Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Apeiron Studios
Release Date: October 17, 2006
Imagine the scene: We're in the offices of Russian developer Apeiron, at an intersection of two hallways. A programmer and an artist approach each other and crash violently in the center of the intersection. Their files fly into the air and land in a jumble.
"You got your antiquated Quake 2-era graphics engine in my chunky turn-based strategy game!"
"You got your brain dead AI and overwhelmingly limp gameplay in my clippy, limited visual engine!"
Their eyes meet. They race back to their cubicles and slap an interface on the result before kicking it out the door. On gaming store shelves everywhere, magic is born. Really, really unfortunate magic.
All right, I'll grant you that my little example probably isn't how Brigade E5: New Jagged Union came to be. (In reality the two people in my example would have been speaking in Russian, for example.) However, Brigade E5 holds the distinction of being one of the chunkiest, clunkiest accidents ever put in a box and sold under the Strategy First label.
Where shall I begin? Let's start with the graphics engine. New Jagged Union is a very impressive-looking game for the year 2001, but it came out in 2006 and graphics have advanced since then. Visually, the major problem is the distance clipping, a function that serves to hide a limited draw distance. It can also be used to approximate the horizon, but in this case, the horizon constantly appears to be hovering 30 feet in every direction. This is appropriate for Silent Hill, but not so much for a tactical strategy game. Texturing on your mercenary crew is extremely rough, looking as if they've finger-painted clothing and faces on each other. Buildings are polygonal masses that jut out of the landscape awkwardly, rough-hewn with boxy cardboard walls. Meanwhile, when shot, enemy soldiers will abruptly snap from standing up to lying down, with no transitional frames of animation whatsoever.
Audio is a different variety of mixed bag. The music for this game is actually rather decent, as long as you like pounding, grindy heavy metal. The tone that the music sets is more in tune with going out and kicking some military butt than it is with a tactical struggle, but that's all right, too. Gunshots are both very loud and rather generic. Rifles seem to mostly have the same sound effects as submachine guns, which are drawn out versions of the pistol effects. Probably the best aspect of the sound direction is the voice acting, which lets you listen to your enemies shouting, "I see you, you fiend!" in stilted Polish-accented English. My personal favorite line is oft-repeated by the mercs on your side; when they've fired on and killed an enemy, they proudly declare, "I neutered the soldier!" As a guy, I can only say, "Ow."
The storyline of New Jagged Union borrows a little from the Jagged Alliance games of the past. You pick a mercenary to play as and then get dropped into a small country on the brink of guerilla war. Now, unlike Jagged Alliance, you can choose which side to play on. You can work to liberate the country, work to squish the revolution, or you can play the field working to make money on your own and perhaps exploring ties to organized crime.
This is a great idea, and I really hope it shows up again in a better game, because here it doesn't make a lot of difference. If you choose to go after the rebels, they will abruptly have better items and more men on their side than if you join up with them. If you choose to wander the country as a roving military samurai, you'll get attacked by both sides and by other random factions. Meanwhile, the missions you're sent on by whichever faction leader you're playing for barely change from campaign to campaign.
At least I didn't hit the bug reported on message boards where some of the mission text is still actually in Russian.
I'm riding New Jagged Union pretty hard, huh? I mean, issues with sound and graphics and all. What about that ever-important gameplay element, the most important part of any game? Unfortunately that isn't real hot either. The gameplay problems with Brigade E5 boil down to two major elements: the interface and the AI.
The interface requires that you often click to confirm your actions. This is not a problem in most cases, but moving your troops around often means that you click once, click again to confirm, wait for your troops to move... ah, they've heard a noise behind them. Yes, that's their comrades. Click to confirm they should move and... stop, now they've seen something ahead. That might be an enemy. Still, they're moving to cover, so click to confirm and... now they're hearing something ahead. Yes, that's the same enemy. Click to keep... and now the enemy is in view, so pause...
It really shouldn't take this much effort to get a couple of guys to walk behind a tree, you know?
Combat is worse, and that's because of the AI rather than the interface. Having a pistol duel with the bad guys advertised in the game manual would be a blast, as they flank you, cover each other, move from cover to cover, and so on. But why is it when I'm facing down three enemies to my one mercenary, they'll stop dead and lay down in the middle of the wide-open field they're in to shoot at me? Furthermore, why can I stroll up to them and plug them in the back of the head while they're idly crawling away from me, missing their shots all the while?
There are more examples I could give, but I feel I have belabored the point long enough. New Jagged Union is not merely a bad game when compared to its peers, but it is a bad game when compared to any titles released in the last several years. I cannot, in good faith, advise any fan of tactical strategy to make this a purchase.
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