- Category: Reviews
- Written by Steven Carter
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In February of this year, Coreplay (developer) plus bitComposer Entertainment and the Kalypso Media Group (publishers) teamed up to release Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, which was a remake of 1999's Jagged Alliance 2. Back in Action maintained the tactical strategy roots of its predecessor, and it added in a brand new 3D engine, but it also removed some important things -- like turn-based combat and any semblance of personality from the mercenaries involved -- to leave it as a playable but not very exciting entry in the Jagged Alliance franchise.
Now Coreplay, bitComposer and Kalypso are back with Jagged Alliance: Crossfire, a stand-alone expansion pack for Back in Action. Crossfire adds in a new campaign, a new terrain type, new enemies, new mercenaries, and more, but it leaves the game engine intact (it includes the 1.13 patch for Back in Action, but I didn't notice any other changes), and so all of the problems with Back in Action are still in evidence, making Crossfire an iffy title as well.
The campaign in Crossfire takes place in the fictional country of Khanpaa, where a zealot named Jurjen Bolazwen has started a holy war to capture the country's "temple mountain" -- which also just happens to be a site containing the rare resource Coltan. Since it's a holy war in the "armpit of the world," NATO declines to intervene, which is how you and the mercenaries from A.I.M. get involved.
Your employer for the campaign pays you $30,000 to get started (down from $40,000 in Back in Action), and you must use that money to hire some mercenaries so you can capture the country's harbor and use it as your base of operations. The game now includes 50 mercenaries to choose from (up from 40 in Back in Action). The new mercenaries are from M.E.R.C., which might mean something to you if you played Jagged Alliance 2 and not much otherwise, but they're mostly inexpensive with low-rated skills, and so they can be avoided. To make up for the new cheap mercenaries, most of the inexpensive A.I.M. mercenaries have been bumped up in price, making the game tougher to get started.
The country of Khanpaa is much smaller than the island of Arulco (with 14 locations versus 50), and so the campaign in Crossfire only takes about half as long as the campaign in Back in Action. This is basically bad, as you're not given enough time or money to hire and build up your squad of mercenaries. I captured half the map with only three mercenaries, and I never did get around to hiring a sixth one to fill out my main squad. Only one of my mercenaries made it to level 10 (the maximum level in the game), and that only happened because I went out of my way to get him experience.
Most of the time in the campaign is spent capturing locations. These range from the harbor at the start of the game to towns, military complexes, a power station, and more. There are also several quests to complete, including some side quests that can earn you new (but generally not very useful) mercenaries. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of busywork. Your enemies keep sending out attack squads to take back the locations that you've captured, and these attack squads are way more difficult than anything else in the game. They have higher health, armor, and accuracy than your mercenaries, and most can only be damaged by a shot to the head. That makes defeating them a little tedious, as they can wipe out even competently prepared ambushes, and it means you're going to have to endure a lot of saving and loading to get through them.
The strange thing about the campaign is that it's pretty minimal outside of combat. There are almost no locked doors to pick open or mines to defuse, and the dozen or so quests consist of maybe ten sentences total of information and no voice acting. That means there was almost no reason at all to create a short campaign, as Coreplay mostly only had to design maps for it, and how long could it take to create a more sizeable world? Apparently, too long. That being said, the maps in the campaign look nice, and they feature new terrain types, including snowy mountains and ancient temples.
As I mentioned before, Crossfire didn't change anything in the game engine, but it does include all of additions from Back in Action's 1.13 patch. That means if you're like me, and you played Back in Action before the patch came out, then Crossfire will have some new improvements. These improvements include sector inventories (which mean you don't have to run around from container to container to pick things up after capturing a map); difficulty levels, including "hard" (where enemies have more health and you have less money) and "tactical mode" (where enemies only show up when you can see or hear them); free stamina on captured maps (so it's easier to run around and talk to people); and shopkeepers who update their stock and increase their money over time (making it easier to go shopping).
Coreplay also made sort of a bizarre change. For some reason tanks can now only be destroyed by rockets and not with grenades like before. When I reached the lone tank in the campaign on Day 6, I tried using grenades on it to no avail, and then I ferried over a grenade launcher (since I had one in storage), and it didn't make a dent, either. Finally I ordered a LAW (light anti-tank weapon) from the game's online store (which requires two days for shipping), and by the time I finally took out the tank it was Day 12 and I was irritated.
More strangely, perhaps, is that Coreplay didn't bother fixing any of the obvious problems from Back in Action. The camera system is still awkward, hotkeys still can't be re-mapped, you still can't name your saved games, and so forth. Crossfire adds in some of its own issues as well, as one of its quests is broken, half of its Steam achievements can't be completed, and the end boss is so anonymous that I defeated him without even realizing he was attacking me (I only noticed when the quest to defeat him updated).
I found Jagged Alliance: Back in Action to be a little bit disappointing back when I reviewed it earlier this year, and Crossfire is even more disappointing still. Everything about the new expansion pack screams "low rent." The campaign is short and basic, the additions to the engine are few and far between, and the cut scenes and voice acting are almost nonexistent. There isn't much reason to try Crossfire when you could just go back and play Back in Action again -- or even go way back and give the earlier and better-constructed titles in the franchise another go-around. Crossfire is an expansion pack to skip.