Fans of turn-based, squad-oriented tactical war games are passionate. To this day, they will gladly play the likes of X-Com and it is a shame that their genre has so little recent support. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action must thus seem like a welcome return to form, and it partially is, but anyone who enjoyed the 1999 classic it’s based on should be aware of some major changes seen even in a pre-release build provided by the publisher.
Back in Action takes its plot, setting, and characters from Jagged Alliance 2. The player is in charge of a campaign to liberate a fictional third-world nation from the clutches of a heartless dictator, but you have no true forces of your own. Instead, you hire mercenaries and organize them into squads, then command them for as long as you can continue to afford their contract. This leads to different interfaces for each part of the game, broadly divided into strategical movement across the nation, tactical combat between squads, and financial/inventory management.
While Back in Action is clearly a retelling of the JA2 story, it is not an exact duplicate. Most of the familiar cast and script are back, though some lines have changed and so have some situations. Among other differences, players now start the campaign at the airport rather than a small town, and some locations have been moved around. It’s still recognizable, but this isn’t the old game on a new engine and that may take some getting used to.
Perhaps the biggest change is how combat is handled. While the free-roaming segments are how you would expect, things are very different once you encounter enemies since Back in Action uses a somewhat real-time combat system instead of turns and time units. Fortunately, you can pause the action to issue orders and even give coordinated commands (for example, one mercenary only firing if another is in position to fire simultaneously). In addition, ’fog of war’ seems to be gone and you can immediately know where most enemies are.