Jagged Alliance Flashback – Early Access Reviewed
By Nathaniel Liles
Many of us are still on the fence about how ethical the current popular use of the Steam Early Access program is. Most developers seem to think it’s a way to grab a few quick bucks by selling two levels for $50, and unless we stop using our wallets to tell them how well this works, it’s going to continue being the norm. There are, however, a few cases when something that might qualify as a beta comes up in Steam Early Access. Something that provides more content than a free demo would, setting itself apart from the majority of Early Access, and while it’s a bleak statement about the Early Access program, it’s a treat when a game is sold there in a form that indicates that the game might someday be finished. So, as it sits, Jagged Alliance Flashback isn’t a bad example of what should be in Early Access, but it’s not the best example of something that’s being sold for $45.
As usual, I went into Jagged Alliance Flashback completely blind. I hadn’t played any of the other games in the series, and aside from a bit of research on the storyline leading up to this point. The storyline really isn’t anything too special. Coming from the first entry, way back in 1994, the origin of this plot boils down to a scientist inventing a profitable tree and people wanting to totally steal the secret genetic recipe that makes profitable trees. How all of this connects to Jagged Alliance Flashback is beyond me, because there’s no introductory cutscene, and not even the briefest of tutorials. The game plays out in a grid-based tactical style, a bit like Shadowrun Returns.
Gameplay was fine before a recent update came and completely ruined the experience for me. Before the update, everyone was packing the same few guns, yes, but combat felt quick and meaningful. Now, after the update that “added handguns and submachine guns”, it seems like all allied characters use are these inferior arms. So now we have weaker, less accurate guns, and the update gave us the “ability” to reload, which simply adds a few meaningless seconds on to each turn. The combat flows like molasses, and most times, it’s not even a question of tactics. Hiding behind things usually means you have a terrible chance to actually hit your opponent with your silly handgun, and getting close enough to have a decent chance to hit someone is suicide. Combat feels like it takes an eternity because if you’re playing it safe (which is required, with the game’s perma-death and limited resources to buy more units), you’ll miss over and over and over again. The best part is, if you’re hit even once, expect to bleed to death. The same goes for your enemies of course, but they outnumber you and have better guns than you.
Graphically, Jagged Alliance Flashback looks fine. The style is mostly realistic, which follows the same theme as the mandatory reloading and perma-death, and the environments generally look very colorful and finished. There are plenty of flaws to pick out, but overall, this was a fine aesthetic experience, music and all. There’s also a pretty massive island to explore, all sectioned off into a grid that you explore one square mile(ish) at a time. That’s all fine, but unless you are incredibly lucky in combat, you will never survive long enough to explore more than a third of this area.
Overall, I’d say that this was a really good game-in-the-making if it wasn’t for one thing. When I first got this, it cost $45 on Steam. No way. I’m unable to see Steam Early Access as anything but a place to get people to beta test your game for free. If you’re going to charge people $45 for the right to test your game, you’re crazy. It’s unfinished, mildly broken in places, and missing features. It needs to be play tested, and instead of paying people to do that (common practice for most of gaming’s history), most companies charge people to do that. They lose save data, they play a broken game, and they miss out on the inevitable 50% off sale that will render this game a fair trade. Not to mention all the surrounding controversy with this game’s distribution. It’ll be a really good game – when it’s done. That’s the thing, though. It’s on Steam Early Access right now, but backers who donated up to $62 still haven’t gotten their copies, even though people can go buy it for $40 and play it right now.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/nathaniel.jpg”]Nathaniel Liles is a freelance writer, writing major, and indie musician based in Southern Indiana. While procrastinating or avoiding real-world responsibility, Nathaniel enjoys playing rhythm games, action RPGs, and very colorful games with many bright, flashing lights. You can listen to Nathaniel sing songs or download his music for free on his BandCamp page. You can watch him play games on his Twitch channel. You can also follow him on twitter at @NathanielLiles. And finally, you can read more of his writing over at EliteGamingComputers.com. He’s a pretty connected guy.[/author]