- Virtually non-existent musical
- Underwhelming sound effects
- Lobotomized strategy elements
- Story and character elements almost totally gutted
- Craptastic AI
- Inexplicably stupid interface function failures
- Resource management virtually negated
- An utter debasement of a classic game
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Alliance: Back in Action
Score:3.0 / 10
When I saw Jagged Alliance: Back In Action
(BIA) at E3, “excited” was far too pallid and sickly a word to describe
my level of interest in this game. I was a long time fan, not hardcore
enough to be doing my own mod work, but certainly a solid and avid
player of the series. Jagged Alliance 2 is one of those games that,
while it has some flaws and bugs, it's still a great game. After
spending some time with its remake, I fear the same designation cannot
be applied to it.
At last year's E3, I was told that it wasn't finished, that there was
still work to be done on it, and I accepted that with grace and high
hopes the finished product would be good. After playing, it is my belief
that virtually nothing has been done
Making the move from 2D to 3D graphics is never easy, yet there are many
titles that managed to pull it off quite nicely. What makes BIA's
transition all the more painful is the fact that they did a decent job
from an environmental perspective. It's not award-winning work, by any
stretch of the imagination, but it's detailed enough and laid
out well enough that you don't get the feeling the art department
However, that feeling dies horribly upon looking at the character
models, more specifically the character portraits.
It'd be far more charitable than the game deserves to say that they look
blocky or amateurish. I have to question if the developers dragged some
first semester art student out of a computer class and said, “We're
going to have you make characters for a highly anticipated game and we
don't care that you can barely skin a mesh,” or if they honestly put
their best artists on the job.
While it's gratifying to see that equipment you give your mercs is
genuinely reflected in the character models, it's not that gratifying
when the character models themselves look like they all had their faces
bashed in with cinder blocks and then underwent reconstructive surgery
performed by a drunken 12 year old. However interesting the effects are,
however palatable the environments, if the characters look like crap,
then the interest of the player is not going to be held. What's
particularly shameful is that there doesn't appear to have been an
appreciable degree of progress from what was reportedly the alpha
version shown at E3.
I didn't really get a good appreciation of music and sound all that much
during the preview, save for what I was told was place holder voice
acting. What bothers me is that there is very little there to comment
The sound effects are middling and do very
little to help immerse you in the setting, which can't be a good sign. I
was told that the original voice cast from JA2 wasn't coming back, and
in this, there appears to be some accuracy. The voice actors are
distinctly different from the original cast, though they seem intent on
trying to imitate their predecessors. The cast puts on a workman-grade
performance which does enough to convey in-game information, but doesn't
really do much to endear the characters to us. In any other game, that
would be serviceable, but it's the kiss of death in a Jagged Alliance
game. If anything, the voice acting manages to compound the poor
character portraits to make the characters less likable than before, and
that's before you actually realize the characters are not only radically
different from the ones you knew before but considerably less
As far as the music goes, there's really bugger all. There's a looping
track for non-combat times and a looping track for combat, and that's
it. They could have done so much more and the wasted opportunity
For the stalwart Jagged Alliance fan, gameplay is king. Fans of the
series were willing to overlook a couple of seriously show-stopping bugs
in Jagged Alliance 2 because of engaging gameplay. The gameplay in BIA
is, by comparison, an atrocity.
Worse, like any proper atrocity, it is completely senseless.
Worse still, this is coming out of developers who were described as fans
of the series.
I can appreciate that moving from turn-based combat to real-time combat
is necessarily going to change a few things. But if all that I needed to
deal with was a new combat engine, I'd have been quite happy.
Unfortunately, it appears that the developers decided to gut damn near
everything that worked or was remotely enjoyable in the original game,
then completely half-ass their own ideas in the bargain.
Gone is the goofy personality quiz and custom character creator.
Banished are the bargain basement bruisers of rival mercenary staffing
agency MERC. Even long-suffering flunky Elliott has been removed, while
Deidrianna is reduced to an end-game boss.
Anything that had any semblance of charm, personality, or humor in the
game has been torn out. What's left isn't pretty, and it proceeds to get
uglier from there.
Your troops have only one method of transportation across Arulco, and
that's their own two feet. No helicopter insertions from Skyrider, who
has inexplicably become a douchebag with conflict diamonds stashed under
the seat of his shot-down eggbeater. No ice cream truck driven by the
ever-friendly Hamus. No Humvee. The lack of vehicles reduces the
importance of SAM sites to just another combat map to clear and hold.
I use the term “clear and hold” with a massive amount of disgust and not
just a little bit of scorn, as your efforts to actually hold a sector
are FUBAR from the moment you down the last enemy.
Originally, getting a militia up and running to hold towns was a simple
case of “click, click, boom.” Click a sector, click the OK button to
spend money to equip militia members, and boom, you've got people
running around in green shirts with their own guns. Apparently, that
simple process couldn't be allowed to remain in BIA. In order to get a
militia up now, you're expected to MANUALLY equip each and every person
in town. Weapons, armor, the works, all by yourself, anything they don't
have and probably need.
What's more, there are no trainers to improve the militia's combat
effectiveness. It's down to whatever gear you can scavenge from the
corpses of your fallen enemies and can repair back up to
semi-serviceable condition. And this is only for maps that have any sort
of civilian population listed for them. For intervening maps that don't
have populations, you're just going to have to intercept enemy forces or
accept the loss of zones that don't seem to have any particular function
other than to make you waste time and bullets.
Speaking of money and expenses, somebody apparently decided that the
recurring contracts of the original game were just too damned hard to
deal with. Now, if you hire a merc, they're yours forever, and the
economic element of the strategy game becomes lobotomized because of it.
The “Plan-and-Go” function sounds really great in theory, but the AI
behind it borders on the terminally stupid. If you just set your troops
into Guard Mode, possibly the one truly useful innovation in the game,
they will wait like good little do-bees and shoot anything that comes
into sight. The problem there comes in the way that line-of-sight is
handled and that putting a merc into Guard Mode through the Plan-and-Go
screen seems to lead to dead mercs because they'll shoot once and then
not do a damn thing while getting bum rushed.
And let's talk about navigation.
Trying to move between tactical and overland maps in BIA is a complete
pain in the ass. You can go from the tactical map to the overland map
easily enough, provided you're not being shot at at that particular
moment, with a single button click. But there is no analogous function
to go from overland to tactical. Instead you have to give your squad a
move command to an indicator icon telling you that you can enter it,
EVEN IF YOU'RE ALREADY IN THAT ZONE!
While squad management and development is a bit less visually cluttered,
it's also completely gelded. Where you once the option to set your mercs
to train their skills or rest for the day, now you simply stop in the
middle of the overland map and pick your nose while waiting for your
energy levels to build back up. Improving your mercs entails getting
training points, which you can spread around however you like rather
than letting the merc build up skills organically. I mentioned that a
lot of characters appear to be either missing or radically re-written.
What burns me up no end is that we only have two options when
interacting with a character that isn't a vendor: continue a
conversation with dialogue so painfully stilted it makes the cheesiest
80's action movies look like high art, or end the conversation. Given
that the storyline and the characters were as much of a selling point in
JA2 as the strategy elements, it's infuriating that the developers would
conspire to so brutally amputate both halves of the gameplay.
I hope to God the guys at Firaxis are watching this, because Jagged
Alliance: Back In Action is, and probably will for many years hence be,
the definitive textbook example of how to mess up by the numbers when
attempting to “relaunch” a classic franchise.
Eliminating everything that made the source material so enjoyable while
poorly executing your own ideas within its conceptual framework is going
to guarantee you the well earned wrath of the very fans you're hoping to
convince to join you.
I suddenly understand why Deidrianna, in the original game, was
constantly whaling on her flunky when he reported a new failure to her.
Given how badly the developers screwed the pooch on this game, I feel
the burning desire to line them up and pistolwhip them all for pissing
away not only the resources that could have been applied to making a
good game, but the goodwill of the fan community.