The 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo is where new games are shown to fortunate members of the press. In keeping with that theme, publisher Kalypso showed us the latest, work-in-progress version of Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, bitComposer's 3D remake of the classic turn-based tactical strategy game.
Since we last saw the game at this year's Game Developers Conference, much of its interface has been updated. The I.M.P. psychological profiling website (at which you create your own custom mercenary) has been implemented, as has the website for A.I.M. (at which you hire the game's colorful roster of mercenaries). The quaintly outdated laptop computer interface with which you check your email to stay abreast of mission updates (and delete annoying spam messages) has also been updated.
We then skipped ahead to a tactical mission on the oppressed (and still thankfully fictitious) island nation of Arulco. Our company consisted of some of the best of (and some of the rest of) the game's mercenaries. These included the superior stealth operative Shadow; expert sniper Lynx; and hand-to-hand combat specialist Keith "Blood" Hansen. Also included were journeyman stealth operative Igor "Did we mention he's Ivan's nephew?" Dolvich; rookie brawler Grizzly; and fresh-faced bomb squad member Barry Unger. (While the mercs will still vary in skill levels--and hiring prices--just as they did in Jagged Alliance 2, they will sadly not have the same voices or even the same actors for licensing reasons, though we're told that most, if not all of the dialogue will remain the same, even if it is performed by new actors.) This mission was clearly thrown together for demo purposes and not representative of actual gameplay. Shadow's ability scores had been artificially boosted through the roof just to make sure he never missed a sniper shot (which would've disrupted our little E3 demonstration).
While the demonstration of combat played out in much the same way as we had seen it at GDC, this version of the game had a working version of Back in Action's "plan-and-go" turn-based mechanics. As in the original Jagged Alliance 2, when not in battle, your mercs will move about in real time. However, as soon as hostiles are sighted, the game will switch to turn-based play by default and will surface a menu at the bottom of the screen with portraits of each of your soldiers next to a long, empty horizontal bar.
As you give each merc successive orders in the turn-based plan-and-go mode, that merc's bar will fill up with queued orders to move, fire, attack in melee, and the like. You can queue up this long list of orders by right clicking destinations in the world, using an additional behavior modifier menu on the right side of the screen to access all the in-depth tactical options you need in the field. These include changing your posture from standing to crawling or prone or adjusting your weapon's firing mode from single shot to burst or to full auto. Even more interestingly, you can then click and drag one merc's queued order onto another, linking the two orders so that the second merc will not begin taking action until triggered by having the first merc execute the linked order. This system of automating long command queues might go over really well with fidgety armchair drill sergeants who insist on having complex operations go like clockwork. Then again, you can choose to disable the various triggers that will set your game to play-and-go mode in the first place (such as sighting a hostile, taking damage, and so on) or even disable turn-based mode entirely. But who would be crazy enough to play Jagged Alliance that way?
In any case, we're cautiously optimistic about the progress of this graphical overhaul of one of the most well-regarded tactical strategy games of the past decade, and the game's play-and-go queuing system could have some very interesting applications. The game is scheduled for release later this year.