Review: Jagged Alliance 2 for Linux

Note: I'm not going to review the game itself - I hope severely it's the same as the windows version. This review concentrates on the linux parts of the game

Back in november 2000 I was quite excited when I saw that Jagged Alliance 2 (JA2) was being ported to my favorite OS by tribsoft. Not that I've ever played JA2 before, or even the original, but here was what looked like a rare game - A interesting turn based strategy game (one of my favorite games series of all time is the XCOM series) with resource management and RPG elements (and I'm a big RPG fan too!). All this coming to a online games shop (www.tuxgames.com) in december. Now, I know that JA2 isn't exactly a new game - the copyright is from 1999-2001, so it may well be more than a year old. But this looked like it might be something special.

Roll on december, release date was due to be the 15th, and delivery was 1-2 days for people in the UK. So I was happily expecting JA2 by christmas, or at least new year. As the 15th went by I eagarly reloaded the tuxgames page to see if there was any news... but as the 16th and 17th ticked by, JA2 was still down as due on the 15th, and still no news. Well, anyone else who follows Linux gaming will know by now that things seem to be a bit slower than they look - Alpha Centurai is more than 9 months past its due release date. So I suppose I should have expected the delays - but it's especially cruel to delay after a news item dated November 30 on the tribsoft site declares: "Jagged Alliance 2 for Linux was tested and approved by Sirtech. The CDs were sent to Titan Computer for manufacturing!!!"

The story comes back to us on 13th February 2001, when tuxgames announce "JA2 is complete, stock due in a week". "Yes!", I cheer, and rush to the site to order a copy - I dont like putting money down for something I might not see for 9 months... And ... well, i suppose they were close with the week... in two weeks it did finally arrive. I don't think this is tuxgames fault so much, more to do with the publishers - titan computer - giving misleading information.

Things were looking up now - I must have been one of the first who had the game (in a DVD case, which is much nicer for storage and the postman didnt have to wake me up to deliver it) and so after breakfast I sat down and had a flick through the manual, and set about installing the game.

Now, I don't really have anything against a little black and white paper manual. Be much nicer with glossy paper and colour would make it look better too... but ultimately I'm much more of a contents person. If it has in it what I need, it matters less what the manual looks like.

On the flip side of that statement, I do expect the manual to be useful and correct. I certainly expect it to look like more than about 10 minutes has been spent on it. Finding "graphicscard" (note lack of space) 6 lines down on the first page doesn't exactly fill me full of confidence that this is a quality production (later investigation finds this smae error on the back of the case too). And that's not an isolated case, a quick glance at the manual beside me, and page 7 has "Whenn" in the Technical Support section, two lines down. Everyone makes typos, and that's ok. But it'd be nice if the manual looked like it'd been read before printing.

Now, I can live with spelling mistakes in manuals - it is readable, and the bits that look like they are common to the windows version are mostly fine. Really all I had at this point was a mild irritation that they'd not bothered with the manual, but I don't buy a game to read the manual! Onward I headed down the rocky road of installation.

At this point I would note that I am the proud owner of two games which use the Loki "Install" program. It's very good. Nice looking, simple to use. Good program. Open source, too, so anyone can use it. Particularly good, I'd imagine, for other people who, say, port games to linux and want a professional looking installer.

Hence, I would have expected with JA2 to be the proud owner of three games with said install routine. But no. The wise folks at tribsoft or titan have decided to use a shell script. And not just any shell script. This is an extra special script which fails to work if you don't do "cd /cdrom/mount/point" first (it wont be able to find the install files). And while I've already discussed the manual, this also appears have a default place to put the game somewhere other then where the manual claims is the default.

Ok. So it's only an install program, and since the majority of (admittedly free) linux programs need you to know obscure command line parameters (eg tar -zxf) it's a improvement. It worked too, in the end, which is more than can be said for most free linux software. But it still left me feeling more like I was using DOS rather than using an up-to-date 21st century operating system.

Later investigations revealed that said Loki setup program is in fact on the CD. In fact, if your CD has mount options to allow execution of files on the CD, you can simply run setup from anywhere. It's a bit like making someone type in some details into a computer and then mentioning that the system has speech recognition.

And at last the JA2 is up and running, and my tale of woe brightens considerably. Working first time, the video's played properly, sound worked happily (although the volumes were low...) and the game came up with the main menu. And from here on, things were looking up. The game is good. I've not got very far, but it seemed to work, and I think I will enjoy playing this game for a good few weeks yet! The pace is a bit slow - but its not too slow to be unplayable and that may be as designed (be nice if there was a "speed up walking" option...).

All was not well in Arulco, however. Every silver lining has a cloud, and as a user of a nice reliable operating system, this cloud is a black one. I've played roughly a days worth (full time, it is a weekend!) of JA2, and it has segfaulted once, and got stuck in a loop once (thank goodness for virtual terminals and "kill"!). Which... well... reminds me of how programs were back in the heyday of everyones least favorite operating system. I don't think I've bought a single game in the last 6 months that has crashed twice within a day, including games for windows.

I'm probably being harsh here. But the porting and production work does leave something to be desired. Don't get me wrong, they're doing a better job than I would! But the project seems a little rushed - no proofreading on the manual, no checks that there really isn't any way to crash the game - it's an irony really, given the delays. Perhaps they'll bear this in mind for the next products and for any updates.

I have to say something positive! And there are two things that really appeal to me about this port - apart from what looks like a good game on my chosen OS - and that's the DVD case and the price. When I got Civ:CTP from Loki, the box was all crushed in the post - doesnt look exactly wonderful in my bookcase - and I had to get out of bed to answer the door since the parcel won't fit through the letter box! Linux games are going to be mail order only for a good while yet, I hope that Loki, Hyperion and Tribsoft bear this in mind.

As for the price ... I really don't think I'd pay 40 for a game. Especially since that is 40 for a game I can get for 10 on budget for windows. But the 25 that JA2 cost? Why not! I can do my bit for the linux games market without breaking the bank.

Conclusion? Well... despite what I've said... money well spent. It's nice to see someone other than Loki doing porting, and as a first go it's pretty good. But Tribsoft can't possibly look back on JA2 and say "That was our finest moment" - they'd have low aspirations if they even said, "That was a job well done". JA2 is a good first production, but Tribsoft have much room for improvement. Give them a few more games under their belt and the experience that goes with it, and I'd imagine Tribsoft will be up there with the best of them.

This article written by mrsneeze on the 4th of March, 2001.

Buy Jagged Alliance 2 for Linux from Tuxgames.



Other pages by mrsneeze