The same goes for the new graphics engine. The 3D buildings are interesting to storm and explore, and the textures look sharp for a low-budget game. But again, niggling details confound. The anonymous, rendered character portraits are devoid of the considerable charm of their pixel-drawn forebears, and the 3D scenery often ends up blocking your view of what you need to see, especially around windows and roofs. The engine also suffers from fairly severe slowdown in busy areas like towns. Another wash.
A few changes are just bad. The embarrassing writing is devoid of the series’s trademark wit, perhaps due to a poor English translation. The enemy AI enjoys super-acute hearing (confounding stealthy approaches) but often resorts to suicidal rushing. Worst, the interface for moving items between characters is slow and clunky, so you’ll spend inordinate amounts of time swapping items for repair, running around to hand them out to militia, and ferrying them to and from your frontlines. It’s logistical busywork, and should’ve been tremendously streamlined. (It’s even more irritating when you factor in how often the enemies steamroll your AI militia, necessitating yet more item runs if you want to re-arm them.)
Jagged Alliance 2 was a well-oiled machine of a game, with pieces expertly crafted to fit together and reinforce each other. Back in Action is less so, to its obvious detriment. While the new graphics engine and generally streamlined gameplay give it a suitably modern feel, too many of the changes seem like steps backward instead of improvements. Yet a core kernel of JA2 is still here, and the game’s enjoyable when it shines through. The developers are releasing patches and making encouraging noises on forums, and the famous Jagged Alliance mod community has already started poking at Back in Action’s dangly bits. Over time, Back in Action may yet grow into the game it could have been: the game that succeeds in bringing all the fun and strategic nuance of its forebear to a modern audience.