Jagged Alliance: Back in Action review
In case you’ve been missing Jagged Alliance 2 and have been waiting with baited breath for a revamp of the game with better features and graphics, that time is now. Kalypso has brought back the revolutionary squad based, tactical, RPG with modern technology. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action was released February 14th (happy belated Valentine’s Day) and it is quite addictive.
You are a commander hired to take back a small island nation from your employer’s tyrannical wife. He has put a bounty on her head and it’s your job to take her out. You play as a ‘behind the scenes’ sort of protagonist. Your work horses in this game are mercenaries you hire by looking up their dossier and buying their killer resumes via laptop.
The mercenaries you can choose from start are various levels, have different skills, different equipment, and cost different amounts of money. Mercenaries can level up from skills and kills. While they have a marksmanship skill, killing is not the only role of your mercs. You can have medics who can heal and revive mercs, mechanics who can repair and unlock doors, stealth characters who can sneak, etc. Once a mercenary levels up, you get to select where the points go.
While there is quite a long and detailed tutorial, I only went through about half of it because I ran into a bug where having my mercs reload wouldn’t continue the tutorial. I assume that has been patched by now. I felt like I went through enough of it to have an idea how to play though. I may have been wrong. There is definitely a learning curve involved in this game. While anyone can save, try, die, and repeat this process over and over until they succeed, that’s not really how the game should be played. It’s a tactical / squad based game – you should be using a tactical squad.
I made the mistake of buying only one merc in the beginning that was higher level. Her name was Raven and she specialized in both sniping and stealth; while the first few missions were difficult with only one person, they were still doable. I took my time and did a bunch of stealth kills from behind and long sniper shots out the enemy’s range. I even developed a tactic where I could sneak up to a point, go prone, take out one or two foes with sniper shots, stand, and run away back into the forest only to do the same technique from a different point in the map. This was oddly supper effective.
While I may have not been playing the game correctly, this option does tell a lot about the versatility of the game. While I may not have had a ‘squad,’ I was still able to use tactics to complete my goals. The fact that you can complete early missions with only one character speaks well of the game’s versatility in my opinion. Since you can pause the game at any time you can change the camera angle and zoom very easily to line up whatever you are trying to do.
My guerilla tactics on the other hand is a different story. I find the AI in the game to not be as great as it could be. They easily give up chase and don’t return to their posts. So I would take shots and run, they would scour around where they thought I was and forget about cover – thus giving me easy kills.
While talking about combat, once you get the hang of it, it is pretty fun. Spacebar pauses the game and allows you to select your individual mercs and tell them step by step what you want them to do. This is where the tactics shine. I can pause, select Raven, tell her to crouch (sneak), move to a certain point, go prone, crawl past a window, crouch again, move to a building, climb a ladder, move to a ledge, queue a series of head shots on one target, and then queue a series of head shots on another foe. The moment I press spacebar again she will do everything I just told her to do, to the tee. Now combine that with one or two more mercs and watch your master piece in action. If you feel like you made a mistake in your plans, you can at any point pause the game and cancel individual or all actions.
When you tell your merc to shoot an enemy, it tells you the chance you will hit and how much percent of damage it is expected to do. You can also target body parts like head, torso, and legs. There is an option to have your merc fire when the enemy comes into their range or you can order each individual shot. For instance, while I had my sniper picking off targets on a roof top I individually told her to do each shot. I had another character prone facing the only ladder to the roof with the option to fire at will. So if anyone wanted to melee my sniper my other character would shoot them in the face the moment they got on top of the roof.
Melee happens to be where I found the game the most clunky to play. Since there is a melee feature, your characters won’t fire a gun if an enemy is too close. While this makes sense for a sniper rifle it also occurred with a submachine gun and a shot gun which are supposed to be close quarter weapons. This defnitely agitated me. If a melee foe ever ran up to me I would always die. I don’t care if he has an axe – I have a shotgun, I should automatically win!
The world map is another area where tactics matter. Sure you go with your squad(s) and liberate regions on the map, but the enemy will also send squads out to retake territories you’ve captured. If they enter a location where you haven’t set up defense they retake it. For this reason you should always have a squad near the border of your lands and counter attack them if they come near. Territories add to your income each day and offer unique stores and quests for you to complete and obviously completing these quests will yield money and more squad mates.
From the world map you can also check your email, order gear, weapons, and ammo from the store (which is flown into your airport), and hire new mercenaries (also flown into your airport). Micromanaging your mini map is just as important as controlling your mercs on the battlefield. One mistake could lead to an enemy squad taking back much of the territories you fought so hard to take back.
It might just be my personality, but once I got used to this game, I had trouble stopping. “Well, maybe just one more mission,” or “I should wait for those reinforcements to come,” and even “well I got to deal with that enemy squad first.” Through playing the game you do feel accomplishment as you take regions over and make more money per day. Once you cross that learning curve, the game is much more fun to play through. The story elements are on the weaker end but it’s honestly on the level of what I expected. If you're a fan of Jagged Alliance and you're yearning for that nostalgic trip of playing a new game in the series, this game is definitely for you.