move and shoot.  Along with a variety of guns, there are also grenades and rocket launchers and land mines and melee weapons available, so you're given all sorts of options for how to defeat your enemies.