Turn-based tactics games are the kind of niche genre that only the most hardcore fan could love. Although games like XCOM, Jagged Alliance, Armored Princess and the Disciples series did well enough to build rabid followings, it's not a mainstream genre by any means. Perhaps that's why the new Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, an HD remake of Jagged Alliance 2, is trying something new with the genre and taking a big risk of alienating fans in the process.
If that sounds serious, it's because it is. Whenever you mess with a genre, you're bound to upset the fans. Just look at the Internet firestorm that erupted when 2K Games announced that after an extensive absence, it was bringing back the beloved XCOM series ... as a first-person shooter. With Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, Kalypso's partners (bitComposer Games and Coreplay) just try to tweak the game mechanics without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action is, at its core, a modern "reworking" of Jagged Alliance 2. You're in charge of a private military corporation (PMC) tasked with retaking the island of Arulco from an evil female ruler, who recently deposed the (supposedly) good and kind previous government. You get some cash and supplies to get started, and with your trusty laptop in hand, your job is to hire mercs, equip 'em, and manage them in direct combat with the bad guys.
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action puts the players in a modern world with modern weapons like M16s, AUGs, anti-personnel mines and much more. There are dozens of mercs to choose from, each having a distinct personality, including quirks like combat style and likes/dislikes. Their attitudes toward other mercenaries is particularly important, as some mercs won't work together at all, while some work better together, and some could care less. Don't get too attached to a specific merc, though, because if he dies, he won't come back. Carelessness equals heartbreak.
Once you've finished hiring and firing mercs, buying new gear and ammo and reading your e-mail (yes, the interface includes simulated spam, just for laughs), it's time to drop your team into battle. This is where "Plan 'n Go," the bread and butter of Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, rears its head.
In previous Jagged Alliance titles, combat was a drawn-out, turn-based affair, with players managing actions and action points. Sure, it was super crunchy and tactical, but most modern gamers, even fans of the genre, don't have the time or patience for this anymore.
How do you modernize this sort of gameplay without dumbing it down? Jagged Alliance's developers are trying to do just that with the Plan 'n Go system, which focuses on waypoint management, along the same lines as the original Rainbow Six games. Forget about action points; P 'n G is about timing and skilled planning. Want to swap a weapon? That's going to take time, and in that time, the enemy may have finished reloading and put a round in your team leader's skull. An example we were shown was setting up a simple op to take out a guard. First, a sniper slowly crawls to his position behind a crate, stopping a few times along the way to ensure nobody's spotted him. While this is going on, our stealthy killer, trusty knife in hand, drops to a crouch to reduce visibility and slowly stalks an unwary guard.
At the bottom of the screen, a timeline for both characters appears, much like a filmstrip editor, which lets you set up sequences such as, "After A moves to his second waypoint, move character B to his first point," and so on. It's all done through simple point-and-click and drag-and-drop. Pretty soon, we've set up a situation where our melee fighter takes a swipe at a guard and if he misses, the sniper pops up from his hiding place and fires a shot at the now-aware guard's head. If the melee attack succeeds, our sniper stays in hiding, monitoring for any other guards who might stumble into our ambush.
It's a simple example, but the Plan 'N Go editor allows for much more complex actions, if that's your thing. Waypoints can also be backed out, so if you suddenly spotted another guard headed your way, you could pause the action, change waypoints, and relaunch your plan. The game also allows you to set what actions automatically throw the game into Plan 'n Go mode (normally, you manage it by just hitting the space bar). For instance, you could set it to switch into planning mode the instant an enemy is spotted by your characters.
For modern gamers who lack the patience to manage this sort of activity, you can easily switch to real-time mode, which allows you to move and attack just as you would in an RTS game, with no waypoints needed. We've been told that while you could play the entire game in RTS mode, it's best to become familiar with the planning mode, as some missions are very difficult if you don't.
In a time when every military game is an FPS, it's nice to see someone kicking it old school with a turn-based title that relies on brainpower to complete missions. It's a new-old idea whose time has come, and it should prove interesting to fans of the original games as well as those who are new to the genre.
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