Jagged Alliance 3 Reader Review
STRATEGY - UNIQUE and a HEART
This game is from winter 1998/1999. It was developed by Sir-Tech using the Fallout engine. It is a work of heart and obviously they did not create a game, that people presumably want to play but a game which they wanted to play themselves. I have seen it on a variety of Microsoft OS and hardware configurations and it seems, that it is one of the gems that still works without the use of emulation of any kind. Original resolution was 640x480 but a recommended (recommended by me) custom patch called v1.13 enables 800x600 or even higher - more about that later.
1. Act: Introduction
You are approached by Mr. Chivaldori, he is the former regent of a fictional country called Arulco which has been taken over by Deidranna , who established a dictatorship in the country. She is using the mines in Arulco to gain wealth and setting up security for the suppression of the inhabitants and a small rebel faction. Enrico Chivaldori contacts you, in hopes to help him restore his rightful claims and free his citizens from Deidrannas iron grip (she is also not very pretty but on the other side scornful). The game portrays the story with a winking eye and does not try to be too serious in that manner. What is serious and all grown up for that matter, is the gameplay.
You are the man they need!
... or possibly woman (obviously charming, intelligent and good looking if you like this game)
You receive an in-game email inviting you to take a personality test. This is where you will create your self for the game (or someone you wish to play). Besides allocating statistic points like agility, strength, dexterity, accuracy, wisdom, lock picking skill, explosive skill, medicine skill,.... (just showing off that this game has depth, since you really can use these things effectively - or you can just DIE).... you also answer simple questions in a humorous personality test which determines your character. This actually has an impact since, for example, if you answers are too aggressive, your character could unleash berserker behavior during combat and risk the life of his fellow mercenaries. On the other hand, a preference for night-ops would be good to improve your sight radius during the night. Use your fantasy to find out which answers could add in what special skill.
After you are You or how you want yourself to be, it comes to recruiting fellow mercenaries. At the beginning your finances will be limited and you will have to opt for shorter contract times and pick some not so experienced mercs or just invest in one strong one. You can also make your life much more difficult, by making irresponsible choices like hiring a squad of field medics and forgetting to hire at least one good marksman.
One of the best qualities about this game, is that its mercenaries have voice acting, have personalities and will express them. In one sentence, they will grow on you, and you will like them or hate them just like real people. It's not based on all likable characters, some of them will annoy you or you won't like to attach them to your team, depending on your own preferences. They also have flings and quarrels in their assigned teams. So if you let the grumpy russian Ivan be in the same squad as "Steroid", the strong and not very smart bodybuilder from poland, the moral will decline and it could happen that one or all two of them abandon you - if you don't separate them and assign different teams and locations.
How is the game played?!
Fair enough, mind, that you can also jump down to "Play THE DEMO!" and find all game details out for your self - more magical. Or read on.... You land with a helicopter in the western sector of Omerta, a small village. Now you are on your own. The view is isometric and the game is in real time now. You can click on the different mercs in your squad and see their inventory. What kind of weapons they have, what armour they wear, how many magazines they have in their pockets, what their stats are - since they do learn by doing, depending on their wisdom stat, these values will improve over time.
Three important bars are there too:
Health: As the name says, drop below 15 points and you get unconscious, drop to zero and you are dead, no magical resurrection here... If you or one of your mercs is dead, it's time to reload or accept it and move on. And don't forget to bandage your wounded mercs in the combat zone as soon as possible, or they will start to bleed out. Then, after the fight is over you can assign a merc with enough medicine skill as doctor to make the health recover more quickly - still taking days in the game.
Energy: If you do a lot of running and jump over fences and then run into the enemy you will have lost your breath and by that your energy - reducing your Action Points and by that the amount of things you can do in the turn based combat phase.
Moral: Don't have bad relations with your fellow mercs. Don't let your friends die and have a small victory from time to time. That are the simple basics. Oh, and always wear a helmet. Memo to myself: Ripped off heads in your own line don't boost the moral.
Where were we? Ah yes, running around in the western sector of Omerta in real time, isometric view. Soon some enemy will get in sight of your mercs, and the turn-based combat starts...
2. Act: The Turn-Based Combat
First, who gets the first round in a turn based combat? Since that is very important (usually), it is not up to a random number generator in this game. Depending on factors like experience, how well hidden is your merc, what direction does he face, is the enemy running careless around a corner, did you hear him already before you saw him,.... the game will calculate who gets the first turn. There is also another event besides Player turn and Enemy turn which is an Intermission turn. If an enemy runs careless during his turn into the sight field of another of your mercs or he positions himself in a very exposed way, you will get an intermission with the merc(s) in question and you can press your actions into the enemy turn phase.
Every soldier has Action Points with which he can do whatever he wants until they are all gone. Aiming and shooting costs points, obviously, depending on the weapon, the skill, how precise you want to aim... To fire and aim accurately with a S&W Revolver model requires more APs (=time) then giving off a shot with an FN-Fall or Steyr-AUG assault rifle. Assault rifle or Sturm-Gewehr (literally Storm-Rifle) sounds so warlike, and such feelings will come up with this game, because it's approach is very realistic (as much as possible without becoming a weapons simulation application). Where you shoot, there the shot will go - If you place your cursor on the head or the leg of the enemy, also the shot will go in that direction. If you have a merc with not very high accuracy or a short range weapon for the involved distance then the chances rise, that he could miss or could hit the torso of the enemy soldier. Haughty hint from a veteran: Like in reality a soldier who is hiding behind cover is not a great target, shoot the guy who is standing in the open instead (and get at least on your knees when you shoot, improving your accuracy a little bit and becoming a smaller target your self). And read about the keyboard shortcuts, they will make commanding your squad a lot easier.
All in all i have never seen such a well created turn-based combat system. It works great and it makes the game in its gameplay core just outstanding and unique.
Is there more to come?
Arulco is divided into a sector grid 16x16 in dimensions. On the map you can see cities, desert-, savanne-, swamp-, ... places spanning several sectors each. On this strategic map view you can organize your mercenaries - letting them sleep and recover or letting them repair equipment or play doctor with their fellows. You can send them to any sector you want but you should be careful since there are patrols of enemies, who could be too strong for you this early in the game. A strategic goal is to free cities with their mines respectively to gain an income. With this money you can set up new contracts with your mercs, hire new ones or buy weapons and items - it's up to you.
You care for your team and will always look for better equipment, better weapons, better night-goggles,... The game achieves, although not having linear gameplay, to keep you thrilled and enthusiastic the whole distance (which can be long, especially if you have not played it through before). If you feel strong enough you will take on the next more difficult liberation. You will get stronger (if you don't curse yourself by strategically wrong decisions) and have an experience not many games offer (actually i have not played any other). You started with around 4 mercenaries who were on the brink of defeat and in time critical need for a mine to secure some income - who will later plan their attacks and take city by city from Deidranna, while new turns and discoveries will motivate you till the end.
Play THE DEMO!
The Gold version of the game was released on STEAM in July 2006, but i think you should play the demo first. Try to find it, because it includes a unique demo sector that will push you directly into the action of the combat and show you how the game works in 5 minutes. If you don't like the demo, then i would say you will also not like the actual game, and you have not wasted too much time.
Play JA 2 Gold and then the custom v1.13!
The Gold version is very good and many bugs were removed. This is what you should play. If you look for a special challenge and or a higher resolution i recommend v1.13 for JA 2. Make sure you have the Gold version of Jagged Alliance 2 when you want to upgrade to v1.13. If you have problems with bugs in v1.13, it is because the game was a lower version before you applied v1.13. Custom v1.13 only adds its own content and does not contain fixes of previous versions. v1.13 comes with higher resolution, a (much) more difficult gameplay, a more complex inventory system, a huge amount of new items and weapons, new militia training levels, more elite enemies, the option that every enemy drops all items he really carried in the combat..... and the option to turn such things on and off if you want to.
To compare this turn based combat system with a typical J-RPG game is like comparing an apple with a fountain of wine in a harem palace. The only similarity is the word turn based, but the game genres are like day and night. (This is now not meant in any bad way towards J-RPGs). A good comparison could be X-Com alias UFO-Defense: Enemy Unknown, with the differences that the combat system is (very) far advanced and the RPG elements with the mercenaries.
...I would give the game a 10/10 but i think it would not be fair, because other people possibly don't value the aspects, that i like so much about it, as much.
9 / 10