Making its debut in 1994, Jagged Alliance is the series accredited for the birth of the tactical action genre, later made famous by the likes of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. In real terms, Jagged Alliance was a serious, detailed take on the action presented in Cannon Fodder, and received significant critical acclaim for its devotion to providing often overwhelming tactical variety. Jagged Alliance spawned two sequels before the turn of the century, but bar a Nintendo DS remake has laid dormant for over a decade.
Fast forward to the present day, and here we sit with Jagged Alliance – Back in Action, a title that is suggested to be a remake itself, but unlike the Nintendo DS release this PC product is not just a copy & paste job with a bit of a graphics spruce. Jagged Alliance – Back in Action is intended to bring the basic principles of Jagged Alliance 2 bang up to date, a modernisation of the formula that has begun with its distribution methods: Jagged Alliance – Back in Action is available now via digital services and as a boxed retail product.
The first big change in terms of gameplay is that the original Jagged Alliance 2 was a turn-based affair; Jagged Alliance – Back in Action takes inspiration from those titles which it’s predecessor inspired by presenting the gameplay in real-time. The player is given the option of enabling ‘auto-pause’ for a number of different instances, such as being spotted or any squad member dropping health below 25%, effectively adding a degree of time-based control to the missions akin to that of a turn-based videogame, but obviously only in moments when the action is heating up. The player is also able to plan sequential stages of each unit’s movement/action and then execute simultaneously, allowing grand sweeping manoeuvres and assaults to play out while the player scouts further ahead for possible inconveniences (Jagged Alliance – Back in Action has also removed the ‘fog of war’ of previous titles).
As the player is in forever using indirect control of their mercenaries, the combat in Jagged Alliance – Back in Action is essentially determined by a roll of the dice: an underlying system exists behind the visual design that matches statistics of the player units with those of the attacking enemies/enemies being attacked and resolves the combat according to the result. Prior to engaging enemy forces the player is given a brief analysis of the likelihood of their success – taking into account the abilities of the marine at hand and the range to the enemy, amongst other thins – and the result will reflect this early information more-often-than-not. Of course, there’s an element of luck in all combat, but much of it comes down to the player’s ability to recognise unique skills and vantage points.
Prior to beginning each mission the player is given a detailed synopsis of the task at hand, as well as the opportunity to organise their mercenaries to take into combat, hiring new units where necessary. Mercenaries gain experience and improve their abilities, so it’s easy to recommend that players become familiar with a select few to take out on missions regularly, but many external aspects have to be taken into account dependant on the scenario. Hiring a team with all-round abilities may seem like a good idea, but when there’s no need for a mechanically minded ally and your team are being gunned down, you’ll wish you had a better medic on board.
The tactical options available to the player throughout Jagged Alliance – Back in Action are near endless. In just a single mission Electronic Theatre was able to sneak attack an enemy, scale to a rooftop and take out a second with the pistol liberated from the first’s lifeless corpse, steal a rocket launcher from a base and take out a key target in a hail of explosive destruction. And this was all with a single mercenary. Taking more men into battle provides you with further unique tactical options, and invention is the key to success: with Jagged Alliance – Back in Action’s mission structure allowing the player to throw their weight around without suffering any consequences greater than a restart, there’s plenty of incentive to experiment.
Jagged Alliance – Back in Action is a reasonable looking videogame, but is hardly set to astound players. The on-screen action is only slightly more convincing than Commandos 3: Destination Berlin – a nine year old title – but it is of course a significant improvement on that of the original Jagged Alliance 2. The in-game visual quality showcases Jagged Alliance – Back in Action at its best, whereas the animated sequences of characters faces prior to- and during battle are woefully dated. The voice acting is also of a generally poor quality, insisting that female mercenaries are highly effeminate in their vocals, despite their chosen profession revolving around placing a price on committing murder.
Despite the former popularity of the tactical action genre, the steady decline in recent years has resulted in a steady decline in new titles being offered. Jagged Alliance – Back in Action is surely set to please those gamers hankering for a new opportunity to exercise their skills of perception, planning and execution, able to satisfy their weighty demands with it’s composition of environments and mercenary abilities. It’s a tactical playground, allowing players to innovate within the structure established for them. It’s a shame that the lacking technical prowess will see many potential players deem Jagged Alliance – Back in Action a low quality product, as in every other aspect it’s a videogame that deserves respect.