A squad of plucky and inexperienced mercenaries armed with little more than revolvers, first aid kits and quirky personalities seem unlikely candidates for liberating a nation downtrodden by the ruthless oppression of an iron fisted tyrant, but such a premise is the hallmark of the Jagged Alliance series.
Evil has once again reared its ugly head, this time in the form of an ultra-religious coup in the once tranquil nation of Khanpaa. Ostensibly acting in the name of their deity, a ruthless madman – acting with the tacit consent of shady multinational corporations – has seized the country’s abundant natural resources and enslaved its once proud people.
Lacking the resolve or the means to fight back, the dispirited citizens of Khanpaa have all but resigned themselves to their fate: a lifetime of back breaking labour, plundering their country of her valuable natural resources in order to line the pockets of the powerful elite. Entangled by a manifold of bureaucracy, legislation and technicalities, the United Nations and NATO can only stand by and lodge ineffectual protests as the new, powerfully connected ruler of Khanpaa laughs at the feeble condemnations of the all but helpless international community.
This is where the player steps in.
Perhaps it is the fact that the premise for this game bears so much resemblance to contemporary real world events that gives it a measure of added emotional weight upon the player. Or perhaps it is the romantic allure which surrounds the shadowy world of mercenaries and soldiers for hire; professional warriors who pledge their allegiance not to any flag or state but to the all mighty dollar. Maybe it is simply because Jagged Alliance: Crossfire is the latest game in – what is my opinion – one of the most beloved (and underrated) series of tactical squad based shooters of all time.
Whatever the case may be, I tried my hardest to like Jagged Alliance: Crossfire. I really did.
Having travelled, fought, laughed and bled side by side with my fellow mercenaries in Arulco (see Jagged Alliance 2), you can imagine the surprise and profound disappointment I felt once I discovered that Crossfire does not even give you the option of creating your own custom mercenary. Why the developers chose to do away with such a vital element in creating and maintaining player involvement and immersion in a game of this sort is beyond me.
Realising that I would not be personally setting foot on the dusty soil of Khanpaa, I set about unpacking my toiletries bag, replacing my socks and underwear, stripping down and oiling my AK74 and calling the airline to ask for a refund on my ticket or at least credit on my next flight. As the pre-recorded voice on the other side of the phone continued to assure me that Jetstar valued my patronage and that I would be assisted by the next available customer service representative, I set about creating my squad and taking our first tentative steps towards Khanpaa’s liberation.
The game itself can be divided into two parts: the strategic map and the tactical map. The strategic map is where you plan your squad’s next moves, issue travel orders and maintain an overview of the progress of your campaign. Once a situation calls for it, the tactical map is brought to the forefront, and here you take direct control of your mercenaries as you do battle with the enemy.
And battle you shall. A majority of your time in Crossfire will be spent either preparing for fire fights, engaging in fire fights or recovering after fire fights. Khanpaa will be liberated not with phony-baloney elections or smug, self serving YouTube documentaries, but with the humble, ever reliable Kalashnikov. As you make your way across the war torn landscape of Khanpaa, there will be towns and villages to liberate, quests to complete, hidden items to find and plenty of bad guys to employ your arsenal against. Basically everything you need for a solid, action packed romp through a third world war zone.
So why didn’t I like this game?
Let’s make it clear that Crossfire is an average game. Were it released not as Jagged Alliance, but maybe as Super Awesome Mercenary Shooter: Khanpaa Boogaloo, then this review would have ended several paragraphs ago with the conclusion “a simple, yet average tactical shooter game with a few innovative features which is nonetheless deeply marred by a number of faults…”
But when a game proclaims itself the successor to the Jagged Alliance series then great things are expected of it. The lofty heights into which Crossfire raised the expectations of Jagged Alliance adherents the world over only served to increase the impact of the fall once it became manifest that Crossfire either did away with, or simplified almost everything that made this game’s predecessor so fun, immersive and addictive.
Crossfire lacks the strategic depth of Jagged Alliance 2. Take the training of town militia for instance. Local militia are an essential component of your overall forces, as they guard your newly liberated towns and the precious income they generate. In Jagged Alliance 2, the speed at which you train militia is dependent upon a variety of factors: available funds, town loyalty, the number of mercenaries you’re willing to assign to the task, and their leadership capabilities. Do you put one of your marksmen on training detail, or do you need him in the upcoming raid? What if he’s also your best mechanic and you need your weapons repaired as well? But you need him in the upcoming raid because if you don’t capture that mine and its income then his contract will expire in about 12 hours and he’ll wave bye bye….
In Crossfire, once you take a town, its militia are recruited automatically, leaving you with very little to do with regards to follow up actions. There is almost no reason whatsoever to retake a town, and on my play-through I noticed that once my squad was up to full strength I had absolutely no inclination to retake a town which had fallen to the enemy. Though this is just one example of how the game fails to capture your interest, it is by no means the only instance.
The people of Khanpaa will need to take a page out of the history books of Libya, Egypt and Yemen if they wish to eventually regain their freedom; I will happily forfeit my pay in terminating this contract early. For those of you warriors looking to hire off your services in the pursuit of peace, freedom and an early retirement on a moderately sized yacht, I heartily recommend getting a copy of Jagged Alliance 2 and the community made 1.13 patch instead.
- Reviewed On