I've always enjoyed the Jagged Alliance games, even the poorly received ones. Part of the thing about the later entries is that I really tried to find the best in them, if only because I enjoyed the first two and because I'm such a lovely person, or it could be that I love strategy games. So, with my love of strategy games, infanticide and Jagged Alliance on the table, it was great news for me when Jagged Alliance 3 was announced, and developed by Haemimont Games – a developer that holds up well in my books, thanks to the later Tropico- games, Surviving Mars and Stranded: Alien Dawn.
Now that we've returned to Arulco (no, we haven't) and brought back many mainstays of the series – the mercenaries, that is, and how invested you are in what are essentially caricatures largely determines how important this is to you – It's time to see if Haemimont Games can save a series that has languished for over two decades.
I will carve in a "yes" and then mount the answer on a plinth for all to see. Jagged Alliance 3 is incredibly engaging. It's fun, it can be funny (if you're into the humor), the gameplay is compelling, and it's packed with things to see and do. It feels like the whole package. To put it simply, Jagged Alliance 3 retreads the same path that Jagged Alliance 2 did twenty-four years ago, but now we have modern sensibilities and visuals to make it all better.
As I just mentioned, Jagged Alliance 3 treads the same ground as its directly numbered predecessor did. There have been several games in the series between the two, and each has attempted to change how the strategic map played out before jumping into the tactical battles. Here we're back to the grid-based map, and once you're in a location there, you can jump into the tactical battle – or in some cases, jump in and explore the area, which can result in a battle.
It's rare to find a game so rooted in the broader strategy genre to encourage and reward exploration as much as this one does, with a variety of secrets to find, a variety of side quests and objectives to complete, and more – most of which will help you in your quest to free the Grand Chien. As you move across the satellite map, you'll capture areas and think there's nothing to do since there's no enemy to fight. You would be wrong. Jump in, my child. Jump in and find new items or characters, quests to complete, and fight hyenas that – according to the in-game emails – have been infected with the "Red Rabies Virus".
It's also worth mentioning that this satellite/strategic map is huge. You'll also find that your enemy – and I won't give any more spoilers than to say that your enemies change and you almost have a soft reset at one point – will also take territory back from you, although they generally focus on recapture mines, ports and cities, capturing the areas in between as they go. Fortunately, you have options available, such as hiring militia, which means you don't need to have a group of soldiers stationed nearby at all times.
On the satellite map, when you select one of your groups, you have several operations available, depending on the location you are on the map. You may also find, for example, extra operations available if you have completed certain side objectives. An example is in Pantagruel, one of the towns where you can get a clinic up and running, meaning you can pay to be healed instead of using your ever-dwindling resources. It's another reason to explore further and do what can be rewarding side quests, although there's always a balancing act at play.
The balance is that your team (usually) costs money. You can get a few characters, again through side quests, which are "hired" – they don't cost you anything daily. The vast majority will cost you a fair amount of money, some of which you'll hopefully make back as you slay your way through the Grand Chien, looting diamonds, gold and other rare gems from the enemies, but for the most part you'll want to capture and keep the diamond mines around, giving you a steady income. The mines can also go dry, so you can't just sit and hold; you have to move on.
In addition to managing your funds and territories, you also need to manage the equipment of all your mercenaries, which you desperately need to keep an eye on. From weapons to armor, it all deteriorates with use – and unfortunately when it's peppered with bullet holes. Provided you have a merc with relevant mechanical skills, they can repair equipment – and modify it – using parts, but again, that takes time, and time is money in Mercenary Land.
It all created a beautiful balancing act, which Jagged Alliance 3 performs masterfully; even in normal (sparing-skimming) mode, you'll find yourself cornered from decisions you might have made ten, twenty, or more days ago.
Jagged Alliance 3 has also made some changes to combat; specifically, you'll notice the absence of percentages. Each character has several action points based on their condition – each of which can be improved through play and items found in the game – and these action points control movement and the actions you can perform beyond that. Characters also gain "free move" points based on equipment, skills, and perks. So, much like the overview, there is a balance to be found here.
When aiming at an enemy, you can spend more points to increase your chance to hit, but you'll never see that percentage. In a move specifically designed to differentiate itself from XCOM, Jagged Alliance 3 will tell you in text that something is harder to hit, but it won't tell you how much. It is hidden from all but the gods of chance. However, I would argue that the characters know because I've heard them comment more than a few times about how lucky a shot was. Other times I've swore at the screen when someone missed an enemy standing next to them.
From the balance of managing your mercenaries' position, standing, kneeling or prone, making sure they're in cover – or simply hiding completely out of enemy sight – and making sure you get the shots you need and don't get caught. Haemimont needs to recharge, and has also managed to get the perfect balance in the tactical battle.
The later you get through the campaign, the more frustrated you'll likely find yourself, as enemies become better equipped than Arnie in Commando and have the same accuracy, but you get closer to the main enemies – there will be some easier enemies to kill as well, but have Can you afford to spend that time? Again, these are mercenaries, and they can be expensive at that.
Most of all, with Jagged Alliance 3 it feels like a series that has its soul back. I'm not going to say this is the perfect game, and I've had a few bugs here and there, and I can't see how anyone could ever miss someone standing right next to them – even if it's not a bug – and a few minor crashes, it autosaves enough that it didn't cause me many problems. Visually, it's nice and colorful, with enough detail to satisfy me. It really is a nice looking and sound game.
The result is something I really like and have played over forty hours on, something almost unheard of for me in well over a year. It's engaging, fun, and challenging, and it can be fun (mileage may vary), but if you're a Jagged Alliance fan, you'll love this. If you're a fan of cheesy action movies and can play tactical games, I can't help but recommend it.
Copy provided by the publisher .
Jagged Alliance 3 marks a long-awaited triumphant return for the franchise, with the last undeniably great release Jagged Alliance 2 over twenty years ago. Creating exceptional balance on both a strategic and tactical level, bringing back character traits and progression, an entire inventory system, perks and more, forcing you to balance your wider economy and ensuring you can't just sit back – Haemimont Games has successfully created a game that will challenge, that I've found compelling and fun, and one that has kept me hooked on a "just one more day" loop and a few very late nights.
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