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ups: Scores of weapons, all of them customizable
downs: Translation, lack of story, ancient graphics, numerous bugs

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Brigade E5: New Jagged Union Review
game: Brigade E5: New Jagged Union
one star
posted by: Jason Perkins
publisher: Strategy First
developer: Apeiron
date posted: 01:27 PM Tue Dec 5th, 2006
last revision: 01:33 PM Tue Dec 5th, 2006

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Click to read.Strategy First and Apeiron try to capitalize on the Jagged Alliance success with a squad-based entry of their own. The title Brigade E5: New Jagged Union would have you believe it is the successor to those classics, but it fails to live up to the name literally, technologically and spiritually.

You begin in the fictional country of Palinero, a tropical and war-torn region with a Spanish feel. The landscape is mostly dense jungle with a few outposts connected by primitive roads. If you were hoping for a FarCry-like environment, you won\'t find it here. The same tans and olive greens that adorn the box cover are exactly the same hues that paint the entire game. What makes this even more inexcusable is that the graphics are only marginally better than the Jagged games of the late 90\'s. Sure, there\'s been a transition to a 3D engine, but the character models are generic, the foliage is cookie cutter and the animations are either awkward or just broken.

The system requirements are nominal. Any PC built in the last four or five years should be able to meet the minimal configuration, but even on newer computers with all the video effects turned off, be prepared for sluggish framerates and horrendous load times, regularly surpassing a minute. There\'s nothing that interrupts a player\'s experience of immersion quite like a loading screen, and you\'ll get to stare at them a lot in this game. Once in a combat area, town or airport, the game stumbles again. Sometimes when there are too many enemies on screen or there\'s a lot of action and effects that have to be rendered, a game will stutter. In Brigade E5, however, none of these elements are required for the game to have an error. The game will trip on itself without any reason whatsoever, like that clumsy friend of yours who seems to trip over the cracks in the sidewalk.

If those interruptions weren\'t enough, the Smart Pause Mode (SPM) should fill the gap nicely. The way it\'s supposed to work is that the game is in real time, but when something important happens - for example when an enemy is spotted - it will pause automatically and wait for your input. It\'s an attempt to combine real-time and turn-based strategy, but in practice, all it does is annoy the hell out of you. Thankfully, you can change how the SPM system works and what events have what effect, but even after making your adjustments there are no guarantees.

After pounding the SPM system into submission, you can try to get some actual work done. As a mercenary for hire, you are presented with three options. Allying with the Criminals, Rebels or National Democratic Front will send you on various missions: assassination, blowing up strategic locations, delivering packages or information, etc. The usual. Soloing it at first, you won\'t be able to handle anything intense, and the insane difficulty doesn\'t let up. Your weapons are limited (because the good stuff hasn\'t been smuggled in yet, I guess), body armor is nonexistent and there isn\'t enough cash flow to support a larger squad. Tweaks to the difficulty like No Misfire and Slow Enemy Reaction can be turned on or off to help, but it feels like a cheap way to pass these early parts of the game. Probably the most aggravating missions in the game are VIP escorts. Apparently they all have a death wish, because they proceed through enemy territory like they were in the Popemobile, impervious to all attack. Strategy takes a backseat and you\'re forced to run alongside him, guns blazing, and hope for the best.

Once the weapons start unlocking and your character gets some backup and improved skills, the difficulty becomes much more manageable. Some of the scenarios are still tremendously difficult, but can be completed after a few tries. Weapons and equipment can be customized to your liking, which is one of the shining points in the game. Boasting 130 unique weapons and 10,000 modifications, there is no shortage of things to do if you\'re into micromanagement.

Perhaps the feature you use most in Brigade E5 is the autosave function. When entering or leaving an area, your progress will be saved, which helps when your main character is taken out instantly by a critical shot to the head. The other instance that you\'ll have to use it is when a mission is bugged. NPC\'s might not acknowledge that your objectives are complete, forget to give you rewards, or they might be absent altogether. Sometimes, reloading your game will fix this and you can continue, but on my first run through, I moused over the character I was supposed to talk to, and saw the cursor change to talk icon, but they simply turned away from me and took a step forward. Unfortunately, there was no way around this mission and I had to create a new game and start from scratch. There are a couple patches for the Russian version of the game that address some of the problems, but so far there is no fix for the US copies.

Online play normally gets its own section in a review, but in this case, the online component was just a tease. It\'s there technically, but so far nobody has been able to successfully connect and try it out.

Overall, the game just feels unfinished. What\'s there isn\'t complete, from the multiplay to the interface, and what isn\'t there is noticeable. The bullet point on the back of the box tells of a non-linear narrative, but that turns out to be a gross overstatement. It really seems like the team just forgot to include one. Further evidence of this is that a portion of the dialogue (which is already sparse) was never translated from the original Russian.

The engine is probably good enough to salvage, but virtually every other aspect of Brigade E5 should be scrapped. There is a sequel planned for release some time in 2007. Hopefully that\'s enough time to overhaul this disaster.

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