Jagged Alliance Online preview: A classic reborn for the browser

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Turn-based strategy (TBS) games are making a comeback thanks to the Unity 3D engine and German publisher Gamigo. The browser-based online game publisher that launched Black Prophecy showcased Jagged Alliance Online at Gamescom 2011. The first licensed title from the game maker, Jagged Alliance Online takes the tried-and-true TBS gameplay and introduces it to the online gaming world. And for those who’ve never experienced this classic game, the free-to-play business model encourages anyone to check it out.

The isometric-perspective combat game is best summarized as two-thirds squad shooter and one-third role-playing game (RPG). This modern version of the classic game Jagged Alliance builds on the series’ strengths to become a browser-based experience. The graphics have been updated, making full use of Unity 3D. And the gameplay experience benefits from improved artificial intelligence. The online game offers depth through a great variety of different opponent types, which make each of the more than 100 missions available a real tactical challenge.

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Jagged Alliance thrived during the age of TBS games like Civilization, Panzer General, and Commandos. Players will be able to return to the same game world of Omerta to engage in the same style of freedom-fighter-for-hire action. Gamigo has taken an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. And while TBS games are more niche offerings these days with big games like Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 stealing the spotlight, there is a following of gamers who will gladly return to the front lines to experience this new take on the nostalgic game.

Options, options, options

Jagged Alliance Online has been designed to satisfy old-school gamers, but potentially introduce newbies to TBS and the potentially addictive tactical strategy that this game delivers. What separates Jagged Alliance from many other TBS games is the depth of its mercenaries. At launch, Gamigo will have 60 mercs to choose from. Each one of these characters comes with a complete bio, unique specialties, and costs. Mercenaries can be geared up with armor, weapons and other items and their skills can be upgraded.

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Depending on which three-man team you assemble for a mission, the experience will be completely different. Factor in that this game will launch with over 100 playable scenarios and levels in PVE and co-op gameplay, and you get the idea of how deep the game goes. Gamigo is also offering different player vs. player modes so players can fight with each other. One innovative PvP mode allows players to measure their skills against those of other players.

This is a thinking man’s war game, which means run-and-gun has been replaced with tactical decision-making. Adding tension to the gameplay is the fact that players are constantly dealing with “action points,” which can be spent on moving mercs around, firing at enemy soldiers, taking cover, switching to burst fire, tossing a grenade, and other actions. These points are aligned with the particular mercs chosen for each scenario, so the gameplay experience is always fresh. Players can earn points as they play and use them to improve some actions results, like hit probability.

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During matches, there’s the constant threat of shooting and taking bullets, or taking cover. During combat, mercenaries’ defenses vary depending on from where they are hit. Players can heal and revive fallen mercenaries after a match.

Raising the bar for gaming in a browser

Not that players will have much time to take in the sights, but this game showcases how far browser-based games have come thanks to Unity 3D. The villages and train yards in this 3D world really come to life. Special effects like dynamic shadows, muzzle flashes, gunsmoke, and accurately-modeled clothing on characters bring the world of Omerta vividly to life. Interactive maps feature objects that explode and realistic physics so characters can fall down when hit or killed. The addition of an orchestral soundtrack also adds a sense of depth, and at times urgency, to the gameplay experience.

Gamigo will undergo a closed beta test between the end of October and early November in preparation for a 2012 launch. The team wants to ensure that the turn-based gameplay will work in the online space. And the development schedule allows for time to tweak anything that needs to be corrected before the game gets its wide rollout. Fans of the franchise won’t have to wait too much longer before they can return to a new-and-improved Omerto packed with replay value and depth, plus a few new online enhancements.

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