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Q4 2006



- Endless possibilities in weapons customization

- The fundamentals of the new “smart pause” system seem sound

- Good modding potential



- Lacks the personality, charm, challenge and fun of the games it emulates

- S L O W pacing



Review: Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business (PC)

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Brigade E5: New Jagged Union

Score: 5.0 / 10


While the title might sound like one of Stephen Colbert’s bad sci-fi novels to the uninitiated, the mere mention of the word “jagged” has made it a source of anticipation and speculation for a particular niche of gamers, fans of squad-based strategy classics, the Jagged Alliance series.  News that Brigade E5’s Russian creator, Apeiron, had recruited original JA developer Shaun Lyng to write the game’s story also generated considerable hope among the long-suffering faithful that this might be, finally, a worthy successor to the series.  And so it’s sad to say that, while Brigade E5 offers a certain amount of “new,” it’s not as fun -- and not nearly as “Jagged” -- as fans probably hope.


brigade e5 new jagged union          brigade e5 new jagged union


I came late to squad-based strategy games; didn’t believe that a turn-based game could be exciting or even thrilling until titles like Jagged Alliance 2, as well as Nival’s criminally underrated Silent Storm and the classic X-Com games.  For my money, these games represent a near perfect balance of strategic thought and tense action. Like many fans, I’ve been saddened by the decline of this mini-genre as console-driven shooters and RTS clickfests rule the roost, but there have been rumors of a resurgence, of new titles (i.e. Jagged Alliance 3) that would fully exploit the latest advances in graphics and PC horsepower.


While, Brigade E5 manages to deliver on some of the promise of combining the excellent gameplay of its predecessors with new technological bells and whistles, it makes some mysterious miscalculations.


While retaining a lot of the original series’ elements including its basic premise -- a band of mercenaries attempting to take over a banana republic island -- it’s




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surprising how many of the Jagged Alliance series’ best elements this title completely forgoes.  Considering the fun in character creation in the JA games, I’m a little mystified why BE5 skips this, offering instead six prefab characters of various nationalities, none of which are terribly exciting.  The other great joy in the original series was hiring, managing (and firing) its rollicking band of NPC mercenaries, whose bragging and 


bickering made the game such fun.  BE5’s mercenaries may be encountered and recruited at various locations on the map, and despite their colorful names, are a pretty dull bunch.  Also absent is JA 1 and 2’s ingenious laptop computer interface, through which purchases, hiring and travel could be coordinated.  And most tragically of all, the game totally lacks JA’s humor, panache and sense of style.


BE5’s 3D graphics engine are a little prettier than the sprite-based 2D of the original games, and its “Smart Pause Mode” actually does blend real-time elements into the classic turn-based system of JA et la. , but neither lives up to its potential.  The graphics are underwhelming with a tricky and unflattering camera.  And while the smart pause system makes elements of the game more fluid, it doesn’t make it more fun.


BE5’s firefights are usually so quick, bloody and unforgiving that there’s rarely time to strategize, even when the game is set to frequent pauses.  This is markedly different than JA’s fights, which could be as strategically complex as chess matches.  And, while the AI occasionally acts in a rational fashion, baddies too often resort to banzai charges or headless chicken scurrying.  I quickly developed a boring but effective strategy of having my team find cover, drop prone, and pick off each baddie in turn as they made there suicidal advance.


brigade e5 new jagged union          brigade e5 new jagged union


There are many, many, many guns in BE5, with almost unlimited customization possibilities, which might be enough of a lure for some gamers.  And weapons details involving ammo and clip management add interesting new wrinkles to the game.  But these are small consolations.  


Probably the most crucial problem is pacing.  The game progresses at a crawl.  Money is tight, and the ways of generating it (quest or ambushing baddies and selling their stuff) get tedious.  The wait for new and better gear feels too long.  Even the vehicles offered mid-game don’t really speed things up appreciatively.  There isn’t the same feeling of momentum from the games that BE5 emulates.  I missed the excitement from the original JA games of playing cat and mouse through the countryside with a much larger force, gradually gaining strategic advantage.  While the original titles demanded strategic as well as tactical thought as the player seized various regions on the island map, fortified them and chose the best route to control cities, airports and bases, BE5 feels oddly linear, too dependent on a series of quests which are often difficult, mystifying or just plain broken.  Even the initial opportunity to choose between three factions with different goals doesn’t help matters.  And random encounter gunfights are too similar and repetitive to spice things up.


My instinct is that, despite BE5’s flaws, it might have potential for modding or for higher quality sequels.  The smart pause system feels sound and could be rather good with some tweaking. (i.e. It works slightly better than the similar system in Cenerga’s recent UFO games.) 


Rumors of an official Jagged Alliance release will continue to circulate, I imagine, and, sadly, fans will have to hold out longer for anything approximating a bonafide Jagged Alliance sequel.  But, until then, a much superior game is Silent Storm (or Sentinels, its sequel), which, even though it’s four years old now, in gameplay, in use of a destructible 3D environment, and in general fun, still blows BE5 away.  And even hoary old Jagged Alliance 2, beefed up with newly available mods, is a lot more fun.


- John Tait

(January 30, 2007)


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