3 out of 5
With each Boss Fight Books entry that I read, it redefines what my ideal version of these books could / should be. Initially, that had me hoping that the next one would be that ideal, but Darius Kazemi’s Jagged Alliance 2, the fifth addition to the series, makes me appreciate that these different authorial approaches are their own form of ideal: everyone plays and reacts to games differently, and appreciates them differently as well. It’s true that I prefer something more fact based – like Kazemi’s work – versus anecdotal tales of video gamin’, but it’s only towards the last pages of JA2 where I get a sense of why the game seemed important enough for someone to write a book about it, and ultimately, that’s kind of a failing of the text. In wanting to dive in deeper on the history and tech of a cult-appreciated, strategy- and narrative-heavy game, that gamerly joy got kind of shushed to the side. This makes Darius’ book a mixed bag: some of it is really well done, giving us just enough of a sense of the structure and coding of a game to make it clear how much effort and passion – and sometimes guesswork – goes in to something like this, but because of the purposefully dry documentary voice of the text, the timeline feels off; it feels like we’re always leading up to talking about the game instead of in the weeds with it. This is particularly true in the first half of the book which keeps juggling comparisons between JA1 and 2 in order to, firstly, tell the history leading up to the game, and then to make the jump in scope between the two clearer. But it’s not linear enough to effectively do either – it just reads like we’re talking about Jagged Alliance, and not, specifically, JA2 – and then we’re into the meat of the technical structure of JA2.
While this all sounds overly negative, I’d again say that this kind of content is more along the lines of what I want, and I do think it’s “right” that a turn-based strategy game had a sort of cluttered, shifting-piece book tell its story. Kazemi also very clearly elucidated all of the technical stuff, which is always a hurdle when even talking about coding from decades earlier than JA2, but only really allowed a glimmer of his passion for the game itself to show through in the concluding chapter, making it feel like we’re finally getting to the “real” story right as the book ends.