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REVIEW: Jagged Alliance 2 (1999, PC)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Jagged Alliance 2 was a game released in 1999 by SirTech for PC. The legendary game developing company behind Wizardry cRPG games. Jagged Alliance 2 features mix of turn-based strategy, adventure and RPG elements so well it has to be considered classic among titles such as Fallout 1-2 and X-com 1-2. It was sequel to the original in Jagged Alliance staying true to it's roots. If I recall correctly part one was DOS only based game and graphics were quite primitive, but game play was golden. Part two still has quite primitive top-down 2D graphics but really, who needs more if the game content and system is awesome?

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The plot is quite simple, simple like from old Nes game, but luckily game like this doesn't need best plot-twists ever. It shines on other areas. An evil woman called Deidranna has taken over an island of Arulco where the game takes a place. She has military controlling the island she's using for her own purposes and enslaving it's citizens. You - the hero - are asked by Enrico Chivaldori, who is leader of the Arulco rebel forces, to get rid of Deidranna. You'll be given certain amount of cash to do the job, and you can freely hire  team mercenaries to achieve your goal.

Jagged Alliance 2 is divided into three main views. Basic world-map view of Arulco divided into sectors, a "laptop" view to browse available internet websites and mail, and then area-view zoomed to the ground-level where also combat takes it's place.

The World map view presents Arulco divided in areas, or sectors, of which each one located on ground is freely accessible and explorable. Little bit like in Fallout 1 and 2. You can freely move your squad tile-by-tile over the world area and plan routes to destinations. Some of sectores are just a forest and road - while other are settlements or towns or military bases and SAM sites. Basically you get some startup-cash to spend for mercenaries and weaponry of your liking. To get more money you must then conquer towns (which have mines in them - taken over by Deidranna for her own purposes). When you conquer a town with mine in it, shall you get also get control of the mine for your own deeds, and workers to mine for you. Every mine increases your money income, which allows you to pay salaries for your mercs, and buy new weaponry from a weapon store (as soon as first airport is under your control). More the money, better the weapons, and better the mercs. Your call. When you've removed the enemy militia fully from certain town - you also better train your own town defence militia there (which will cost bit money) to prevent Deidranna's forces reclaiming the area.

(The map of Arulco is divided into several sectors)

When you start the game and have watched the intro movie describing your mission, you're thrown into your laptop-view where your first goal is to create "yourself" - your own personal character - a merc that represents what ever the type of character you want to play, and fights along the other hired mercs in battlefield. This is very cool addition and brings on some RPG elements. The character creation is question-answer style quiz. You are asked certain questions of your childhood and your answers affect what special skills your character will have. Some of the special skills include: night ops, blades, ambidextrous, automatic weapons, martial arts, hand to hand, stealthy etc. Thats pretty cool way to build up your character by answering questions rather than straight up picking your special skills from the list. I liked this type of character creation also in cRPG Daggerfall. It just brings something unique to the character creation, when it doesn't base fully on picking up numeric stats, but creation your stats by your own life-story.

After answering the questions you also spend your attribute points to your major attributes: agility, dexterity, strength, health, leadership, wisdom, first aid, explosives, mechanic. These have A MAJOR effect on how your character plays. Personally I like to spend a lot of points for Agi Dex, Str while having a decent health points. I then set explosives to 0 and medical to low cause medical can be raised easily. This way you can make your merc a top-notch combat build that is always worthy in battlefield. You can recruit other mercs to handle explosives easily. But you could go which way ever you like to play your character. After choosing skills you also get to choose your portrait and voice, too. All these choices sum up but your skills and attributes, also your personality, which will define who you get along with out of the other mercs.

After creating your own personal character - yourself - you can go and recruit some other mercs from your laptop-interface and from a fictional website called A.I.M (Association of International Mercenaries)  or M.E.R.C. (More Economic Recruiting Cente) to start out with. It should please all you strategy game freaks out there, that Jagged Alliance 2 boats whopping amount of over 40 mercenaries all together with each having some voice acted one-liners and such included! That's respectable amount. Some people like to take a few cheaper and worse mercs right from the beginning to get their skills-development process underway instantly. Yea, along with your own character - the hired ones also do grow better in combat skills and other attributes - just like in a real cRPG. Some people however do recommend taking one expensive good merc right at the beginning just to acquire his decently good combat gear to use, when it's time for him to depart after the end of contract. Weapons other than pistols are rare in the beginning and believe me, you're gonna need decent gear or it's going to be a pain in the ass. Jagged Alliance 2 is quite challenging game cranking difficulty up to decently hard level even on medium difficulty setting. Expensive mercs usually have better gear, maybe MP5HK or something even better. These come valuable in beginning but get more common after you have conquered few towns.

(Don't let the first blood be your last blood)

After you have created character and selected a merc or few to begin with, you are directed to the first area by helicopter which you must take over and kill the hostiles. It will be quite easy task in case you didn't totally fail up in making your character decent on battlefield. I call this view an "area-view" which zooms in from world-map view to the ground level of specific area. Combat system in the game is quite fantastic. Everything happens in real time until you encounter enemy. This is when game switches into turn based-strategy mode, very much like X-Com 1, 2 and 3, but with few more options under the game engine's sleeve.

At every turn your every merc has certain amount of action points to spend. The more agile - the more action points to spend for moving, so this is totally good reason to max out your own characters Agility. Moving your character and shooting enemies spends action points. When moving, stealth consumes most action-points, second most running, while walking takes up the least. Running will also eat up your stamina fast, as does getting hit by a bullet. Stamina brings another strategic element to combats, whereas you must observe it constantly and base your moves to it. Losing all stamina will make your character to collapse down for a target practice. In addition to running/walking you can also move sideways out from behind wall-corner, to check the open field in front of you. You can also kneel and crawl behind rocks and stuff like that. Kneeling behind stones makes it harder to hit you but moving while kneeling takes up more action points. Sometimes it's almost impossible just to hit a guy in good covers. In this case it's better to go around and find better spot, believe me. All the movement options combined with how well line-of-sight works with all the objects in environment makes the tactical combat a real treat.

While moving and encountering a new enemy in turn-based mode - they or you might get an "interruption", which interrupts the turn of whoever is on the move currently, and gives an enemy (or you) chance to make a first move in the middle of other's turn. I think factors affecting a chance to get interruption are dexterity and agility as well as position of the unit and his coverage. When shooting, you have a chance to choose which body part you aim, and what are your chances to hit the spot. The system reminds a bit aiming system V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) from Fallout, just bit more in-depth. More accurate aiming you take, the more points it takes to shoot, so you sort of need to balance between shooting distance, accuracy of the shot, and action points you have left in that turn. Accurate head shots makes most damage while sometimes you might just want to shoot rapid fire in the body of wounded opponent to weaken him up (stamina, bloodloss). Or shoot his legs to make him fall and lose stamina points. After this enemy will have hard time fleeing and it will lessen his stamina and that way his action points, making him to take less accurate shots.

Healing is important factor in combat, and capable medics are a must! While hit, your mercs will get wounded and start to bleed. Without a medic he will die on blood loss. You will need to use first aid kit to stop the bleeding. This can be quite brutal when one of your mercs is trapped somewhere in open field behind a stone or such, bleeding on his low health and without medikit to stop it - being out of ammo or having gun jammed - that would pretty much be a worst case scenario. Should enemy throw a grenade next to you, explosion could throw you on your back out of your cover, and make you open target for fire (simplistic physics have their place in combat engine).

Ammunition is also limited so remember not to use rapid fire too much. Save up rare ammo. In case you wanted some challenge and have a guy competent with martial arts or knives, you could sneak up to enemy and beat him or dart him with a "throwing knife", which can kill at single hit on best case. Ways of a tactician are many!

Combat engine works damn well and is very fluid. Interface is very streamlined and easy to understand despite Jagged Alliance 2 offers huge amount of ways to move, shoot, and kill enemies. The game has so many different styles and factors applying to outcome of every action you do, that it makes gameplay ultimately satisfying (or frustrating depending on if you're winning or getting you ass kicked). Your mercs have three attributes in combat which affect how well they perform: health, morale and stamina. Low health will affect your maximum stamina and lower morale. There's also some gore and blood like Fallout 1 and 2 with exploding heads due head shots and such. Combine that with cheesy finely acted one-liners and you get a classic moments to remember! Oh, and you can also use explosives to destroy building walls and such.  The game's buildings are not quite as destructible as in X-Com Apocalypse, but it's still a nice touch. Jagged Alliance 2 features nice emulation of daytime, which means that clock is constantly running around, and missions can take place either night or day which have also tactical difference. The night is stealth-capable soldier's prime-time. The mercs do all have one ability which is also important in combat and really nice addition: "Hearing". Interface will show you messages who hears what and from which direction - which gives you additional information about where enemies could be lurking at. Better gear can improve your heading.

(It was a hot day.. and raining grenades..)

Like having loads of mercenaries for hire, massive amount of everything important is prime of Jagged Alliance 2. It has probably biggest and widest selection of guns and weaponry I can recall in any war game. There's just dozens of different unique guns. They also "handle" very differently depending on their attributes, which is which is instant mood-raiser. Some guns are slow to shoot but do more damage, some are fast to shoot and great at short distance, but inaccurate on long distance. Some have great automatic fire and large clips. Etc. Guns vary from a pistols trough semi-automatic- and automatic rifles to real sniper rifles. But that's not everything the game has to offer. Theres also rocket launchers, LAWS (you're going to need them later on the game against Deidranna's tanks), explosives and gas grenades. There's also few different armor types. But the greatest thing is perhaps, when you discover "mods" to weapons and armors, which you can install to them. These "mods" include things such as: scopes, laser sights, bipods and grenade launchers. You can add some extra plates or special compound to toughen the armor. You can also find night goggles, gas masks and such. All items have durability which will wear out over time so you better have someone with mechanical skill to repair items or find a gun-shop. There's just so much stuff in this game that it amazes me and makes looting as rewarding as real in cRPGs like Baldur's Gate.

Dividing special skills wisely within your team is important so that you have all the needed experts in every major field: combat, medic, mechanic. Planning your party is that way important part of the game. One more thing to consider in Jagged Alliance 2 is that some mercs just dislike the others and can even refuse to continue their assignment if you've a merc in team that one of them hates.

What are the areas that Jagged Alliance 2 has problems then? Well not many. One that comes to mind is that graphics are bit bland especially character sprites and environments. But that doesn't really matter very much. Graphics are slightly bland but still very acceptable.  They never were the main thing in Jagged Alliance 2's appeal anyway. And while blood and gore effects aren't quite as cool and over-the-top as in Fallout 2, they're still nice addition that will include some hilarious moments to come. Another one is hick-ups and jam-ups in combat sequence time to time. While game usually returns playable after several minutes of waiting, it's an annoyance. Luckily it doesn't happen too often, but it's not totally rare thing either.

Bottom line

Jagged Alliance 2 is just one massive and detailed game. In theory I think it would be possible to go right to the Deidranna to another end of the map and kill her right away to finish the game - but in reality it's impossible since military there is too strong. The plot in the game is decently good, but it's a bit lack luster in it's presentation after you get the game started. There's alot of side-quests that are non-related to the main quest providing some additional challenges and rewards on the way to Deidranna. You can for example work as an headhunter tracking down wanted criminals, win a boxing competition and help out several villagers with their own missions to get some extra money, gear and experience. If you like to explore, you will likely also find some pre-scripted and few random encounters in some sectors. There's just plenty of places you can visit, which have their own unique characters and tasks.

Building up your own character and your selected mercs is also very satisfying experience leaning towards cRPG-like character development. One thing that rocks in this game is how personalities of the all NPC mercs totally stand out. Now I have no clue where they get the voice actors, but believe me they are total top notch! Funny and cheesy macho comments are flying during the combat. Especially Steroid is hilarious. He's dedication to Arnold Schwarzenegger and movies like Commando. But they are all great despite a few like Ira, who can sound bit annoying. Nevertheless, I don't think I remember any other game that clearly beats this one in that area. Love-hate relationships between some of the mercs also adds nice touch. They will even argue with each others, if things get too heated.

Combining great character creation, personalized mercs and their great voice acting, cRPG elements including character development, top-notch combat system, long decent storyline, loads of lootable gear and large game world - it just can't get much better than this. I am huge fan of this game. They just don't make games like this anymore. It probably belongs to my best-games-of-all-time TOP 5 list. There's also two decent expansions to JA2 called Unfinished Business and Wildfire. But the most important of all is stunningly good totally free-to-play fan-made-mod called Jagged Alliance 1.13 which enhances the already awesome game-play experience taking it to another level. I very highly recommend Jagged Alliance 2 to anyone who ever liked X-Com and Fallout series. This is at least up to par with all of them! Fun game with tactical perfection and lots of small details putting the final cherry on top of the cake. Try it.. I insist..!

The Good
  • Story-like character creation is awesome
  • Turn-based tactical combat system works fantastically, mercs feel like flesh and bone
  • Stat, skill and level-up system well integrated, each skill feels like having unique meaning
  • Spoken dialogue by mercs is one of the best acted ones I've seen, very funny!
  • Tons of weapons (+ upgrades) and equipment, with different jobs
  • Financial system and bartering for weapons/hiring mercs
  • Large game-world
The Bad
  • Occasional jams and lock-ups during battle
  • Below average graphics
  • AI is bit average in battles
  • Dialogue options could had been more extensive, like in Fallout
  • Enemy army looks all the same, there are only few different types of soldiers, but luckily this is compensated with tons of different weapons
  • Few too many empty sectors that could have had filled with something interesting
  • Bit shallow story
  • "Elliot You Idiot..!!!11"


Buy Jagged Alliance 2 from | GOG (Download) | Amazon (Download/CD) |

System requirements:

Pentium 133 or better, 32 MB of RAM, 16-bit capable video card, 2x CD-ROM

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