By Sparky_Buzzsaw 13 Comments
Sparky here, with your usual weekly update of all things inane. I'm going to be filling you in on my thoughts on Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, and since I still haven't gotten around to doing any significant reading of any sort, I've decided to use that section as a random catch-all. I'll also be talking a little bit more about my progress in Divinity II. Grab some Tylenol for that Valentine's Day hangover, because this word magic is about to get you drunk all over again.
Mercs with Mouths
Guys. Guys. GUYS! Guess what?
Jagged Alliance: Back in Action doesn't suck!
You have no freakin' idea how relieved I am as a long-time fan of the series to say those words and truly mean it. It's not great. It's frankly busted in spots. There are bizarre problems everywhere. But overall, it's good ol' Jagged Alliance goodness at its core. After a substantial number of years without a great title in the squad-based tactical genre, this is more than a breath of fresh air. This is a full-on revival of a niche genre I thought long dead. And that alone has warranted the game's purchase, in my eyes.
That being said, unless you're an old school Jagged Alliance fan, don't buy this game - yet. Give it at least a year, maybe more. Give the developers time to iron out all the problems (and there are a TON - we'll get to that in a minute), and more importantly, give the rabid modding geniuses of Jagged Alliance 2 time to get their hands on it. This can go from being a middlingly decent game to a genuinely great one with time. It's obvious this was released way too early. The game is rife with spelling errors that a simple sweep by a couple of American testers could have found. There's a distinct and jarring framerate problem (at least with my laptop, though my rig should be well equipped to run it). And most importantly, it's missing key features of Jagged Alliance 2 such as the create-a-merc that seemingly will be implemented at a later date, either by the game's developers or by fan modders.
I do have some issues with the game's fundamentals that will probably not be addressed by updates, but thankfully, this list is fairly short. The real-time gameplay just doesn't do it for me as much as the turn-based did. Part of that problem is that it's a bit half-assed. Unless specifically ordered to enter into a stance, mercs won't return fire or even look in an enemy's direction until told to. Returning fire seems to be a crapshoot, depending on the way the merc is facing. The inventory management (especially between mercs) is clunky at best. There's no difficulty settings (that I've found, anyways - I could be wrong on this one), meaning you're stuck throughout the game on one difficulty. And believe me, that difficulty is fucking brutal. There are ways around it, of course - saving after every successful firefight, no matter how small, is crucial. Pausing the game to micromanage is your best option, but this can be little counterintuitive if you try to play the game like an RTS.
In short, it's a game with a terrible identity crisis. It seems to me that this game is almost a warm-up, a way to justify a future sequel that will hopefully define whether this game wants to be a proper Jagged Alliance turn-based game or move towards a real-time squad combat game. I'm fine either way - I recognize that the turn-based format of the older games feels archaic and unwieldy. But if they make another Jagged Alliance, and I hope to God they do, it needs to find a better balance between real-time and turn-based.
As it stands, this is the sort of game I will probably play for years to come in small chunks - half an hour here, five minutes there. It's the sort of game I've been missing on the PC, and I'm damn glad it's here.
A Big Ol' Pot of Random Stew
-Divinity II takes a sharp nosedive right after the point where I left off last week, specifically right after you obtain the "Battle Tower." There's a laundry list of problems after that point. The game's sense of exploration is suddenly and severely cramped. Entire areas of the world I've just explored and come to enjoy have become completely inaccessible (to be fair, they give you ample warning). Worst of all, I've suddenly been left with incredibly little guidance other than vague, brief quest notes. Instead of opening the game up with the ability to turn into a dragon, they actually made it much more narrow and boring. The few civilized areas I've encountered are dull, lifeless affairs, lacking that charming little spark of vitality from the game's first half. It's a disjointed experience, as the beginning offers promises of a poor man's Gothic II, while the latter half is an ugly, scattershot affair with absolutely nothing new to offer besides repetitive moments when you need to turn into a dragon and topple the enemy's defenses. Frankly, it's a shame and I'm not entirely sure why I keep plodding on, except that I've already come this far. I'll give it as much as I can, and I'll dip into the expansion pack once I've hit the wall. I cannot recommend this game to anyone, not even die-hard RPG fanatics like me.
-With the release of both the Vita and a new console Twisted Metal this week, I feel like I should be far more excited than I am. I can't believe I'm saying this, since I've waited forever for a follow-up to Twisted Metal Black (one of my favorite games), but I have zero interest in Twisted Metal except when its price has been slashed. I don't want Twisted Metal to be about helicopters or giant transforming robots. I want classic Twisted Metal recreated for a new console, and this doesn't feel like it. It's got a case of the "me-too's," cashing in on the multiplayer premises of other games while trying to find a halfassed way to fit in with the newer generation of games. It's not that it looks like a terrible game. It just doesn't seem like a real Twisted Metal, and therefore, I can't get excited about it.
As for the Vita, Sony just hasn't put out any games that really have caught my eye. I'm still sorta pissed at them for their PSN fiasco. It really doesn't help that I think the Vita is far overpriced and has way too many gizmos that gamers don't need and developers won't implement. Listen, all I really want from a new consoles and handhelds is better graphics technology and further improvement on technology that we use consistently in games. I don't need or want eight different ways to touch the screen, or a rotorootertransmogrifier to spin the screen as I twist around. I just fuckin' want it to have great games and be reasonably priced. We've already got great controllers and ways to play the games, so concentrate instead on refinement and durability. That's all.
-Steam and GOG.com games for $2-5 surely don't count when it comes to my rule about buying new games, do they? Sigh. Picked up Plants vs. Zombies this week, and I damn near bought a few games from GOG over the last couple of weekends that I really don't need. But when you throw a hand-animated adventure game in my face that I've never heard of (Jack Orlando), it's almost a moral imperative! Seriously, it was everything I could do to click the "remove from cart" buttons.
-On to TV and movies - I thought Alcatraz started strong, but it's floundering. Seriously, producer and showrunner people, we need to move beyond "case of the week" TV blues. Speaking of case of the week, I finally saw the first three episodes of Sherlock, which was as good as advertised. But seriously - three episodes a YEAR, Britain? Grrr. I almost wish I'd watched it after the show has finished and all the DVDs were released here in the States. Oh well.
And that's it. Long entry today, I guess. I'm bushed, so I think I'd better go cuddle my dog, nurse my V-Day hangover, and chow down on leftover pizza. Hope you all had a great Valentine's Day.
I usually don't like to post my blogs to the forums, but I do it every now and again to try to get a larger readership. If you like what you've read, feel free to follow me. I put these out roughly each Wednesday.