Game Debate were fortunate enough to get a first-hand look at the bevy of new titles on their way from successful publishing house Kalypso Media, and it’s a mixed bag.
First up, we had a look at the long-anticipated Jagged Alliance : Back in Action. It’s been a goodly long time since we’ve seen anything from the Jagged Alliance franchise, although the recent appearance of the older games on gog.com has done much to revive interest in the line (and they certainly were good old games, so gog.com have no complaints from me in terms of trade descriptions). And the follow-up has been a long time in the making, too – and this year’s E3 was the first time it was being shown off.
Of course, it’s difficult to please all the people all the time, and that goes double for old-school videogame fans. But developers bitComposer aren’t afraid of bring new ideas to the tried and tested formula. The old turn-based option has been dropped entirely in favour of a real-time tactical game featuring a new ‘Plan and Go’ system. But we’ll get to that. Fans of the series (and fans of 1980s action movies) will find the storyline familiar.
You lead a hand-picked team of grizzled mercenaries in a mission to liberate the same island as in the previous Jagged Alliance games. It seems that no matter how many tinpot dictators get felled, there’s always a new one to fill the vacuum – and keep the mercs in work. The old merc management side is still there, with 60 mercenaries available for hire, and they don’t all work well together. So it’s up to you to try to find a team who get along, or that guy who is supposed to be covering your demolitions expert at a critical moment might just decide to accidentally-on-purpose have a little nap.
The overview map promises ‘Non-linear strategy’, which to you and me means that you can start wherever you like. Different areas of the map mean different resources, so you can choose whether it’s in your interests to secure the gold mines first, or liberate the prison. The whole game has a familiar interface to anyone who has played the previous games – it looks like bitComposer didn’t want to mess too much with what is a successful and well-loved franchise. Characters have the usual slew of skills such as shooting and medical, and skills increase individually as they’re used rather than generic experience points being available to spend wherever you like, so it’s definitely in your interests to specialise your team.
When it really comes to the crunch, the game mechanics revolve around this ‘Plan and Go’ system. The game plays in real-time, and you can pause whenever you like to issue commands to your team, but as soon as an enemy enters the line of sight of any of your team members, everything freezes, giving you time to chain together instructions for each of your team members. These instructions queue up at the bottom of the screen and can be dragged and dropped between your soldier in order to create complex chronological instructions. For instance, you may tell each guy to move into position, then wait until two of your team throw grenades, and only then does everyone pop up out of cover and go John Rambo. If this system works smoothly, it could create some really sweet moments.
We saw an early build, but it’s looking promising. Lines of sight play a big part, and the view system seems to be robust, so you won’t be spotted if you’re crouching behind a crate. A limited destructible environment allows tactical decisions such as shooting out windows to create sniper spots or blowing out certain walls with explosives, but this isn’t a completely destructible environment. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action has a completely updated graphics engine, still familiar in look and feel but much slicker and smoother. System requirements are still up in the air and the game’s still being optimised, but we’re told to expect no problems on anything built a year or so ago.
The Jagged Alliance release date is October of this year. It’s currently in Alpha at the moment.
OK, so what’s next? Well, it’s a bit of a jump, to be honest. From managing a corps of hard-bitten special forces mercenaries to managing a cartoony-style airline in Airline Tycoon 2.
For those of you who didn’t play the first game, and are somehow incapable of working out what to expect from the game’s name, this is a light-hearted management sim that takes players through the trials and tribulations of running their own airline.
A PC-only release, despite the tongue-in-cheek humour we’re assured that there’s a serious management game underneath. As well as the day-to-day chores such as setting ticket prices and organising refuelling stopovers, players can create their own fleet of aircraft, built from a list of components. This is where the customised gameplay comes in; with the choice between running a swanky luxury line for business bigwigs and the uber-rich, or strapping a few planks to a lawnmower engine and ferrying the plebs to Benidorm, all the while balancing all the woes of running a real airline. “With 60 real-world airports to choose from, this is the kind of game you can really lose yourself in,” said Mark Allen, spokesman for Kalypso Media. The Airline Tycoon 2 system requirements should be relatively gentle, and the game is not too graphically-intensive. Airline Tycoon 2 will be taxiing onto the runway on September 23rd, 2011 – ash clouds permitting.
Speaking of volcanoes (can you see what I did there?), we come to the final game Kalypso showed us: Tropico 4. Coming to Xbox 360 and PC, Kalypso are hoping to build on the success of Tropico 3, but with plenty that’s new to keep long-time fans involved. Following the highs and lows of life as President of a Banana Republic, Tropico 4 promises us new islands, new mission structures, as well as plenty of social media elements – players will be invited to post live Twitter and Facebook updates directly from the game. 20 new buildings are being introduced as well, that will affect the prosperity of each island. New ministry buildings will enable the appointment of your own ministers into positions of power, and of course you can still play as either a dodgy dictator or as a benevolent ruler, or perhaps as a shade of grey somewhere in between.
You’ll need to balance the interests of the different factions that are active on the islands, and there are new Middle Eastern and Chinese superpowers to keep happy. A solid new import and export system can be exploited to bring in raw materials from one of the superpowers, to work in your new factories to produce and export finished goods (perhaps to a different superpower) for a healthy profit. Oh, and remember the volcanoes I mentioned? Natural disasters are now much more dynamic. Volcanoes, tsunamis, oil spills and tornadoes are some of the threats that face your island paradise, and if and when they strike you’ll need to move fast to minimise the damage. But minimise it you can – so long as you can get your emergency services mobilised quick enough you may only have to repair a couple of damaged buildings rather than have to worry about rebuilding a whole side of town.
Tropico 4 is built around an updated version of the Tropico 3 engine, so the system requirements should be roughly the same. We saw different night and day cycles, new shadowing and lighting effects, but it still looks and feels like a new version of the old game. The map sizes are much bigger, though - at least 50% bigger, and with more topographical differences The campaign features 20 missions, set across 20 all-new islands. The missions themselves are fresh as well: You may be creating a new ministry and gaining respect from the religious faction in one mission, then trying to squirrel a certain amount of cash away in your own personal Swiss bank account in the next. Once the goals are reached, though, you can always just keep playing the island in a sandbox mode. Depending on the character you create at the beginning of the game, you may bnefit from traits such as ‘born with a silver spoon’, ‘man of the people’, or ‘great public speaker’, but each character must have a negative trait too, from a list including ‘tourettes syndrome’, ‘gambler’, ‘flatulence’, and ‘womaniser’. These traits will affect your strategy throughout the game, and stay with you from island to island.
Tropico 4 has an August 26th 2011 release date.