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Oct.18/11 (US); Oct.21/11 (UK)



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Jagged Alliance: Back in Action


jagged alliance back in action         jagged alliance back in action


While Japan has kept turn-based strategy games alive with titles like Record of Agarest War and Disgaea, and Europe maintaining the tradition with games like Europa Universalis, the American games industry seems hellbent on forgetting that there ever was such a thing as turn-based strategy. Everything must now be in real-time or itís not worth playing. Itís a pity when you consider that Canada released one of the best turn-based strategy/RPG hybrids ever in the form of the Jagged Alliance series.


The pinnacle was Jagged Alliance 2, a game that I loved and deeply enjoyed for many years. The blend of squad level tactical battles, operational level strategy,



and character-driven RPG made for one of the coolest games Iíve ever played. It pained me when Sir-Tech closed their doors because there would be no new Jagged Alliance titles. Since then, there have been a lot of rumors and false hopes about developers snagging the rights to the beloved series and bringing it to life anew. It looks now as though bitComposer has secured those rights, and might well have long time fans of the series feeling hopeful.


I sat down with Ted Brockwood of Kalypso Media and went over what was described as an alpha build of Back In Action.


What I saw looked very promising, albeit still a little rough around the edges. There wasnít much differentiation in the character models in terms of skin color and facial features, but was informed the developers were still working on it. While there wasnít much to distinguish the demonstration merc squad from a facial perspective, there was a marked variety in their weapon loadouts. Assault rifles looked distinctly different from sniper rifles, which looked distinctly different from the combat knife one of the mercs employed. The level of detail in weapons and gear for the characters is quite impressive, even down to the points on a tactical vest where a character would clip something in place.


jagged alliance back in action          jagged alliance back in action


As the demo continued, I admired how the developers had gone beyond the tile-based maps of JA2 and were working with more organic structures and landscapes. While JA2 didnít look bad, and still doesnít, there were some inherent limitations which occasionally led to some problematic issues relating to line-of-sight and target identification. The new maps will certainly feel less cheesy than their predecessors when it comes to hidden enemies. More than that, however, the maps bring Arulco to life all over again. The demo had the team set down on a beach at the western end of the capitol city of Meduna. It looked like a nice inviting tropical beach, save for the landmines and chainlink fence topped with razor wire. Doubtlessly, that beach will get torn up a lot in the final game when your mercs are making their move to overthrow Deidriana.

When it comes to gameplay, thereís good news, bad news, and some wildcards that havenít been sufficiently answered yet. First, the bad news.


Fans who enjoyed taking on the crepitus monsters in JA2ís ďSci-Fi ModeĒ are going to be disappointed, as that mode has not been and will not be remade for Back In Action. Those who remember tense moments when your troops had to advance over an open field and keep enough action points handy to hit the dirt when an enemy appeared will doubtlessly cry foul over the switch from turn-based combat to the ďplan and goĒ system. However, they would be wrong to do so. The ďplan and goĒ system operates much like waypoints for units in an RTS, with the possibility of planning out your individual mercís actions while maintaining overall team cohesion. Instead of stringing your team out, they can advance in force or break up into smaller fire teams and stay together.


Probably the neatest feature I saw was the new drag-and-drop action coordination system. Operating much like a non-linear movie editing system, you can have certain actions tied in together, allowing troops to act in concert. Suppose, for example, the German merc Grunty and the medic Fox need to take out a pair of sentries quietly and have snuck up on them. Meanwhile, Russian merc Ivan is on an adjacent rooftop taking overwatch duties and has an enemy sniper in his sights. Grunty and Foxís attacks can be dragged from their action sequences on to Ivanís attack, so that they wait until that first shot before shanking the sentries. The tactical possibilities are intriguing.


As for those wildcards I mentioned, I wasnít able to get any definitive answer about the application of physics in the game, so whether or not youíll be able to bounce grenades around corners is unknown, along with the question of bullet drop being modeled on the guns. Also unknown is whether map editors or modding SDKs are going to be available at launch, after launch, or not all. Hopefully, more news will be forthcoming.

Jagged Alliance: Back In Action is slated to drop around mid-October of this year. Even as a remake, itís a big departure from the turn-based roots of the series, but not necessarily a bad one. Iím excited and cautiously optimistic that this will be the start of something great all over again.


- Axel Cushing

(July 11, 2011)


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