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Mercenary's menu JA2:Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business with my own eyes,
or
Humble attempt to understand it all

Your obedient servant has returned recently from business trip to Moscow city, where he saw with his own eyes real Jagged Alliance 2.5: Unfinished Business to be released this November/December in Russian market under the name "Price of Freedom". Now my respected colleagues from Buka Company are working on game localization. I am sure this localization is to be most interesting! Before start writing this article, I've thought a lot how to do it. Finally, I decided to write it like a sort of narration to emphasize the most impressive moments.

Let the Tracona begin!

The game's changed a lot - happily, to the best. Like promised, Unfinished Business is to be released on single separate CD. Game installer doesn't annoy you anymore trying to start installation each time you put the disk into CD ROM drive. During installation, you can decide what big files you want to copy to your hard disk. Current size of full installation is 650 Mb. The game will not read the data from CD: you can load maps, video cuts, speech files from your HDD. When the installation is completed, you'll see the folder with several shortcuts (for game, map editor and campaign manager) in Windows menu. I will tell you more about this below. Unfinished Business is very special add-on, it does not require previous game version. From other hand, the lost option to install the game over Jagged Alliance would be very useful too. Well, Sir-Tech has warned us about it long time ago.

Keeping an eye on various Unfinished Business previews published by English language sites, I've often met curious popular mistake I have to correct now. The game will offer just one new difficulty level, Iron Man mode - to replace former "sci-fi" mode and giant bugs luckily absent in Tracona (wrong climate, maybe?). Generally, the game, like before, has three base difficulty levels and three game style options.

What's new?

Sitting in comfortable chair and holding my breath, I've double-clicked the precious shortcut on Desktop. Developer and publisher logos passed by, and finally I've reached game start menu (see screenshot). Background image is significantly changed, now it is brighter and more impressive. As soon as background music started, I noted first drastic change from base Jagged Alliance 2. The quality and clearness of sound has greatly increased, both for background music and all effects (like I found later). Gunshots are not so muffled now, so you can recognize the "voice" of each weapon using same caliber - almost impossible thing in Jagged Alliance 2.

At the very beginning of new game, you'll get a suggestion to select one of two options - import Jagged Alliance 2 saved game or start a new game. Long time ago, maybe even before UB became available for Sir-Tech testers, I've decided to start Traconian crusade with new character. It is much more interesting than simply use old pro with all stats maxed to almost 100. I've spent some time hesitating if I should start playing as soon as possible, or I have to make a "scientific" test. Finally, I've took second option and tried to import old character just to see how it happen. I haven't succeeded at once.

If you wish to import your old character, the game offers a special tool, saved game converter. No other choice, you have to agree. The game hides to background mode and launches a special converter (see screenshot). You just have to select the folder where your pal is stored. This is the stage where you can make a mistake easily, if, like me, will switch back to game with Alt+Tab keys. In this case you'll get error converting file message. No use to continue the process, just start the game over. To succeed, select a necessary folder and confirm the action; then wait.

So what happens to your honored hero and savior, godfather (or godmother sometimes) of Arulcan democracy after such transforming process? All your items will be taken away, leaving just steel helmet, flask (with alcohol?), knife and unusual gun with 50 ammo clip. The only memory of good old days spent in Arulco is marks on your gun butt - how much innocent lives are on your conscience (464 in my case).

Import of your character from old saved game is double-edged weapon, and, like I say, no one knows what edge is sharper. The question is the game taking into account AIM and MERC mercenary list state. If you lost someone in Arulco, do not expect for wonder of resurrection in Unfinished Business (see screenshot). Import of own beloved alter ego has just one advantage that may be even considered cheating in some circumstances. This way allows you to avoid the payment of USD 3000 for IMP services. Trifle? Yes… But each trifle is important at the beginning of toughest level game, when your initial budget is 30 000, and the services of such pro as Shadow, for example, cost almost 20,5 thousand. Simple arithmetic. I've been short of just one thousand to hire all three necessary mercs in my game so I hired only two of them. Always there will be some players, who create their characters in Jagged Alliance 2 and immediately export him/her to Unfinished Business, saving the money. Well, it is the issue of each player's conscience.

Leaving the body of my Arulcan godfather aside, I've started a fair new game. Without hesitation, I've selected Iron Man, extended weapon set, and highest difficulty level options. And, as soon as first combat started, I've understood I overestimated my skills gained in Jagged Alliance 2 - I had to relearn everything! However let us return to my Tracona mission a little bit later.

Let's go!

The game starts not with intro movie, like Jagged Alliance 2, but with letter received from Enrico, where he begs you to help him deal with bastards from Mining Corporation who now launched a missile attack on Arulco from Tracona valley. Second letter notifies you about changed AIM mercenary salary conditions. Now the whole payment is to be made at once, and mercs will stay with you to the victorious (or not) end. IMP letter advertises their services and gives you secret code to access their site: gp97sl! Now the character generation is more simple and convenient. You can create your avatar according to own preferences, not as result of long complex Pink Dinosaur related test.

All skills are to be selected by pressing buttons - simple and convenient solution. No more player skill restrictions. You want your character to be second Shadow? No problem! You can also easily get heavy weapons or rooftop sniping skills.

Other question is what skills are really useful, and what are just for fun. Tracona is not a place for experiments - your mission success is too important. Unfinished Business, unlike Jagged Alliance 2, gives you a chance to emulate a real commando mission. Each team member has to supplement each other. You need a sniper, scout/silent killer and also fire support merc able to use heavy weapons. Of course, this is not the only possible team composition, but genre logic assumes such solutions. And funds are always low and almost below zero! So your decision is the basis of victory or defeat.

Another difference in character generation system is option to set any skill value to max 90 (not 85 like before). Such small details change the logic of character generation. Watching players generate their characters for Jagged Alliance 2 (if you have a chance to), you can easily distinguish a novice from veteran. First one tries to follow his old RPG habits and set all skill values to maximum, second one, vise-versa, drops all skills to lowest acceptable values and enjoys new tricky ways to improve them while completing the game for tenth time. Unfinished Business makes you to think over every decision carefully because serious combats starts from the very beginning, and you have not so much firepower. So the generation of deliberately weak character may result in losing already hard mission.

Geography

Tracona has a unique landscape combining most various terrain types - mountains, woods, and snowy plains. The game totally has 24 sectors, including underground levels. Each sector is carefully designed and planned. Sector placement on the map allows reaching the final point, missile base, in several alternative ways.

Unfinished Business has the only town (big village, to be exact), Varrez. Indeed, you can get tons of wares here. Local shopkeeper has everything in his stock, from most modern firearms and armor to really valuable weapon, antitank rocket launcher - item worth its weight in gold in Tracona. However no vehicles present in Tracona, no tanks, no cars, and your only chopper has crashed. The game also has no mines (old abandoned northern mine not counted). The sources of your income are now on the ground, in closets and chests of enemy barracks. You don't have to worry about your rear protection anymore, and, by the way, no militia now available in the game.

The Equipment is Sacred Thing

The default equipment of mercs is changed significantly. Several most bright examples: Ivan Dolvich now equipped with Micro Uzi (instead of MP53), Igor - with Thompson. Pretty girl Fox is now proud owner of two Automags (see screenshot). If you have imported your character from old saved game, all other mercs will keep their improved stats, but lose previous equipment. The price, from other hand, will remain unchanged, regardless of how far their stats improved.

What new items player receives? There will be 12 new means of enemy destruction, including such exotic models like 18th century musket! Well, musket is just for fun there, but silent sniper gun VSS is really cool thing. However there is one mistake made by Sir-Tech here. Corresponding picture shows pure AS VAL, as it called in the game too, but description "silent sniper gun" is really nonplused. By the way, original VAL has silent burst mode, absent in its game version. Hence, let us call it VSS because apparently it was the real prototype. There also new ammo types appeared. So, 40mm grenade launcher can now fire 40mm Flare Grenade. Even initial combats proved this charges to be highly useful on night ops, helping deal with most clever enemies. I have also liked heavy sniper gun Barrett (12.7mm). One demerit: new weapons' weights too much so you cannot carry any significant amount of extra inventory. Now I will stop myself from describing new weapon types and stats, because it can spoil some surprises. Let's wait for game release.

Go on, Veterans!

At last it is time to tell you about Tracona battles. I was too proud and too experienced to start new game in any other mode than highest difficulty level / Iron Man. I must confess, my arrogance was punished! Punished by cruel AI!

At the beginning of the game you are theoretically able to hire up to six mercs to raid Tracona. Jerry, foppish pilot of the chopper, will bring you there. Well, I haven't met more idiots than Jerry until now. As soon as you confirm your intention to leave for Tracona, you'll see pretty cut with chopper flight and not so pretty flight end. The pilot has managed to crash the chopper! I said he's imbecile! Moreover, he fell down on your laptop and broke the satellite communication antenna. Now you have no access to Internet. A search for laptop component will become the one of main game quests.

At the beginning of the game, I've hesitated a lot selecting the best team member combination. In Jagged Alliance 2 I've always traveled with Shadow and Ivan (in addition, Lynx sometimes). In Unfinished Business you cannot hire these guys at once unless you are cheating. So who is to select? First time I've tried to hire just Shadow. Our team of two mercs advanced to next sector. And met 24 enemies there. Having tried to win for the fourth time there, I've been in despair. Computer lost 16 soldiers but continued to press. About 10-12 bullets per turn flied over the heads of my guys. They were alive just because they managed to hide behind huge rocks nearby. But patrols have outflanked them so rocks weren't a good cover anymore. The end is the same, two dead bodies. I've set night ops and fresh new skill of camouflage for my character in this game. It hasn't been of much aid in first daytime combat. I've lost because of low firepower - MP53 and Calico M950 aren't the best guns for daytime combats. I've decided to change the strategy and hired other mercs.

After a number of tries, I have determined the optimal team members for initial Tracona sectors. My character received night ops and stealth skills and enjoyed a company of Stogie from MERC and Raven from AIM. I've hired Stogie because of slight resemblance to Bruce Willis (I like this actor) and his good gun, Mini-14. The reasons to hire Raven was her quite low price and, again, Mini-14. 30-ammo clip and about 30-square effective range is nice combination.

As a result, I've got a good team with two snipers (MRK far above 90) and one night scout. My intention was to wait till night, and then attack enemy sector. But even before dusk, I've been visited by 12-soldier patrol. My mercs hastily retreated to shore line and found their cover behind the rocks. Success! See screenshot - 12 enemies died on their way to crashed chopper.

Even in first combat, I've noticed the significant improvement in game AI. Enemy is calculating visible areas and, making a shot, prefers to leave the range of my mercs sight immediately. It helps enemy a lot, because chances to interrupt soldier at maximum distance are low, and, during my turn, I have not so wide selection of targets. The intelligence of AI clearly depends on enemy's health condition. "Excellent" state soldiers are hiding in due time, shoots precisely, no matter what is the color of their uniform.

The attempt to rest in sector and recover the team alertness resulted in unexpected fight with another patrol of 6 soldiers (see screenshot). Then, while my team rested, I discovered one interesting fact: the health of wounded mercs recovers very quickly - about 1 point per hour.

When the night came, my team headed to first enemy sector. Now there were just 12 enemies. Without captured Mini-14, my IMP-generated character was almost useless in daytime combat. Now, in darkness, with silent 50-ammo gun, stealthy, with camo and equipped with captured night goggles, he was ideal killing machine and shot layer for his colleagues.

When playing Unfinished Business, I've been amazed by AI's ability to calculate most safe position on battlefield. Sometimes you spend 20 bullets trying to hit soldier standing on the open place with no cover, without any success. Nasty AI knows your own cover, rocks and trees, will prevent you from hitting target precisely. Also, enemy never offers you to surrender. Tracona has no prisons - so don't expect any other treatment except 9 grams of lead to your head.

The first serious test for your newly created team is Guard Post. But let me stop here for now. The game will appear really soon, so I won't spoil your impression with too much suggestions and combat examples.

Editor's here? I don't need anything else!

And finally, let us talk about editor. As developers warned, it is very complex. Manual for this editor is 33 pages. It is supplemented with small tool, campaign manager, allowing creating different map sets and writing small text descriptions for such campaigns. Generally, editor allows adding new maps to existing map set, replacing current maps, adding items, placing and equipping enemies. It also allows to set patrol routes for AI, select soldier behavior script, change his stats. If you wish, you can replace every sector except starting one, with crash site.

The map creation is long and hard process, you have to take into account dozens and hundreds of small details - set correct textures, construct buildings, place doors, windows, select roof types, patrol routes, lighting sources, and do many other things. Even poster on the wall requires a certain work to be done.

Unfortunately, the editor sets a number of restrictions. You cannot change the placement of existing NPC in the game, or create new ones, add civilians, create or change the quests. What a pity… It could be a great area to put efforts of enthusiast craftsmen. With editor release, player will have an option to create own battlefields.

Conclusion

The absence of multiplayer is partially compensated by intensive plot, and option to play without tactic saves. All game fans are eager to know when the game is going to be available here? Soon! I think you'll be able to buy Unfinished Business by about the earlier of December. I am sure this Business worth Finishing it!

I am very appreciated to Buka representatives for their help in writing this article.

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