Jagged Alliance Online Pre-Beta Preview

The classic turn-based mercenary match-up returns, this time as a free-to-play browser-based game, and Ten Ton Hammer recently had the chance to check out an early build of the game with Gamigo’s Anthony Guzzardo.

jagged alliance online
John "Bull" Peters, one of the original Jagged Alliance mercs (picture from JA2), is one of many old school mercs to make it into Jagged Alliance Online.

Gamigo’s latest round of titles hearkens back to a time when online games were more pastime than  eSport. Turn-based strategy games cater to the type of gamer not out for a cheap adrenal rush, but those who enjoy carefully, meticulously setting up a strategy, seeing how it pans out, rinse, repeat. I was such a gamer. Before EverQuest,  I wiled away my baccalaureate free time playing games like Civilization, Panzer General, and Commandoes, but no game carried away my study time quite like the Jagged Alliance series.

Two parts squad shooter played from an isometric perspective, one part RPG with a nice jolt of oppressive banana republic-breaking story (and a hilarious personality questionnaire that served as a character creator for your core group of mercenaries), Jagged Alliance delivered hours upon hours of meticulously drawn-out tactical fun. Yet (with the exception of the reinvention-minded Civ series) TBS, like space combat sims (and sims at large), is a genre fallen on hard times.

jagged alliance online

That’s about to change, if Gamigo has anything to say about it. The upstart German developer/publisher that brought you Black Prophecy has acquired its first license and has not one, but two TBS titles in development. UFO Online and Jagged Alliance Online are new browser-based titles built on the Unity 3D engine (which is nothing if not perfectly suited for the stop-start action of a TBS), both are destined for the free-to-play model,  and both have the iso-perspective look that defined the TBS and RPG genres in the nineties, but it’s there that the similarities end. While UFO Online is molded on an alien invasion story with heavy faction-based PvP leanings, Jagged Alliance Online plants us squarely back in Omerta for the same freedom-fighter-for-hire action that I remember and love.

jagged alliance online

jagged alliance online

“We really tried to keep the heart of the game… really give the old school gamers what they want, but while adding more modern elements,” noted Gamigo’s Anthony Guzzardo, as I watched him take on a small village chock full of toughs with a 3-man team. Those modern touches included some excellent graphics, complete with dynamic shadows, muzzle flashes, gunsmoke, and model detail right down to the wrinkles on bad guy flannel. Some of the intangibles are already in place, too: the uptempo, fully orchestrated music was a nice blend of modern adventure game and MacGyver episode.



I mentioned RPG flavor, and the original Jagged Alliance ranked with Command & Conquer as pioneers of character voiceovers to help add depth to the mercs. Every merc came with bios, specialties, and costs, and part of the game’s magical replayability was how each battle played differently with a different squad. Anthony explained that at launch, the game would have 60 possible mercs descending on over 100 playable scenarios and levels in PvE and Co-Op gameplay (with PvP to follow after launch).

jagged alliance online

Another thing I loved about Jagged Alliance is the constant tension between the decision to reposition or to shoot. Players have a number of action points which they can use to move, to take time lining up a shot, or to change to or from standing, crouching, or prone (with various visibility and accuracy penalties and bonuses for each), switch to burst fire, toss a grenade, use a bandage, and so on. JAO preserves that tension, though Anthony noted that one of those old-timey decisions – the choice between headshot (quick kill but low percentage), chestshot (better accuracy), and legshot (chance to cripple) – isn’t currently in the game.

jagged alliance online

Anthony shifted to a nighttime map, and got too close to one of the few intact cars on the map. The resulting car alarm drew plenty of enemy attention - “just like in a zombie game” Anthony quipped – and his team was soon swarmed with enemies. I took the opportunity to unload a barrage of questions, but try as I might, I couldn’t extract more details about what makes JAO an online game. “Much is yet to be determined,” Anthony explained.

jagged alliance online

With no announced release timeline, Gamigo has plenty of time to make those decisions. We look forward to learning more about Jagged Alliance Online at GamesCom in August, and thanks to Gamigo’s Anthony Guzzaman and Dennis Hartmann for their time.

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