Available On: PC (Steam)
Played On: PC
Over twenty years have passed since Jagged Alliance 2’s release. The squad-based, tactical-strategy genre has experienced a rollercoaster of popularity and evolutions over the last two decades.
While Jagged Alliance 3 doesn’t come close to the dizzying highs of the XCOM revival, it’s far more competent and entertaining than I expected for a long-dormant franchise that lacks aliens and lasers.
The fictional island nation of Grand Chien is experiencing a violent military coup by a group known as The Legion. The Legion has kidnapped the president, leaving his daughter to hire a group of equally violent mercenaries.
The task is simple: hire squads of mercenaries, kill hostile enemies, and rescue the president.
To start, I’m given a starting stipend, and a list of dozens of mercenaries to hire.
This isn’t XCOM where every person is a randomly generated nobody. Each merc has special talents, skills, traits, and perks, as well as various skill levels in important tasks such as lock picking, explosives, and marksmanship.
But what really sells me are the funny personalities. I didn’t think I could still find humor in an Arnold Schwarzenegger try-hard, but I found myself chuckling at every quip and complaint by Bobby “Steroid” Gontarski. I was also enamored with Frank “Hitman” Hennesy, who seemed to be doing his best Owen Wilson impersonation while wearing a pink suit with suspenders.
The mercs are mostly silly caricatures, but the 90s over-the-top action vibe works really well, and the dialogue fully embraces it, even if the actual story, and the people, are a little more serious in their plight.
Managing their lives, and my coffers, are a critical component of the game. These are mercenaries after all, and they require payment. Different tiers (and levels) of mercs offer some flexibility depending on cash flow. I enjoyed the balance of working toward the main quest while also stopping to clear diamond mines, complete side quests, and hunt for supplies around the island.
They Are Legion
The island of Gran Chien is huge. Every sector is a different map with potential hostile forces, side quests, villages, ports, or mines.
Operations can be preformed on the world map, such as scouting surrounding sectors for useful intel (like enemy placements, or traps), repairing weapons and gear, or healing injured mercenaries. It’s a fun balance, as performing operations takes time, and mercs get paid by the day, regardless if they’re risking their lives or not.
The tactical turn-based combat is where we’ll spend the most time, and it’s here I have the most mixed feelings.
I love using the action point system to balance moving, shooting, reloading, closing doors, or crawling on the ground. It’s a tried and true system for satisfying tactical decisions every turn.
Actually hitting enemies is a complete pain in the butt, however. Unlike every other tactics game I’ve played, Jagged Alliance 3 doesn’t show hit percentage.
The lack of hit chance information drives me crazy. What’s worse, I can choose to spend additional action points to improve my aim, or go for targeted shots to the head, arms, or legs, all without any information on how that modifies my hit rate. As an XCOM veteran, it’s completely baffling (thankfully mods exist that “fix” this design choice).
The other irksome element is stealth. With no fog of war, it’s fun to plan my approach through each map, carefully setting up my forces in real-time before engaging the enemy.
But Desperados 3 this is not. I consistently found stealth frustrating and underdeveloped. There are no vision cones, and the only detection indicator is a rapid-moving red bar under the merc’s tiny portrait. It’s also cumbersome to attack with stealth, and I’d frequently miss my big shot, thanks to the aforementioned lack of aiming info, and watch my meticulous plans come crumbling down.
Jagged Alliance 3 has not yet been rated by the ESRB, but it should garner a solid M rating for blood and violence, strong language, and some eyebrow-waggling innuendo. In other words, it’s a classic R-rated action movie.
If you’re willing to stomach some annoying tactical flaws, Jagged Alliance 3 has a lot of fun to offer genre fans. Trying out different mercs and learning their quirky personalities is surprisingly delightful thanks to the engaging voice acting and character art, and the large island setting offers a ton of tactical opportunities and freeform exploration.