"Iíve nothing against games being hard, but before you survive the first few initial outings, loot a few corpses and watch your teamís stats rise to the point where itís noticeable, youíll be spending a lot of time reloading old saves that took place before complete slaughters and eagle-eyed head shot levelled against you. "
I would be lying if I said I didnít have high hopes for Hired Guns: Jagged Edge. Thereís a somewhat complex history behind the title that could have been Jagged Alliance 3 without the evangelical return of its creator and a sudden lack of faith in developers GFI, but this wasnít enough to derail their plans. As the subtitle suggests, as much as could be kept from its time spent as Jagged Alliance 3 without a lawsuit is left in game. Even to the point of keeping the laptop interface that allows you to hire mercs, stock up on weapons or even create your own likeness (using the exact same interface and passwords as the previous Jagged games), itís clearly an attempt at upgrading an old favourite.
Which makes it such a shame that itís not a particularly great update. The first mission is a sobering reminder of how Hired Guns could have been. You need to partake in all the expected pre-mission micro-management; hiring your squad of mercs dependent on budget and outfitting them with either their equipment of choice, or buying them armourments more to your suiting. These mercs all have their own quirks and agendas you need to keep in mind while hiring; rookies will flock to your army regardless of these, desperate to make a name for themselves and earn a little cash while the more experienced soldiers can afford to be more picky. Shotgun-packing Scotsmen and Irish terrorist siblings turned their nose up at my offers of employment after Iíd already hired a small core of Englishmen who they refused to work with, and lithe Chinese republican snipers scoffed at my lack of honour. The first map was assaulted with an impressionable youth thinking he was destined to be the next freedom-fighter of legend, a couple of ex-militants from England who had grown a little too long in the tooth and a psychotic South African madman who called himself Jabby.
They all died shortly thereafter.
The first map slaps you on a square of jungle and tasks you with reaching a small wooden hut on the far side. On the way there, youíll find another small hut occupied with marauders who treat you with complete indifference unless you decide to open fire on their ranks. It helps to keep them off your back when you stumble across the zoneís military presence who both outnumber and outgun you in every way imaginable and will get right on with the task of blowing you up into little bits.
Until you encounter hostilities, youíre free to navigate the map in realtime, moving your troops individually throughout the jungle-spotted environment. Shortly, youíll be picked up by a military patrol that wonít take too kindly to all the armed troops trampling their lands, and the game will switch to an open-planed turn based assault where each faction takes turns. In a clever twist, those marauders from earlier will form an uneasy alliance with your forces to take on the common enemy (so long as youíve not taken advantage of their indifference to blast them) adding yet another angle to the ensuing gunfight. Sadly, youíll find their efforts quite worthless.
The military are numerous, well armed and well positioned, while you're probably a small troop armed with whatever firearms demanded from you by your hires. What you really need in such a stage is long range and accurate rifles, which you could buy from the online gun shop, but would have to do so minus the benefit of somewhat important elements such as ammunition. Instead, youíre forced to make do with shotguns, which are completely useless unless youíre close enough to the enemy forces for them to gun you down effortlessly, or small arms fire that do negligible damage to anything youíre lucky enough to hit.
In these early stages, you do not fight troops of your own like; your forces, despite what the online bios say about them, are works in progress. It will take keeping them alive through several missions to stack their stats until they can score steady headshots and worthwhile streams of semi-auto gunfire. The opposition, however, can already shoot you in the face from the other side of the map with handguns, then gloat about it in poorly-translated English. It doesnít help either that these forces have an inhuman throwing ability to lob hand grenades super human distances right in the midst of a group of soldiers they shouldnít even be able to see. The result: charred corpses and game over screens.
It doesnít help when you try and hide from the people hell bent in murdering you. Lay flat on your belly to make yourself a smaller target and you seemingly go blind as even targets all but standing on you disappear from your vision. Defend yourself and shoot back, and you fire blind; the game wonít tell you the chances you have of making a shot, even though it does present an appreciated system that lets you pick a section of anatomy to blast away. Only common sense tells you that aiming for the chest will probably present a better chance of hitting your target than a headshot. Even if you do plug the angry army guys with a few slugs, they have such an abnormal tolerance to being shot, it still takes a veritable barrage to take the suckers down.
Iíve nothing against games being hard, but before you survive the first few initial outings, loot a few corpses and watch your teamís stats rise to the point where itís noticeable, youíll be spending a lot of time reloading old saves that took place before complete slaughters and eagle-eyed head shot levelled against you. Hired Guns doesnít ease you in: it airlifts you right into packed enemy territory, arms you with supersoakers and equips your clothing with neon flashing lights.
Even when you invest enough time in to even the odds, the game is full of quizzical additions that subtract from the overall picture. The sub-menus at the bottom of the screen are positioned so if you scroll your mouse over them, the cursor is near enough to the edge that the entire screen will track away from the action. Path finding for both forces is woeful, often leaving battle-hardened mercenaries unable to navigate around hazards such as trees or huts. Voice acting starts off as brilliantly bad but, as the game continues, drops to simply being bad, and the translation looks like the original Russian script was fed through Google to change it into English. Almost everything the game has to offer feels unfinished and rushed.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle Hired Gun had to leap was its own reliance on being the unofficial bastard lovechild of the Jagged franchise. It simply falls short in every category but where it stumbles the hardest is in its complete lack of personality, something the title it wants so hard to emulate almost drowns in. The foundations for a stellar strategic title are all there in spirit, but someone forgot to fill in the content.
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