Jagged Alliance: Back in Action Review

The series' transition to real-time strategy is a rough one in this flawed remake.

Going back to improve on older games can sometimes muck up what worked rather than fix what was awry in the first place. That's partially the case with Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, a remake of the second game in the series that attempts to freshen up the old-school formula. It still looks and plays like a relic from the past, which may be a selling point for some, but the transition from turn-based strategy to quasi real-time combat is a bumpy one. Back in Action can be fun to play, despite the fact that it bogs you down in excessive micromanagement and bludgeons you with some mind-boggling design choices on the battlefield. It's a game that longtime PC purists will want to love, and you just might if you can tune out the frequent aggravations it throws at you.

Ambushes are the way to go.

The game follows the same story as Jagged Alliance 2; you're put in command of hiring a ragtag mercenary group to liberate the fictional country of Arulco from the dictatorial regime of the queen. You're initially armed with enough funds to hire just a few starting mercs from among 40 eccentric military-minded ruffians with different specialties, weapons skills, and distinct personalities. Once your group is formed, you work to reclaim territory from the queen one town at a time through cunning strategy and brute force. Expanding your influence earns you additional sources of income to use for purchasing arms and hiring more mercs to round out your fighting force.

It's a slow, tedious process early on that grows extremely challenging. Part of the difficulty comes from the abundant choices you have to make with very limited resources. You often have to choose whether you want to shell out for new members, pick up better gear for your current soldiers, or nab extra guns to pass off to the locals to help defend your turf from being taken back. While the original game let you heal troops and repair weapons from the map screen, Back in Action moves these tasks to the battlefield itself. Therefore, there's not much to do on the map besides move your grouped units in real time to navigate the terrain and engage key enemy positions. Most of the excitement occurs when you zoom in to specific combat encounters.

Interior views can be quite nice, but that means little when you're struggling with the difficult camera.

Instead of the deep turn-based tactical strategy of previous games, Back in Action takes a more fluid approach to combat that moves battles along at a quicker pace but presents some other issues. Selecting your whole group or moving mercs around independently, you direct their actions and select targets in real time. You handle other tasks like manual reloading, using health kits and special gear, swapping out weapons, and changing their stances for better aim right in the midst of the action. There's a lot of babysitting involved and the real-time format isn’t very conducive to juggling around these tasks effectively in a firefight, particularly when your mercs don’t always respond to your orders as quickly as they need to. It's easy for foes to get the jump on you, which quickly causes your best laid plans to spiral out of control.

Thankfully, you can pause the gameplay at anytime to consider your strategic options and issue individual sequences of commands to each squad member that play out in real time when you resume. This all works fairly well when you have a small group under your command, but it can get tedious to micromanage the simultaneous actions of multiple large squads. That doesn't even consider the fact that you have to keep a close eye on the durability of their armor, their ammo and weapons supply, and many other minute details.

Only in guerrilla warfare does it make sense to lie down in the road.

Gaining ground is a slow, patience-draining process early-on. Your force grows larger and earns better equipment, but the difficulty ramps up at an uncomfortably fast pace. Battling a dozen or so foes at a time in the first run of combat encounters forces you to use every possible resource you can scavenge to get by unscathed, but just when you hit a steady stride the game starts doubling and tripling the number of enemies it throws at you in each mission.

The sudden shift is jarring, and getting wiped out over and over again despite your best efforts stinks until you capture enough ground to make your force more formidable. But even then you have to worry about enemies sending squads to reclaim regions you’ve already slogged through in battle. If that happens, you’re stuck fighting some of the same battles over again even though you won the first time. It’s not a pleasant prospect when you just spent an hour or more clawing your way through a particularly tough encounter.

Clearing out all of the queen's troops from each expansive level requires using cover creatively and setting up meticulous ambushes to lure enemies into the line of fire. When you get into a steady groove, it's quite satisfying to take down targets and wrestle control of each area from the grasp of your adversaries. Still, there's a lot that can go wrong, and it frequently does. Back in Action's pause, plan, and go mechanic doesn't always yield the best results. Whereas recent strategy shooter Frozen Synapse really nailed a similar combat system by giving you the option to conduct trial runs to see if your plans have a chance at succeeding, Back in Action’s real-time element leaves things to fate and dim AI to decide.

If you want to stay alive, find cover. And quickly.

Committing to your plans without knowing how they might unfold gets dicey because there's a fine line between a flesh wound and a pile of mercenaries bleeding out on the ground. Even when they're well armed and armored, your mercs are painfully fragile. It doesn't take many hits from a decent-size weapon to take down one of your crew, and fallen comrades that aren't revived fast enough will die permanently. Losing favorite mercs you’ve grown attached to isn’t just emotionally draining, it’s absolutely disastrous in certain stretches of the campaign.

Losing a teammate in the early game when resources are scarce can be a big blow, but you also need a beefy force to handle later encounters that throw dozens of foes at you at once. The game autosaves separate files for the start of battle and individual combat skirmishes within an encounter, which is often the only thing that keeps you from rage quitting after repeatedly losing your whole squad, but the constant need to reload encounters the second they go awry is frustrating on its own. Back in Action is extremely tough, and it's sometimes hard to muster the patience to muscle through when you reach a strategic impasse.

Back in Action isn't a bad-looking game, but it has some rather bland stretches that balance its beautiful ones. The insides of structures are brimming with cool details that give the them plenty of personality and a lived-in feel. While the battlefields outside have some nice visual designs, many of the earlier maps feel sparse, drab, and empty.

This game is so aggravating, you'll want to make like these civilians and cower in the corner.

Wrestling with the camera also presents a problem through many encounters. It's tough to find the sweet spot to get a good viewing angle that lets you survey the land while issuing orders. When the ability to effectively strategize and plan out your attack relies so heavily on surveying the battlefield, horrible camera controls are a huge misstep. You're locked into a distant bird's-eye view or a sharp-angled close-up view, and neither feels quite comfortable. Battling on, around, and through buildings is hampered by line-of-sight issues, as well as visual glitches. For example, the roof sometimes disappears when you're on top of a structure; at other times, you can't get a view of what's inside unless you're barreling through the door--often right into a shotgun blast to the face.

Over time all of the niggling little problems build into a bigger headache, making this remake a disappointing, often irritating excursion at best. For every design decision that enhances gameplay there’s one that sets it back. A good stiff challenge is one thing, but so many aspects of Back in Action’s design actively work against you. That’s unfortunate, because there are stretches where the core game is really enjoyable--just not enough to keep all but the most diehard players from packing it in.

The Good
Lots of mercs to hire and gear to customize
Combat is fun when it clicks
The Bad
Punishing difficulty curve
Real-time elements are problematic
Frustrating camera angles
5.5
Mediocre
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Discussion

28 comments
nomailx
nomailx

WTF is wrong with this game??? They go to details like items weight, but omit things like guards not reacting to dead bodies and just patrolling next to fallen comrades??? wtf is that?

danbolivar
danbolivar

This review should be redone, considering the many improvements since the patch.

outlawst
outlawst

it was a great game,this review and GS score 5.5 (mediocre) are nonsense !

ruitaurus11
ruitaurus11

it´s a great game now, that has the last patch 1.13d. i have been playing it over 3 day , and i want more!!!1

It´s v.good.

When more patches comes out or mods, then this game will be great!!!!!

suicidepickles
suicidepickles

I gotta agree with those who disliked the review... this is a good game, just make sure to use the last patch.

MindlessTeef
MindlessTeef

Not nearly as good as Jagged Alliance 2 was, pity... BiA is "okay", at best.

igi_pop
igi_pop

i think they sould have sticked to the turn-based system. but will play :) don't like no-brainer games..

Abbasaltaweel
Abbasaltaweel

the best commandos like game I everseen

please this rating unfair realy

macmert
macmert

Old one is much much better...

yank3e
yank3e

I think the reviewer had a bad day, I mean, finally a game that requires you to THINK, some hard game that you need to think your choices, and not some no brainer shooter... has a lot of flaws, but the gamplay its ok, and difficult like in commandos, silent storm and fall out. give a try

Yams1980
Yams1980

won't really know if this is good till I try this, i can't really trust gamespots reviewers

kautsar211086
kautsar211086

if you like fps or nowadays genre, dont play this game.. I really love this game :)

velcroboy
velcroboy

Wait, This game is hard? Frustrating yes, but all of the complaints I've heard and personally expressed is that it doesn't come with a harder difficulty level.

splinter10
splinter10

looool this review made me laugh so much. Downloading demo now.

TezzaMM
TezzaMM

Another great turn-based game that only really needed a graphical/interface update. I've see this so many times before with X-Com remakes... ah well back to the drawing board.

Green---Alien
Green---Alien

@WCK619 Nice run down off the game, better than the G/S reveiwer

FoeCrusher
FoeCrusher

Shame I was hoping for a more manageable and less time consuming Jagged alliance. JA2 for me required too much time and patience to get through. I got stalled about 3 mines in and never bothered to finish. It seems as if this one doesn't improve on the last.

BloodMist
BloodMist

Well, the good news here is that the developers of the upcoming XCom remake have a fully functioning example of everything they shouldn't do.

Dagamemonkey
Dagamemonkey

I loved Jagged Alliance 2. Still play it. It's a shame these revamps suck.

dutchgamer83
dutchgamer83

Funny how you can mess up a remake of a great game. Why don't these studios ever get it, what isn't broken doesn't need to be fixed. Gave the orignal a graphic update but left the rest as it was and it would have been a score for them. But no they have to adjust things, thinking people are waiting for it while they aren't. And how come camera angle problems are still in games, don't studios test this? Spend less time on making DLC and more time on the actual game please (meant in general not pointed out at only this game).

FlamingFury
FlamingFury

The trailer for this game was freaking horrible.

Divedude
Divedude

This game is what it is. If you played the first one and I did, this is better graphic and the same game. I really enjoyed the series but it was never meant to be more than a old school RP shooter that is turn based with hints of a Real-Time. It fits a niche of nostalgia like Fallout Tactics and other older games of that time, and one that I find rather enjoyable.

WCK619
WCK619

Not sure how this reviewer found the game difficult. The common conclusion is that it's too easy. There's no reason to have a bunch of large squads that make it complicated when you can easily get through the game with just one full squad or less. Baiting the enemies into an ambush or sniping from far away is very easy. With a silenced sniper rifle the enemies sometimes don't even react to shots. 2 things this review nailed head on were micromanagement and the crappy camera. That warehouse pictured with the caption about struggling with the camera angle is a LAUGHABLE sector. The camera angles and inability to see inside make it so annoying you are practically forced into resorting to the cheap tactic of bait ambushing. Then there's the glitchy high watchposts inside the building that enemies are positioned on but are impossible to walk on. Oh the micromanagement. Most of your time spent in this game will undoubtedly be spent gathering items, arming militia, trading items, repairing weapons, and sorting items.

MindlessTeef
MindlessTeef

"(and I'm hoping for it not to be UbiSoft or EA)" Don't even say that! EA... you just know JA will end up being another generic FPS... like what they did to the once great Syndicate. JA Online looks a bit better, at least it's still turn based. But yes, Coreplay did mess up the JA franchise rather nicely with BiA.

bloody-hell
bloody-hell

Makes me sad when I think back when Akella was already almost done with a remake of Jagged Alliance in the Silent Storm engine - That looked like the most promising continuation, but was sadly canned. BitComposer screwed up twice with the JA franchise, as Developer (JA BIA) and Publisher (JA Online), congratulations for this achievement guys, that's rare to fail twice in such short time. If there would be appropriate mod tools and code access available for the Silent Storm engine I bet you that the modding community would come up with a total conversion, but all there is is a level editor and the rest of it is closed source. I hope that the studio that gets the JA IP next will be a capable one (and I'm hoping for it not to be UbiSoft or EA). Until then I'll happily continue to play the fabulous 1.13 mod of the original JA2.

nomailx
nomailx

I mean come on! You shoot 2 guys right next to a 3rd guy who just fires 2 rounds and then just stops and stands there like nothing happened. Is this a bug? Don't tell me that you guys all play this game, and are not disturbed by this??

Jagged Alliance: Back in Action More Info

  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    Jagged Alliance: Back in Action brings back the Jagged Alliance series of mercenary-themed strategy games with updates to visuals and gameplay.
    6.3
    Average User RatingOut of 266 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Jagged Alliance: Back in Action
    Developed by:
    Kalypso, Coreplay
    Published by:
    Kalypso, bitComposer Games
    Genres:
    Strategy, Turn-Based
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence