Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jagged Alliance Flashback - PC Preview

For those of you who do not know much about the Jagged Alliance games, shame on you. Jagged Alliance was originally released back in 1994 for MS-DOS and is a turn-based tactical role-playing game where you are a commander tasked to do some people-pleasing thing with less-than-honorable people. Over the last 20 years, the Jagged Alliance franchise has enjoyed numerous releases, most recently Jagged Alliance: Back To Action and Jagged Alliance: Crossfire just before that.


One of the best aspects of the Jagged Alliance series, outside of the spectacular tactical combat, is the sheer level of crazy that each mercenary exhibits. Each of the mercenaries that you can hire all have extremely unique, generally hilarious, and quite often crazy, personalities that really make the game shine. Some of the more known examples of cross-character communication or banter come from Dragon Age: Origins with Alistair and Morrigan going back and forth; well, the Jagged Alliance games have that same banter that is often better, but with the entire cast.

In recent years though, that crazy aspect with the cross-character banter has taken a significant back seat to a more realistic and gritty feel. More recently, Jagged Alliance: Crossfire is a relatively heavy game and comes with some fairly deep and mature overtones, and while the original Jagged Alliance games were certainly mature, they did not necessarily take themselves seriously. Not to discount Crossfire, as it is an excellent game and a great addition to the Jagged Alliance family, it just did not scratch an itch that some of the more die hard Jagged Alliance fans had. Enter Jagged Alliance: Flashback.


The title says it all "Flashback" as Jagged Alliance: Flashback is developer Full Control's attempt to return Jagged Alliance to its roots of hilariously crazy mercenary tactical turn-based role-playing game. I was fortunate to receive a preview of Jagged Alliance: Flashback and my first impressions? Buy it. Buy it now. Purchase the Early Access from Steam I will wait while you go to the Steam store and buy it.

Now that you have bought the Early Access to Jagged Alliance: Flashback on my good word alone, I would like to take a moment to, you know, talk about it. As mentioned, Flashback is aiming to refocus the franchise on the roots that made it so popular to begin with. Graphically, Full Control has somehow lightened things up while still keeping them gritty as environments are both bright and airy while, by some mystical mumbo-jumbo keeping it gritty.


The color palette for Flashback, when compared to Crossfire is more vivid and interesting, less grimy but more detailed in its poverty. I believe that a part of the reason Flashback looks so alive is due to the lighting and weather effects which were absent in more recent iterations of Jagged Alliance. They are a welcome addition and even in the Alpha that I was able to enjoy, are quite complete and add the perfect amount of realism and set the mood extremely well, even without background music.

Amidst the obvious graphical upgrade other features are making a comeback, like an easier interface for aiming at different body parts. Legs, Arms, Torso, and Head are all far easier to target (but not easier to hit) and add an additional layer of tactical awesomeness. In my handful of runs through the first few areas I invested more in mercs with really high marksmanship under the pretense that if I can take them out first, I win. Sadly, this approach led to reloading the level. A lot. However, the brutality and the complexity of the enemy AI and the skills of the individual mercenaries combine to make a stunning combat package that is tense, exhilarating, and most importantly, rewarding. I do not remember the last time I had so much fun, even in an Alpha, with turn-based tactical combat where high ground and vantage points mean so much. Just marvelous good fun.

Naturally, in the state that Jagged Alliance: Flashback is in as it is an Alpha that is still early on in the development phase (by the way, have you bought it through Steam yet?), the game is a bit rough around the edges. Even being in Early Access, Flashback shows so much promise that I cannot help but be pumped and ready for full release. The core mechanics, the personality, the flair, and the incredibly deep yet simple combat are all there and it is with an eager eye that I wait for more on Jagged Alliance: Flashback. You should too, as it is lining up to be amongst my favorites for the year.


Preview by Robert