The RPS Verdict – Jagged Alliance: Back In Action

By RPS on February 27th, 2012 at 5:59 pm.

You can almost see a barenaked lady-human

Alec and Adam lurked on opposite sides of the supermarket car park, lying on their bellies, waiting, watching. Each knew the other was out there somewhere – but where? Slowly, they crawled forwards, occasionally hiding behind a trolley rack or starting as an orange plastic bag fluttered past in the gentle evening breeze. Suddenly, Alec was caught in the light of a cash machine, and Adam wasted no time in seizing the opportunity. He reached to his side, and brought up his specially-silenced keyboard. ‘Meer!’ he shouted. ‘You can’t run any longer. It’s too late for you now. It’s time. Time to talk about what we each made of Jagged Alliance: Back In Action.‘ Alec froze, hesistated. He thought about making a break for the pool of darkness behind the wheelie bins, but finally he accepted that he could be fugitive no longer. ‘Alright, Smith, you’ve got a deal! But keep those hands where I can see them.’

Alec: Right, let’s see if I can remember anything about Jagged Alliance: Back in Action. I played loads of it, what, three weeks ago? I’ve had at least nine sleeps since then, so I can’t possibly be expected to recall much about it. Have you been back to it since your WIT?

Adam: Not once. Although there are many things fresh in my mind, or at least close to fresh. The first thing is that in so many ways I wish it hadn’t been called Jagged Alliance, even though it had so much of Jagged Alliance about it. I think the name hurt it more than it helped, although the financials may tell a different story.

Alec: Yes, it could have been a relatively well-received strategy game in its own right under its own name. It’s highly peculiar that it slavishly followed so much of JA2 – the characters, the plot – but threw out the stuff that actually made it JA2. Any sense of what you might have made of it if it had turned up out of the blue and called Men With Guns In A Place or something?

Adam: I think I would have appreciated the fact that I was playing a squad-based tactical combat game with a great deal of depth. There are problems but the actual shooty stuff works really well at times. The biggest difference, in terms of quality, isn’t actually in the combat. It does that its own way and the ‘plan & go’ system is pretty clever, but the campaign felt like a requirement based on the heritage rather than something that had the same amount of attention lavished on it as the gunplay. Actually, ‘lavished’ may be too strong a word. But a lot of thought has gone into making the tactical side of things interesting and fairly unique, whereas the campaign seems stripped back to me, an awkward necessity rather than an involved sort of overgame.

Alec: yes, particularly in the overmap, which ended up being little more than, well, a map. To be honest, I’m only passingly familiar with the original JAs so I approached this relatively fresh – which meant the major bugbear was the AI for me. So it felt like a nut I couldn’t quite crack. I’d get close to a delicious kernel of strategy cleverness, then it would all collapse into chaos and men vibrating against each other.

Adam: The AI is horrible. I said it somewhere, I think when playing the beta, but it may well be no worse than in JA2, but that game used smoke and mirrors to hide deficiencies. Silly soldiers don’t seem silly if you can’t see what they’re doing until they are shooting you. Being shot at isn’t silly, it’s dangerous.

Alec: turn-based can forgive a lot. It’s when a load of things happen simultaneously that you risk things turning into a chilling pantomime of stupidity if the AI’s not right.

Adam: I have been back to JA2 again since the WIT and what surprises me is that there is so much that could be done to the game, hopefully to improve it, without losing the core. I would have liked to see better destructible scenery. Silent Storm did it so well whereas JABIA doesn’t do much with it at all.

Alec: yes, just the silly c4 charge points. Speaking, again, as someone not too versed in JA2, I’d have liked to see the friendly militia system fleshed out a whole lot more. You can give some guns and clothes to some random guys in territories you’ve seized, then they’re ineptly defend in the event of enemy invasion, but that’s about it – so you end up ushering your own squad all over the place annoyingly. Diverting funds and resources to help protect areas would have made it a lot less back and forthy, as well as potentially adding more meat to the overmap.

Adam: Yeah, there could be a lot more done with the RPG and strategy aspects on that front. One of the neat things in JA2 was having a trainer character and leaving them to buff up the militia. Not only making them stronger over time but also becoming a kind of leader for that group. I never felt particularly attached to the mercs, in terms of their individual skills and some of that goes back to those c4 spots as well. The maps feel more like puzzles – a merc of this type would be useful for this part, this sort of equipment would help to unlock this room and so forth. Despite all the dialogue, they felt more like tools than people. And the militia felt more like numbers.

Alec: yeah, I didn’t have any sense of my guys’ personalities. Just ‘The One Who’s A Bit Better At Shooting’, ‘The One Who’s A Bit Better At Healing’ and so forth. But then it does have assorted fun customisation like hats and glasses, so you can at least design them to suit your own weird urges. I enjoyed that there was one guy who was crap at any kind of range unless you’d stuck a pair of glasses on him.

Adam: Best part of the new graphics all that customisation. I like the enemies too. Madman with an axe and no shirt is way more entertaining than hundreds of men in the same shirt, which is what the previous games had.

Alec: oh God, the axe guys. There was a mad and terrible desperation when one of them turns up. You’ve got all these carefully positioned mercs sniping from afar, but they can’t stand up and turn around quickly enough to stop a naked madman from sticking an axe into their kidney. they’d make for pretty dramatic fights if it wasn’t for the dimwit AI.

Adam: Yeah, and it turns out an axe is a lot deadlier than a whole clip of pistol rounds. They just keep coming. Maybe they should make a tactical horror game with the same engine. Haunted houses full of maniacs, chainsaws, the works.

Alec: that isn’t a bad idea at all. And scavenging found items to make weapons with…

Adam: Not knowing what each mission contained until you got further into it – run of the mill psychopaths, evil cults and their supernatural minions…lots of fun. But back to JABIA – I think the AI contributes to that puzzle game feeling. It becomes a case of playing to the weaknesses of the enemy, knowing how far you can lure them, knowing how far away to move so that they become idle again.

Alec: yes, that thing where you work out how to game the game, like in a shooter when a boss gets stuck on a rock, so you can just pick him off. Is it cheating? Or is it simply mastering the game?

Adam: To me, it’s mastering the game. Finding ways in which it is ‘broken’ without completely breaking the experience. JABIA encourages it, I think, by showing the entire layout as soon as a mission starts. It’s almost impossible not to look at that map and start planning a route through, using all those tricks to facilitate it. Although the quicksave before combat does feel like cheating. Silly, silly decision. It invites you to erase every mistake.

Alec: Yes, there were certainly parts of the map that I decided to walk around and come back to later because I could see what/who was there. As opposed to blundering into somewhere and dealing with the consequences. And yes also on the autosave. I never lost a merc because of it, but really I should have had to accept a loss and the financial consequences of it.
I suppose the question is whether this means this is it for Jagged Alliance. If this doesn’t sell, will anyone ever take a punt on the license again? Much may depend on how well the XCOM remake does.

Adam: I think so – the feel of the original is much closer to XCOM than it is to JABIA. If that turns out well, maybe there will be a demand for a non-alien version. Jagged Alliance seems the obvious license. I think JABIA will always go down as a strange offshoot rather than a continuation.

Alec: The other thing is that XCOM is apparently very mod friendly. So a JA mod would be an obvious move. Plus nu-XCOM has much more in the way of soldier classes and abilities, which might suit JA in a way.

Adam: And you get to see this mod friendly new XCOM later today? I am definitely not jealous. I am not cursing you silently with every breath I take.

Alec: Yes, off to take a peek tonight. In Greenwich Observatory no less, so I get to play with telescopes too. I hope not to come home with my fondest dreams crushed, however.

Adam: In terms of the way it’s using technology, just going off the screenshots I’ve seen, XCOM seems to understand the desire to BLOW THINGS UP more as well.

This one's XCOM, right

Alec: yeah – as they said in the interview, showing off the petrol station in the early shots was very deliberate. Shoot that sucker and…

Adam: Yes, I want an aftermath to my fights, with buildings exploded.

Alec: And so with that, we look to the future, and sadly consign Back in Action to the missed opportunities of the past. What a shame, to coin a phrase.

Adam: Yep, but I do think it’s worth a shot for people hankering after some tactics. Just don’t expect Jagged Alliance, despite the name and setting.

Alec: Sharp Partnership, I call it.

Jagged Alliance: Back In Action is out now.

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38 Comments »

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  1. DogKiller says:

    I pretty much regret rushing out to buy this. I’ll join the line of people suggesting that you buy the original JA2 and install the 1.13 mod.

    • Lord Byte says:

      I’ll be one telling you to stick the 1.13 mod where the sun don’t shine, and stick to vanilla. 1.13 mod is pretty much retarded, too many items, too many enemies at every turn, just an exercise in futility until you’ve depleted the enemy enough (and the month didn’t tick by or you’d get another wave of madmen).

      Not a fun game, vanilla, yeah it’s fun, and yeah it’s a bit easy.

    • Rob Maguire says:

      @Lord Byte: You can change the amount of items 1.13 adds in the new campaign screen. As for the difficulty, the mod was for/by fans who had already played Vanilla to death, so they made the ridiculous decision to have massive counterattacks start appearing once you’ve taken Drassen. It pretty much forces you to use the bundled INI editor to disable these attacks, because it’s virtually impossible to survive them if you don’t know every single trick in the game.

    • Strange_guy says:

      That sounds a little worrying, I made sure to install 1.13 straight after installing JA2 because before now I’ve only heard good things and how essential it is before. Still haven’t really played it though, the whole hiring mercs for a time and everything scares and excites me. Seems like it could be rather stressful, but also add depth.

      @Rob Maguire I checked the INI editor and it looks like those are off by default

    • sinister agent says:

      1.13 is impressive and lots of fun, particularly if you’re a big weapons nut (though it’s quite … um… togglable? It’s been a long day, sorry. Anyway, you can deactivate many features if you want to, including the “millions of guns” settings), and the addition of suppression changes the game enormously, though you may not realise it at first.

      However, the vanilla game is excellent, and easily one of the best games I’ve played (and I first played it just a couple of year ago, so this is n’t nostalgia talking). My standard advice to new players is to play the vanilla game until you finish/get bored, then try the 1.13 mod. You’ll get lots of fun out othe the core game, and you’ll get to appreciate the new features afterwards.

    • Rob Maguire says:

      I would say 1.13 is worth it for the suppression system alone. Vanilla was too reliant on headshots for my tastes; my current team has two heavy machine gunners who more than pull their own weight. The improvements to weapon attachments, inventory management, streamlining of the worst parts of the UI, better custom merc builder and all the other features are just a bonus.

      @Strange_guy: Glad to hear they changed it. Every forum post about the mod circa 2009 would tell you to disable it before playing.

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  2. Jimbo says:

    I enjoyed what I played of it, but once I had to manually defend a location more than once I lost all interest. Way too much busy work in the game.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Gundato says:

    I have heard good things about 7.62 High Calibre. Well, to be precise, I have seen it mentioned a hell of a lot on TV Tropes, so it at least has fans who played it. Also seems to have taken the 1.13-approach of “Guns, lots and lots of guns”.
    Waiting for either a really good Gamersgate sale or (preferably) a DRM-free version on GoG.

    That being said: I still want GoG to get Silent Storm already. As much as I loved JA2, I vastly preferred S2 (at least, until the final mission).

    • Jorum says:

      7.62 High Calibre is sequel to Brigade E5 which was not infrequently referred to as “the worst game I’ve ever played” etc..
      So I wouldn’t get too excited about it’s potential.

    • Premium User Badge

      Faldrath says:

      Silent Storm was so good. At least until the Panzerkleins – I really wish there was an option to turn those off.

    • Janek says:

      I believe there are mods to remove the Panzerkleins (or rather, just replacing them with normal soldiers carrying heavy weapons)

      But yeah, it’s good. A shame noone ever really built on the engine.

    • leeder krenon says:

      Wish Silent Storm was on GOG.

    • Sian says:

      Panzerkleins? Seriously? I just read up on S2 on tvtropes and found out what they were. If you’re going to name something in German, please let a native speaker take care of it, because that’s just ridiculous (though not as ridiculous as some other cases of Gratuitous German).

    • Premium User Badge

      Faldrath says:

      Well, Silent Storm was actually a very silly game, story-wise, with those endearingly bad Russian translations. I almost feel like digging up the CDs again, but I think I remember it having some nasty DRM. I should google it to see how it plays on newer systems too.

    • Khemm says:

      @Faidrath
      None played SS for the plot, because the game itself was way too awesome to care about story.
      Anyways, no nasty DRM to speak of, just patch SS and get the fixed files from here to make the game playable without the slight annoyance of going to msconfig and limiting your RAM to 4GB to make it work.
      http://www.strategycore.co.uk/forums/Silent-Storm-Sentinals-Issue-t6619.html&st=20&start=20
      Check Lorondo’s post no 24. There are fixes for Sentinels and Hammer&Sickle, too!

    • Premium User Badge

      Faldrath says:

      Thanks for the link, Khemm, I’ll have to check that out. And wow, Hammer & Sickle, I had forgotten this game existed. It had poor reviews back in the day… were the issues ever fixed?

    • Khemm says:

      The problem with H&S is the game is so open and offers so many possibilities, various outcomes you might get the feeling it’s incomplete, but that’s not the case. You might see like 25% of the content on your first playthrough and miss out on many important plot points without realizing. There’s zero handholding, the decision making is entirely up to you.

      If it sounds like your type of game – risk vs reward, very replayable – give it a chance. You can get some still new, sealed copies on ebay for dirt cheap.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gundato says:

      On the one hand, Brigade E5 sucked. But at the same time, I find that having that many people (or one dedicated guy) who cares about the game enough to mention it on just about every firearm-related trope-page strikes me as “Maybe it has potential”. At the very least, it is worth a 5 or 6 dollar investigation.

      And the S2 engine was built on with the following games (probably incomplete)

      S3 (Silent Storm: Sentinels)
      Hammer & Sickle (or, as the banner said “Hummer and Sickle”)
      Night Watch (where wands were basically flashlights)

      And yeah, it is fairly simple to get S2 and S3 set up, but I would still like the convenience of having that fix already set up and not having to fish out the CDs.

      And I didn’t mind the Panzerklein’s too much (was a good opportunity for Sook to scout and Zinaida to grab her laser rifle to kill the pilots). I just hated the last mission since it basically did away with all tactics and became a cover-based battle where everyone had laser weapons.

  4. NAZIUFOCOMMANDER says:

    This makes me want someone to make a turn-based game using the Men of War engine. Would be super fun, and more manageable.

  5. sinister agent says:

    I’d get close to a delicious kernel of strategy cleverness, then it would all collapse into chaos and men vibrating against each other.

    Sounds like quite a party.

  6. Nater says:

    I think its fun and feel like they touched the core of the game, but they sure did not do anything spectacular with the license yet (I hope there is a yet).

    Plan&GO = good, automelee = bad, no grenade control = bad, explosives = bad, AI = really bad, Militia managment = frustratingly bad, and inventory management = bad. JA2 was amazing for its time, BiA is maybe a step above “meh” for me.

    The Devs really needed to look at what JA2, Silent Storm, 7.62 and Men of War Assault Squad had done well. These games have established a lot for the genre and have set the bar pretty high. I truly hope they made enough money with this expensive “beta” test to make a proper sequel with smarter AI, better UI, and explodey stuff.

    • ichigo2862 says:

      I couldn’t agree more on the automelee. It was annoying as hell setting up a doorway ambush that in JA2 would have blown a soldier’s head into chunky bits to end up with Ira feebly trying to pistolwhip the opposition. Pathetic.

  7. Fumarole says:

    So I’m the only one enjoying it then? Sure it has lots of flaws, most of which I can look past to get at the shooty goodness that lies beneath.

    • rebb says:

      I enjoyed it a lot as well, even enough to finish it.
      It may have it’s quirks and require some getting used to at first, but its a nice game regardless.

      Just get over the fact that it’s not a 1:1 rehash of JA2 – if you want to play that game, it’s on GoG.

      JA:BiA is a different take on the same setting as JA2 and basic formula of the series.

  8. Consumatopia says:

    “like in a shooter when a boss gets stuck on a rock, so you can just pick him off. Is it cheating? Or is it simply mastering the game?”

    Single-player? Mastering. Multiplayer? It makes you a “rock-whore” or something. Persistent MMO? That’s an exploit and you’ll be banned.

  9. Khemm says:

    Terrible game, move along. It’s depressing they ditched turn based combat, it would at least make this pos playable or at least more fun.

  10. Joshua Northey says:

    I enjoyed it a lot and thought it was a worthy remake. Is it as good as JA2 was in its time, no. But that is a rather high bar. Personally I focus on enjoying games rather than picking them apart and I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

    most of the complaints strike me as odd coming from people who clearly want to play JA2 and own JA2. Just play that if you love it so much!

    Personally I find JA2 interface horribly outdated and its turn based game-play unrealistic and slow. It was tremendous in its time, but that time is in the past now.

    This is a fine game. Needs some patches, but the developers have promised those.

    • Nater says:

      For the most part I agree with you and I enjoy the game more than I don’t, but there are some pretty horrible things about the game that should have been fixed and could have been fixed if there was a decent beta. I am judging this game as it is, not comparing it directly with JA2; however with all the examples since JA2 in the genre, some with good ideas/features, this one seems half assed.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      I don’t know a lot of the games I have seen people comparing it to unfavorably (7.62 for example) are pretty awful. It seems low budget for sure, that isn’t really the same thing as half-assed.

  11. v21 says:

    Never great news for a game when your review has screenshots of other games in it…

  12. Snids says:

    I’m not sure why people are so precious about turn based. Surely turn based is only a hangover from tabletop gaming where it was the only feasible way of playing.

    If you’d have asked those early tabletop game designers if they could somehow have had a magic real time system that allowed the same level of control as TB they would have seized the opportunity. We can easily have that now.

    I loved RT in X-Com Apocalypse, I found it even increased my level of control. Made sure the action paused when the enemy was sighted, soldier takes fire etc and it was great. You can queue up actions no problem. Send your mans to go running round looking for that last brainsucker. I’d have gone mad TBing all over the multi storied map otherwise.

    • Khemm says:

      Turn based is for really manly men ;), real time with pause is a poor substitute for the level of control TB provides – you end up pausing the game constantly anyway, so it has no point.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      TB also leads to gameplay where you conduct all of one soldiers actions, then all of anothers, and their moves depend on the outcomes of the other guys. Which is horribly unrealistic. Really it has no redeeming qualities other than usability and the real0-time with pause is almost as usable now.

      I love XCOM and played it to death, but that doesn’t mean I am stuck in mid 90s game design.

    • Chris D says:

      It’s horses for courses really. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. You can make either work but you have to design the rest of the game accordingly.

      Turn Based: Pros: Complete control. When it’s done well you feel like you’re in charge of a well-oiled machine. The more rigid structure can also make it easier to predict the effects of your actions more accurately. You always know what’s going on, you never have someone die because they were waiting for orders but your attention was elsewhere.

      Cons: A turn based system will be less realistic if you stop and think about what’s actually happening, the actions won’t necessarily make sense if you try to picture them taking place over the same period of time, as is the conceit. Can be more fiddly, moving four units individually is necessarily more time consuming than moving them all together.

      Pausable Real time: Pros: Greater flow, faster for simple actions. More realistic in terms of combat narrative.

      Cons: If you have to keep pausing you lose all the advantages so the game design needs to recognise that. You really don’t want to have a lot of actions that ivolve getting the timing just right. Having your attention split can be frustrating, if for example your cavalry skirmishers just stand there and get charged by a bunch of spearmen because you were distracted. Probably needs cleverer AI to maintain the illusion.

      It’s also worth noting that there are a number of different ways to implement a turn-based system, such as initiative/action point based timing, multiple phases within a turn, order priority. You’re not necessarily stuck with the old “I move everybody and then you move anyone who isn’t dead” model.

    • Khemm says:

      @Joshua
      You lost all credibility when you suggested that TB is mid 90s game design and that real time with pause is more “realistic” or “modern”.
      That like claiming that FPP is more modern than isometric view, when in fact it’s the opposite.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      It is though Khemm. Real Time with pause did not exist 20 years ago. turn based hexes did 40 years ago (albeit in non-electronic form). It is simply a older method of representing what is going on, that has some virtues but is generally inferior.

    • Alam says:

      The problem here is that between three people, you have found words to label turn based systems that sound bad but have provided little in the way of justification for TB’s supposed inferiority or RT’s supposed superiority.

      All rhetoric about TB being old or used because RT was too complex can be cast aside as an obvious example of the genetic fallacy – Older things are neither better nor worse, merely older (real time is older, by the way, being the first known system of time – reality). That TB was used because RT wasn’t feasible doesn’t mean TB is inferior, superior systems are often invented when the intended one turned out to be impracticable.

      “Realism” is also a red herring – RTWP is not any more realistic than TB, nor is instantaneously giving orders to soldiers from a god-like vantage point. Imitating reality is not an inherently superior trait in art or entertainment. Why limit yourself to what can be done in the real world?

      So what are we left with? Snids weighs in with some genetic fallacy and then a complaint that clearing multi-story buildings in X-Com Apoc would be tedious. That is actually true. Joshua Northey’s posts are entirely inadmissible – everything is based on some form of the genetic fallacy, even the argument about one soldier going and then another going. Chris D’s argument comes down to realism (chuck that out) and that moving multiple units in TB can be fiddly, which is entirely negated by allowing multiple units to move at once. Yes, it’s been done by games like Silent Storm.

      Would anyone care to tell us about the superiority of RT over TB without resorting to arguments of realism, age or why one was implemented? In other words, on the merits of the systems instead of trivialities?

      (Also, a minor quibble: Real time with pause did indeed exist 20 years ago. By my count Darklands is 20 this year and it featured real time with pause. The original SimCity, released in 1989, could also be said to feature real time with pause. Not really important though, since I think age is irrelevant.)