The hired mercenaries are back in action in the remake of Jagged Alliance 2, Jagged Alliance: Back in Action. Jagged Alliance should be a name familiar with every hardcore PC gamer from the nineties. Taking control of a ragtag group of guns for hire, you are instructed to infiltrate the fictional country of Arulco and destroy the dictatorship of Queen Deidranna. To accomplish this you first have to get a foothold on her massive island starting with an airport in the very northeast corner.
As the mercs level up, you will be able to increase their skills and stats. All of the stats have a direct influence on their fighting capabilities. The skills of explosives, marksmanship, mechanical, medical and stealth all effect which items your mercenaries are able to use. Certain items also require a set number of skill points as well as attribute points. Guns, for example, don’t have any requirement, but having a high marksmanship will obviously help your accuracy. Starting off you are only able to afford a couple of the basic mercenaries with average stats. As you fight the Queen’s army, you will need to take anything and everything left behind to be able to afford to keep the war effort up.
Each of your squads can have up to six mercenaries in them and it is essential to have multiple squads to efficiently deal with the Queen’s forces. I would recommend using at least one person with a high medical skill to be able to heal and revive downed squad members. While there are plenty of mercenaries to choose from in the game, you do not want to kill anyone by making careless mistakes – and yes, death is permanent. Besides a medic, I would also have a sniper for support and someone for close combat support.
The map is broken up in a grid format as you move from location to location freeing the people of the island. If you are able to claim towns or mines you will be able to increase your daily income. As you are busy attacking the Queen’s army, she will also try and take back the territories that you have taken from her. While on the main map, it is quite simple to select your squads and move then to different locations. Depending on the stamina of the squad it may take longer than expected, though using roads will speed things along. You are able to pause the game while viewing the map to assess the situation, but normally time will pause as you move squads into position.
It is also possible to set traps for enemies and defend acquired locations. There is the option to execute operations during the day and at night as well. Due to the decrease in the enemy’s ability to detect your mercs at night, there is no reason not to do so as it doesn’t affect you at all. Pausing the game allows you to set multiple actions at once between your squads. Two mercs can sync up their actions such as taking targets out at the same time or moving into position.
Unlike in the original Jagged Alliance 2, mercs are hired by using a one-time payment instead of a recurring one. This is where the scavenged equipment from fallen enemies come in handy as you will want to outfit the newly flown in mercs with better equipment and weapons. Some don’t like to work with some of the others and this aspect has an affect on the moral of the squad and can decrease the overall performance of the squad. There will also be those who enjoy and work better with each other, but since none of this will be told to you ahead of time it is a real trial and error activity.
As you progress in the game, you will have squads fighting across the entire island. In order to re-supply these squads on the right lines, you must create a group that will be able to run supplies back and forth between the front lines and the airport. Due to the nature of weight and space limits, there may be a lot of running between squads. You may think that the best way is to take as many territories as quick as possible, but this will lead to stretching yourself too thin and you will find it hard to protect the lands you have acquired from attacks.
What you need to remember is that Jagged Alliance 2 is a classic late 90’s strategy-heavy experience. It is a very slow paced tactical title that will not be for everyone. I would recommend playing through the tutorial before playing if you are unfamiliar with the series or need a quick refresher. Positioning of your mercs is the key to getting the upper hand in firefights.
The game uses a slick 3D engine with an isometric camera angle that allows you to zoom in on all the action. I did however have some issues using it, as it always seemed just off on where I would have liked it to be. Having to use a key to rotate the camera around does feel awkward as I don’t see why it wouldn’t be defaulted to the mouse.
Most of the features that set Jagged Alliance 2 apart from the rest have been toned down, almost to make the game more approachable to today’s gaming audience. Nowhere is the option to create your own mercenary based on a personality test (I would have liked to see this included). The mercenaries seem to also have the inability to keep weapons loaded as well. Every time you aim to shoot at an enemy you are presented with an exact timer down to milliseconds on when the action will be completed. If you get hit or have to re-aim, the counter is reset before you are able to fire.
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action works great as an open ended game, but does its slow paced nature keep it from becoming a classic? Well, yes and no. If you are a fan, and the game really is for fans of the series, you may have some issues with the changes that have been made to the game. If you don’t know any better and have never played a game in the series, you’ll probably miss any changes from the original.Note: Jagged Alliance: Back in Action was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.