20 Feb

Despite its long-running series, Jagged Alliance: Back in Action is the first Jagged Alliance game we’ve had the pleasure of playing and reviewing. Back in Action is a complete full-scale remake of Jagged Alliance 2 which came out over 10 years ago.

We weren’t completely sure what to expect with Back in Action before installing it on our hard drives. Based on the screenshots and videos we found, our impressions could have gone in any number of directions. But for those like us who have never played a Jagged Alliance game, Back in Action feels like a cross-breed of Neverwinter Nights 2 with Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. If you’re a fan of either of those series, or better yet, if you’re a fan of both, we advise you to give Back in Action some serious consideration. Just be aware of the game’s rocky edges before making the plunge.

Classic RPG fans will feel right at home with the inventory system. Tactical shooter junkies will love the gear that's available.

Set in the fictitious country of Arulco, you are tasked with assembling a rag-tag team of mercenaries to liberate the entire country. How you do it, is completely up to you. You start with a small bank account and a black book of mercenaries. From there, you move from city to city and clear out all the baddies.

Gameplay is broken down into two basic areas: the tactical screen and the map screen. From the map screen you can access your email to recruit more mercenaries (if you can afford them). You can order new parts and ammo, or you can order entirely new weapons and gear to be delivered in a day’s time. This is also the area where you move your mercenary squads from one city to another to either liberate them from squatters, or to defend them from counterattacking troops.

The tactical screen is the 3D field where all the battles take place. Each city and tactical position on the map is unique with their own forests, deserts, urban landscapes, farms, bunkers, and more. From there, you equip your team with weapons, ammo, and gear, and move from point to point eliminating enemies as you go along.

As a strategy game, it is never wise to attack the enemy head on. Basic distraction and flanking maneuvers will solve most conflicts, but some firefights require a little more finesse, and that’s where Back in Action shines. By pausing the game, you can assign paths, stances, and targets for your mercenaries. You can even use it to synchronize sniper shots if you wanted to.

Keeping this bar clear can be a pain, but having a sniper set up on the far roof can help clear out anyone heading towards the door.

The game allows for C4 wall breaches, lockpicking, or if you’re a little more on the brute force side, you can pry most locked doors with a good old crowbar. Weapons wear down from usage, but can be repaired with field tool kits. And wounds can be healed by team medics with basic medical supplies.

Almost everything from killing enemies to patching up your buddies awards the mercenaries with experience points that can be used to better their stats. And all mercenaries, no matter how elite they are, have room for improvement. And as enemies drop different weapons and ammo, you’re constantly searching for better and better gear which adds a level of Diablo-like addiction while you manage your inventory and equip entire towns with assault rifles to defend themselves.

Though extremely addictive, Jagged Alliance suffers from some very serious flaws. For starters, the AI is rock stupid. Pathfinding can be barely functional at times, especially when two or more soldiers are trying to go through the same door at the same time. A Three Stooges effect takes place and both soldiers give up on their orders. And more often than not, even when on defensive mode, if someone is shooting at your soldiers they might be too dumb to return fire. This becomes a real issue as occasional hatchet or machete-wielding enemies will sometimes hack through your entire squad without anyone defending themselves.

The voice acting of all the soldiers we’ve tried were terrible. There is an option to turn their audio off, but then you can’t hear them call out items on the battlefield or let them tell you that they’re getting shot from an unknown source.

The fire fights can get intense and if you're not careful, your entire squad can be wiped out in the blink of an eye.

The camera system could use some major work as well as you try to place it in the correct position. And finally, there is no squad formation selection. As it is, your squad only moves in a tight, circular formation that ends up in more friendly-fire incidents than we’re comfortable with. A simple V-formation or line-formation option would have been greatly appreciated. The challenge level is high enough without needing to compete with your own team.

By the time we were finished playing the very-well constructed tutorial, we knew we were going to be hooked. If you can find a way to see through the mess, there is a real gem of a game here that both tactical shooter fans and RPG fans might grow to love. While it is far too unrefined to give an Elder-Geek “worth buying” rating, we strongly urge the curious to give it a try.

– – – – – –

Name: Jagged Alliance: Back in Action

Available on: PC

Developed by: bitComposer Gamers

Published by: Kalypso

Release date: February 9, 2012

EG Score: 3 out of 5 / “Worth Trying”