Jagged Alliance: Crossfire Review

October 3, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Coreplay
Platform(s): PC
Release Date: August 24, 2012

The Jagged Alliance series has been around for over a decade now.  Previous releases didn’t win over any critics, but the fan base continued their allegiance despite the franchise’s rough patches.  Kalypso’s latest offering is a stand-alone expansion to the tactical RPG Jagged Alliance: Back in Action that came out in February of this year.  The game offers new mercenaries, new weapons, and new environments, and while fans wanted more of the same, the return of similar bugs and a practically identical game doesn’t justify the hefty price tag of $29.99.

The Good
- Tactical gameplay is as fun as ever
- Nicely varied new environments
- Experts will love the challenge

The Bad           
- Too hard for newcomers
- It’s almost identical to its predecessor
- Voice acting is headache inducing
- Micromanaging over strategy    

If you’re a veteran of Jagged Alliance, all you need to know is that Crossfire introduces ten new mercenaries, ten new maps, new weapons and enemies, and about fifteen hours of gameplay.  If this sounds attractive enough and you don’t mind the steep price, Crossfire is a decent little add-on.  But if you’re a devoted fan, you’ve already made up your mind on whether the expansion is worth exploring.  This review is geared more towards newcomers, those of you who’ve been curious about the series and wonder if Crossfire is a good way to be introduced to the franchise.

The plot hasn’t changed much in over ten years.  You’re liberating the fictional nation of Khanpaa from the grip of a group of paid mercenaries with your own private military corporation.  Ironically, it feels like you’re replacing one group of crazies with another.  But to be fair, you’re not playing these games for their narrative or complex characters. It’s all about the merc tactics.  Gameplay in Crossfire is best described as tactical strategy with a heavy coat of micro managing.  If you’re new to the series, the game offers a fantastic training mode that’s imperative to play before heading out on your first mission.

As you learn the basics, things seem easy enough.  You’re taught every action step-by-step and you feel like you’re ready for your first challenge.  Wrong.  The game is not beginner friendly and will crush you if you’re too anxious to approach your first enemy.  During your mission briefings, you need to hire mercenaries for assignments, but the lack of proper funding means you can only afford low-stat characters.  This means that you can’t approach enemies until you find or purchase proper equipment around the map.  Mission objectives are pretty straightforward; you’re liberating sectors and taking out baddies while staying undetected, but unless you’ve played previous titles, you’ll feel overwhelmed and underpowered from the get go.

The game plays out in real-time but you can pause the gameplay Mass Effect-style and queue up actions for your crew.  It’s very satisfying to watch your carefully planned attacks play out, especially when you catch enemies off guard. You always need to be one step ahead of the enemy since patrolling guards can easily interrupt your carefully laid out moves.  Surprisingly, the depth of the game is not so much in strategizing, but rather the micro managing of your inventory.  Weapons and equipment break easily and repair kits aren’t exactly around every corner.  You can repair weapons, but not your armor, and considering that money is sparse you’ll have a hard time advancing past the first few sectors.  Merchants won’t sell you goods until the area is liberated so you have to scout every corner to find necessary equipment.

The new maps introduce nicely varied rocky and snowy mountain terrains.  The different environments might be enough for some, but the maps are smaller than before, so there’s less room for exploration.  My biggest gripe are the multi-level buildings that make certain sections unnecessarily difficult.  There’s a no-rooftop camera button that’s helpful when entering interiors, but when you have upper levels and lower levels to deal with at the same time, it’s difficult to switch back and forth when your mercenaries are spread out. 

A game like this needs a strong AI so that you can focus on strategy and don’t have to worry about computer unpredictability.  Unfortunately, the enemy intelligence is inconsistent.  When pausing the game, you can see the enemy’s line of sight, which should help you determine your visibility status.  More often than not, especially during key moments, the AI spotted me while I was completely hidden in a bush – way outside their radar.  Other times, they will stop while patrolling and react as if they’d heard a noise, even though my character was completely idle.  Moments like these ruin the flow of the game and take you out of the immersion.  Most of my planning felt like rolling the dice and crossing my fingers rather than relying on an effective strategy.  This isn’t to say that the game is no fun.  When things run smoothly, Crossfire is exciting, thrilling, and rewarding.  It’s just a shame that moments of bliss are sparse and overshadowed by too many problems.

Presentation has never been the strong point of Jagged Alliance and Crossfire looks identical to its predecessor.  The aging graphics engine still boasts some nice details here and there, but it makes you wonder when was the last time the developers upgraded their computers.  There’s little variety in the enemies and most mercenaries look like character models from the first Sims game.  What you see in the screenshots here is exactly what you get.  However, the real downer is the voice acting.  You’ll hear the same lines repeated over and over and they’re performed in the most obnoxious way imaginable.  There’s a fine line between caricaturizing characters and making them sound like idiots. This is clearly the latter.

It’s difficult to figure out who this expansion is for.  Fans are only getting a change in scenery with a few new characters and weapons, and newcomers will rip their hair out in frustration due to the high difficulty.  If Crossfire were half the price, I’d recommend it to fans in a heartbeat, but at thirty bucks, you’re better off scouting for Mods to prolong your adventure.  

Final Score “For Hardcore Fans Only” 6.0
The game looks identical to its predecessor. It's an outdated graphics engine that's decent enough, but needs a complete overhaul if it wants to be pleasing on the eyes.
If you're a fan of the series you'll love the gameplay. It hasn't changed, nor has it been improved. But newcomers should stay away. The game is too difficult in its early stages and expects you to be a pro from the get go.
The content is decent and will give you about fifteen hours of playing time, but the price is too step for a standalone expansion. Wait for a price drop before making a commitment.
The voice acting was so bad that I played the game on mute for the second half. Characters repeat their lines nonstop and their voices are unbearable. Environmental and weapon sounds, while few, are decent enough.

Review by Tin Salamunic

Tin Salamunic is the founder of The Game Scouts. He is a Video Game Journalist during the day and illustrator by night. He's been obsessed with video games since the early NES days, collecting every major system and game on the market. Video games are the reason he pursued the illustration career and he hopes to be creative director for a video game company one day. All Artciles by Tin. 

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