Jagged Alliance: Back in Action Review

Jagged Alliance: Back in Action Review Screenshot

My explosives expert inches forward slowly on his belly.  The landmine is on the path in front of my squad, so most of them are cowering at a safe distance, whilst my brave minion  creeps forward clutching his defuse kit.  He finally reaches the mine, and…starts jiggling and flapping his hands at it in an oddly hypnotic manner.  *Jiggle jiggle, flap flap*.  The mine is defused.  Relieved and safe, I order my medic to patch one of my wounded soldiers.  The medic minces over and… *jiggle jiggle, flap flap, jiggle flap jiggle*.  The soldier is healed.  Meanwhile another soldier has picked up a nice handgun from a fallen enemy.  The gun is damaged, so I get him to pull out his repair kit and fix the weapon.  *Jiggle jiggle jiggle, flap jiggle flap…*

One does wonder if the animation team working on Jagged Alliance: Back in Action were either insanely lazy, or were just severely understaffed.  I send my medic over to a nearby desk to pick up some items.  She dutifully heads in the direct opposite direction, moves away a few paces, and somehow manages to *flap flap* pick up the items from about 6 feet away.

Outside in the yard, my sniper spots an enemy wielding an axe charging at him.  I order him to attack.  My sniper slowly rotates on the spot, and points 90 degrees left of the enemy I have highlighted.  The axe-psycho chops him into little pieces.  *reload savegame*.  When axe dude charges next time, I give him the same order, ‘attack’.  After several seconds spent aiming, my sniper fires.  The enemy is hit to half health, hurrah.  I order him to continue attacking.  My sniper sits like a lemon, watching axeman approaching.  I order him to fire again, but no response.  After a while, the wounded axeman reaches my sniper, and chops him up again.  *reload savegame*.  This time my sniper misses his first shot, and then doesn’t bother taking any more, despite aiming directly at the enemy the whole time.  The axeman chops him up again.  *quit game*.

When I next felt the urge to laugh at something, I launched the game again.  On the next gameplay attempt, I send my sneaky medic into enemy territory to take down all the enemies with her handgun.  She crawls everywhere, making herself harder to hit, and starts taking down bad guys one by one.  She shoots one guy, who dies noisily, and crumples to a heap on the floor.  His nearby buddy is startled by the shots, and by the body of his comrade.  But within 30 seconds he has forgotten all about the death of his buddy, and has started strolling around on his patrol.  Quite callous behaviour really.

Jagged Alliance: Back in Action Review Screenshot

I position my medic on a little mound to be in a perfect shooting spot for next time the patrolling baddy comes my way.  He strolls round the corner on schedule, and I order my medic to the attack.  Wait, that’s odd.  The little in-game indicator tells me that the shot is impossible.  Apparently my medic cannot see the enemy.  Yet the enemy has spotted me, and fires a few bullets in my direction, seriously wounding me.  The shooter moves sideways slightly.  The in-game indicator tells me briefly that my shot success would now be ‘very likely’.  But before the shot can be taken, he moves another inch to his right, and the shot is once again ‘impossible’.  The whole time he is shooting at me.  And kills me.  *Reload savegame*.

Jagged Alliance is, at times, completely and utterly dumb.  It has moments of such cretinous ineptitude that you wonder why you are playing the game.  But then there are sections of moderately acceptable gameplay, and for a short while you forget how bad things can get.  But several times per mission at the very least you are left infuriated and exasperated at why your little soldiers have the IQ of a doorknob.

One of JA’s main features is the ability to pause time and issue orders to your squad.  So rather than clumsily trying to co-ordinate an attack in real-time, you can set exact actions, and exact timings so you team will perform a precise operation in perfect harmony.  In theory, it’s a really attractive prospect.  In practise, it rarely is.  Whilst some operations pan out as you intended, it doesn’t take changing circumstances into account.  So for instance if you spend ages planning a carefully rehearsed routine, the entire operation can be scuppered by something as simple as an enemy wandering nearer and spotting one of your team.  Then you would need to scrap all of your planning and re-issue new orders to handle the enemy.  Although the planning feature was fun to experiment with, I ended up ignoring it as the game progressed, as it was just too much hassle.

One nice aspect of the game is the fact that there are a number of unique individuals with differing talents and RPG-style stats.  These operatives can be hired to form your squad.  But if they ever die on a mission, without being saved by a medic, then their death is permanent, and they will stay dead for the rest of the game.  The whole perma-death idea does always add that element of tension to a game.  Unless of course you can circumvent their death by reloading a save game from 30 seconds before, and replay an action.  Perma-death is also a little vexing when a highly valuable trained operative is chopped into little pieces because they refuse to fire their weapon at an axeman, because he is ‘too close’.

Jagged Alliance: Back in Action Review Screenshot

One of the female characters has a character trait called ‘Nudist’, explaining that she doesn’t like to wear clothes.  Naturally I hire her immediately.  Yet disappointingly she absolutely insists on wearing clothes throughout the game.  I even assist her, by removing her shoes and camo gear, but she isn’t interested.  Damn false advertising!

So you move through various areas, clearing out the baddies, completing side-quests for various characters you come across, as well as following the main storyline.  And that’s pretty much it.  It is basically a revised, updated version of the old Commandos series, with a lot more scope, but unfortunately also with a lot more flaws.  Gameplay is never scintillating, sufficing with being just moderately satisfactory.  An entirely unexceptional title which may attract a specialist following, but will never really meet the demands of most discerning gamers.

My medic picks up some ammo from behind the desk *flap flap*.  A small child has followed me into the little office, blocking the exit.  I try to get past her, but she is not interested in moving.  The next 5 minutes are spent trying to coerce her to get out of the way.  She doesn’t.  *quit game*.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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