The Jagged Alliance series has been around for a long time, but it’s a series that always struggled to modernize itself. While turn based rivals like XCOM have been successfully re-imagined for a new generation of armchair strategists, Jagged Alliance has struggled to recapture the acclaim of those early games. More recent attempts like Jagged Alliance: Back in Action (a full-scale remake of Jagged Alliance 2) have failed to make an impression, and as a result the challenge set for Danish studio “Full Control” is a tough one.
They got over the first hurdle and their Kickstarter was a success, and with the official rights for the name secured, they’ve released Jagged Alliance: Flashback, a prequel to the very first game, and one that hopes to evoke the atmosphere, gameplay and quality of those classic games.
This isn’t a big budget affair though. It’s a subtle, retro-infused release that clings to the aesthetics of the original Jagged Alliance games. Obviously it’s a much better looking game than those classics, but its functional game engine retains the essential feel that should make fans feel instantly at home.
While Full Control might have gotten the basics right, Jagged Alliance: Flashback still has a long way to go with its presentation. At the moment there’s a big disclaimer telling players that it’s very much a work in progress, and that’s obvious when you start the game and see some warning signs that Jagged Alliance: Flashback is pretty far off being a complete, finished product.
First off there’s some pretty poor voice acting on the characters. There’s not a lot of voiced dialogue, but what there is can be very grating. For example, hearing each character say “let’s get them” each time you move them is irritating. Meanwhile, there’s some nice 70’s spy movie music, but the sound effects are very placeholder, with a tinny, low bit-rate quality. The jungle noises grate and generally you’ll be best served by muting the sound.
The basic structure of the game is in place though, and as you move your team around, spending action points each turn to move and shoot, it feels like the essential gameplay is solid. The cover system is essential, and if you’ve played other recent trun based strategy games you’ll feel familiar with the system of full and partial cover for your little soldiers. Equipping them with the right body armour and weapons is essential, and you’ll have to keep an eye on their health, ammo and available action points each turn to succeed.
There’s an over-world map (thats currently very basic but is being replaced) that shows areas you can move to, and when you move to an area with enemies you have the choice to engage them or flee. Choosing to engage them takes you into the tactical part of the game, where you will move around freely until you encounter your first enemy, at which point the action will freeze and you will be able to order your squad around in turn based combat.
While the missions are the most polished parts of the game, there’s still some issues to be addressed. The camera does not snap to characters when you press the shortcut keys and indeed generally the camera is a bit of a hassle and requires constant manual adjustment, making it feel like the game isn’t interested in showing you the action. The scenery can obscure the characters and does not have a transparent effect to show them when they’re inside, meaning you have to move the camera a lot.
Still, there’s some nice weather effects, and the maps themselves offer lots of opportunity for smart, tactical play. There’s work to be done, but Full Control are creating a new Jagged Alliance that stays true to the roots of a series they clearly love. Let’s hope they keep working and fulfill this games potential.