Since we first heard about Jagged Alliance: Back In Action, one very important thing hasn't been entirely clear. As soon as I see evidence of a new tactical game, particularly if it's based on one I've previously attempted to legally wed, I have one question: are you turn-based, my darling? Back In Action has been coyly avoiding the answer to that question, claiming to be turn-curious but with a strong tendency toward real-time. Well now, it seems, the truth is out with this word from the developers:
The Plan & Go system could be described as an extended “real time with pauses” system. Back in Action essentially runs in real time, but the game can be paused at any time. The player maintains control of the game events even during the pause, and can input more entries which can only be implemented when the pause is removed.
Oh, baby, why can't we take things slow and make our moves alternately in a well-paced fashion?
None of this means that I hate the game already, but it's a shame that there won't be a fully turn-based option as had previously been hinted. More details on how exactly Plan & Go will work below but first a teaser trailer, which as far as I can see we haven't shown you before.
Did I see Agent 47 wearing a hat in there?
This will already be familiar from other games, e.g. tactical RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate or Dragon Age: Origins. But what is new in Back in Action is the action timeline, whereby all the commands issued by the player while the game is paused are retained and listed. While in Baldur’s Gate players generally pause the game to issue an order, i.e. for the mage to make a fireball incant magic, and then continue the game only to pause it again several seconds later and issue a command to a fighter, in Back in Action you can issue a sequence of orders to several mercs to devise complex plans, so we like to refer to pause mode as planning mode.
The knack with the planning mode is that you can now synchronize your actions: for example, you can order Shadow to sneak around the enemy base to launch an ambush and attack a guard there, as meanwhile you bring Igor out from behind cover to take aim at an enemy. If you now want to stop Igor opening fire immediately, thereby raising the alarm among all the enemies before Shadow can get half-way to his target, you can simply link the two attack commands. This means that one of the mercs will automatically wait for the other, and will only carry out his action when his team mate is ready to start the linked action.
Admittedly, the idea of synchronising the squad in this way opens up some interesting possibilities, but Jagged Alliance was one of the most turn-based things ever and I can't help but feel this makes it a different game altogether. And maybe it should be but that won't stop me from wanting a modern, turn-based update to the series. Nothing will. Except, perhaps, a modern, turn-based update to the series. Until then, I'll occasionally whine about it.