Review: Hired Guns:The Jagged Edge (PC)

Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge
Genre: SRPG
Developer: Games Factory Interactive
Publisher: Tri Synergy/Matrix Publishing LLC.
Release Date: 12/01/2008

If looking at the game’s title (Most notably the “Jagged” part of it.) and boxart made you start thinking of the Jagged Alliance games, then your intuition is not far from the mark because that’s exactly what Games Factory wants to you to think.

The game originally started life as “Jagged Alliance 3D” before the owner of the Jagged Alliance IP, Strategy First withdrew from the venture to produce the third part of that series themselves. So the Russian developer simply removed any references to Jagged Alliance and rebranded the game, Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge and marketed the game towards fans of the long abandoned Tactical RPG genre.

1. Story/Modes

One of the many things that Hired Guns imitates from its spiritual predecessor is the general plotline. You’re a badass mercenary who receives an email from a deposed president asking for your services to get in a fictional African country called Diamond Coast. He gives you free reign to do whatever it takes to get him back in power. Sure, it’s not exactly the most complicated or innovative plot around, but it gives you an excuse to cause mayhem and destruction as well as total freedom to complete missions at your own pace or style.

One aspect where this game deviates from Jagged Alliance 2 is with the different factions in the game. Hired Guns has 4 different factions you can ally and work for so you don’t have to stick to the initial faction that hired you at the beginning of the game. This leads to multiple storylines and endings which was not a feature in the earlier games.

The story is also quite realistic, I dropped into the game thinking to myself, “Hell yeah! I’m gonna be a good mercenary and fight for the people!” *fisted salute*. Instead, the game bought me back to the reality that there is no such thing as a “good mercenary.” Killing people for money kinda shoots a hole in that idea. Also, it’s naïve to think people who hire mercs have good intentions. Nearly everyone in the game is in it for their own personal gain not for justice – even the United Nations in the game is corrupt! With this in mind, the dark world of Diamond Coast is actually quite close to real world Africa.

Story/Modes Rating: Very Good

2. Graphics

This is the long awaited jump to 3D for the franchise (Or it would’ve been if Strategy First hadn’t pulled out) Quite frankly, the game’s graphics are decent enough for a small indie studio. I’d draw comparisons with Civilization IV’s approach to graphics. They’re not ugly, They get the job done and they won’t tax a gamer’s computer.

There are a couple of things that detract from the game’s visuals though. One is dramatic pop-up. This is strange considering that the levels themselves are actually quite small. When you’re panning around the tiny maps, you’ll start to see the edges of the level just disappear as you move away from them. The other issue is that the stages are somehow set in this strange black dimension which engulfs islands of land that you move around. It’s strange and jarring. You move to the edge of the map and nothing is there. You look up at the sky and nothing is there. Frankly this is just lazy, and if the dev team had just spent a little time on this, it would increase the visual impact of the battles that take place.

Finally, the cutscenes are simply horrible. Think PS1 era CGI and you’ll get the right idea.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

The music in this game is fairly standard. The score blends into the background nicely and it fits the African theme with instruments like drums and strings. None of the tracks will stick in your head and they aren’t very memorable, but the important thing is that they don’t detract from the experience which is the main thing to consider when you don’t have an awesome composer or musical staff.

The voice acting in the game has been subject to a lot of debate with the majority of games stating that it is horrible. In the voice actor’s defense, it is the script that’s horrible; they’re just trying to make the best of it. It’s like someone took the original Russian script and shoved it through Babelfish, and then handed it over to the English voice actors who have tried as hard as they can to make it decent. I honestly don’t think it’s too shabby. Chinese people sound Chinese, Englishmen sound English and even the Irish mercs have a realistic (I.E., not, “Top o’ the morning to ya!”) accent to them.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control/Gameplay

If you’ve played Jagged Alliance 2 for more than 15 minutes, then the controls and general gameplay will be fairly familiar to you. Games Factory has made no effort to deviant very far from its inspiration. You have a laptop which receives e-mails and goes to three different websites: a mercenary recruitment website, an online weapon store, and a “psychological profiling website” that generates your avatar in the game through a multiple choice quiz.

All this is lifted directly from Jagged Alliance 2. The quiz in particular even has some similar questions. The recruitment site even has the same layout!

The one difference between the two games is that in Hired Guns your “laptop” is simply a pop-up window with Excel spreadsheets for a GUI whereas Jagged Alliance had an actual laptop screen that greatly aided in immersing yourself in this virtual world.

Once you’ve hired your mercenaries and decided to start fighting, you’ll notice that the game doesn’t have an overworld but rather a map with interconnected “areas” that you jump between and fight on. This may seem like a step back, but I actually like having everything organized in clearly defined zones on the map. This makes strategic thinking clearer and the “board game” feel of the map makes capturing and upgrading territory take on aSid Meier’s Civilization or Total War vibe.

Once you’ve selected the area to enter and placed your units, gameplay is almost identical to Jagged Alliance but in 3D. One good feature in the game is that the developers have taken advantage of the 3D engine and implemented a quality physics engine into your firefights which affects things like destroying walls.

However, all this is over-shadowed by the fact that the game is hard. To call the game difficult is an understatement. The game’s FAQ suggests that you complete the game first on the easiest difficulty even if you’re a Jagged Alliance veteran. The reasons are soon clear. Your mercenaries can’t shoot straight until they’ve leveled up, your opponents are near super human and they grenade spam you more often than the Nazis in Call of Duty 2.

It’s ridiculous! I shoot an enemy point blank in the arm with a 9mm submachine gun and he takes 2 hp of damage. When it’s his turn, he kicks me in the head for 20HP of damage and then his friends proceeded to shove grenades up my ass. Unless this random African thug actually happened to be the next Bruce Lee, this should never have happened.

Two elements common to every SRPG are missing which aggravates this situation further: accuracy and range indicators.

Nearly every SRPG ever made tells you what your chances are to hit and if you can even hit that enemy or not. Not here. Instead, you’re firing blind and you’ll just have to figure out visually how many feet you are from your target and pray to the deity of your choosing because you have no idea whether your chance to hit is 95% or 10%.

Why Games Factory decided to make this a game that only the most hardcore Jagged Alliance fans can play is beyond me. It’s either poor business sense or Eastern Europeans like their games masochistically hard (Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, I’m looking at you).

Gameplay Rating: Poor

5. Replayability

If you have the guts to take the game for another spin (On the same or higher difficulty level), then you’ll find that the vast range of choices you have keeps the game fresh no matter how many times you play through it.

Did you work for the deposed president in the last game? Fine, betray him in your new one. Tired of your new employers? Backstab them. Don’t like your mercs? Get new ones and fit them out with different weapons to fight in a different style. What should you attack first? The airport which provides transportation all across the country or the diamond mine which provides you with cold hard cash?

It’s these myriad of choices along with the multiple endings that makes this game last quite a while If you can get past the choking difficulty.

Replayability score: Great

6. Balance

Your mercenaries start out very weak whilst your enemies are superhumans who can soak up bullets, aim with deadly precision, carry large amounts of grenades and do more damage with their fists then you can with a gun. I’ve even had messages that my mercenaries can’t shoot a nearby target because of I don’t have a line of sight….except they’re shooting at me so I should have line of sight. Great, now my enemies can shoot at me without reply.

I doubt the developers made this by mistake. it’s like they broke the balance of the game simply to increase its difficulty.

Balance Rating: Very Bad

7. Originality

This game makes little to no attempt to differentiate itself from Jagged Alliance 2. It may have started its life as a sequel to that game but it ended up feeling like an enhanced 3D remake more than anything else.

Nearly everything is lifted from its predecessor such as the plotline, interface, gameplay and even its title. The mercenary roster in this game is also less endearing than the wacky characters in JA2.

Sure, they’ve attempted to change a few things like adding physics and multiple plotline and endings, but overall this title apes too much from 10 year old games to make up for it.

Originality Rating: Very Bad

8. Addictiveness

While the tactical combat section frustrates me to no end, the strategic layer is addicting. I love building and upgrading things like cities and castles in games like Civ IV orTotal War. The “board game” aspect greatly captures the feel of steady progression you generally only in MMORPGs like WoW.

It’s a shame that the other half of the game isn’t as fun as this part. I find myself dreading the times I have to leave strategizing and go fight in the main part of the game. Usually I just save the game and procrastinate in picking it up again until I finally manage to make it through the level and return to the strategy view.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent

9. Appeal Factor

This is a game designed in Russia for Russian gamers and was localized solely to capitalize on the small Jagged Alliance fanbase.

The crushing difficulty and the lack of new features will deter any newcomers to the genre and the poor localization effort will not endear it to established fans. Also, with all due respect to Matrix Games, they are not exactly the highest profile publisher out there. This is very much an indie operation.

Appeal Factor Rating: Poor

10. Miscellaneous

Like most indie European titles these days, this game was given a budget translation job.

Sometimes I found myself re-reading entire phrases just to understand what the game was trying to tell me. The dialogue is stilted and found myself laughing at the jokes, not because they were funny, but due to the fact that they were so badly translated they fell completely on their face.

This is unacceptable. This is the second game from Matrix I’ve had to review with shoddy translation work. I don’t know why this is the case because the accompanying manuals and FAQ are well written enough. Why not get those guys to write the English text for the game?

Miscellaneous rating: Poor

The Scores
Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Decent
Control/Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Great
Balance: Very Bad
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Poor
FINAL SCORE: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Hired Guns does its best to capture the feel of the classic Jagged Alliance franchise but ultimately it takes too many elements from it. The end result feels like something from 1999 instead of 2008 even with the small innovations that have been included. I cannot in good faith recommend this game to Jagged Alliance fans. Definitely try this before you buy it. If you’re a newcomer curious about the genre, then just go to Good Old Games and grab Jagged Alliance 2 for 10$, because it’s still the king of the genre.



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