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Kalypso Media


bitComposer / Coreplay


M (Mature)


February 14, 2012



- Happy little trees



- Virtually non-existent musical score
- 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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Jagged Alliance: Back in Action

Score: 3.0 / 10


jagged alliance back in action          jagged alliance back in action


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




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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 skimped.

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 about.


jagged alliance back in action          jagged alliance back in action


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 personable.

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 aggravates me.

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.


- Axel Cushing

(March 2, 2012)


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