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Jagged Alliance 3 Review

Jagged Alliance 3 Review

The President has been kidnapped. The island nation of Gran Chien lies in turmoil, and a sinister group of militants known as the Legion have seized control. To whom must the people turn in this, their hour of need? You, that’s who. So put down your coffee and boot up the dark web — it’s time to hire some mercenaries. 

Jagged Alliance 3 is an isometric turn-based strategy game whisked up with role-playing and sandbox simulation elements. After a brief cutscene that sets up its compelling premise, you’re popped in front of a PC within your PC, where you’ll surf the net for brutes to barter with. Pay them what they want, and they’re yours to command for as long as you keep the cash coming their way. There’s a lot to take in — even at this early stage — as you click-click your way through several tiers of merc, checking out their weapons, traits, perks, and specialities. Tooltip coverage is great across the board, though, and I never found myself overly daunted by the unfamiliar terminology. 

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I did break a sweat, however, after I’d set up my squad of sociopaths and started the journey in earnest. You’re brought ashore and set loose with minimal guidance as the game seemingly expects you to have at least some familiarity with the genre it belongs to (thankfully, I do). After a few false starts and quick-loads as I worked out the quirks, I bested my first group of goons and was on the road to liberation. 

Combat plays out through a series of turns wherein your mercenaries expend ability points to move, shoot, lob grenades, disarm traps, and make use of their character or class-specific abilities. It’s not quite as simple as that, though — there are a multitude of considerations to be made and eventualities to be evaluated with every move you make. You might choose to hunker down behind cover to avoid incoming fire or perhaps send your brawniest troop around the rear to nab a flanking damage boost. You can even decide to bump up an attack’s AP cost by focusing your aim for greater accuracy, and you will arguably spend most of your time in battle assessing this accuracy display each time you line up an attack. The basic flow of battle is enjoyable, with dynamic, visually enticing level design and a party so outlandishly endearing that I laughed often — even on the seventeenth occasion that my mechanic, Livewire, described a headshot as ‘completely hot’. The game’s comedy might not be palatable to all, but I certainly appreciated its surreal and silly attempts to amuse me.

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It is, however, with the aforementioned accuracy display that I first began to feel frustrated during my time with this title. Faced with a list of “plus” accuracy bonuses and “minus” accuracy penalties, you must weigh up whether any given fight is worth it. Is it likely that a headshot will hit, or would it be better to regroup and come at things from another angle? When choosing the former option, I often found that despite the odds seeming to overwhelmingly favour my success, my mercs would completely fumble their shots. Of course, it is rare for a strategy game of this ilk to offer the player a guaranteed hit; there’s always some sense of risk, and rightly so. To miss so consistently, however, and with the heads-up display informing you of your six bonuses vs single penalty to boot, simply tarnished my immersion throughout. It would have been more sensible, perhaps, to divulge how heavily weighted each of these bonuses are — many similar games opt to display a percentage value that distils for the player their chances of success, and there’s good reason for that. 

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It would be far less of an issue were the consequences not so dire. Just one or two misplaced shots can easily see you left open to an enemy counter-offensive, with your opponents usually far outnumbering that of your own squad. It takes only a couple of hits on a merc to see them “wounded”, a status effect that diminishes a unit’s maximum hit points. If those hits came from a fully automatic weapon, you might just find your unit “suppressed” or “slowed” as well, drastically reducing available ability points and movement on their turn. 

Adding insult to injury, some imposing status effects can only be removed outside of combat, meaning you must either slog through to the end with a substantial handicap or retreat altogether — and this is where the game’s “tactical map” comes into play. Not only will you make use of this grid-based display to move from zone to zone, but it’s also where you’ll conduct “operations”. 

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Here you’ll be able to treat your wounded, though expect it to cost money, meds, and valuable time itself. Units will often tire out and require idle time to rest, too. Want to hire a replacement merc for one that’s worse for wear? You’ll have to hold tight while they make their way to your position, all while the remaining hours on your mercenary’s contracts are ticking their way down. The odds are against you from the get-go, and Haemimont Games is quite clear from the moment you select “New Game” that you’ve signed up for a rough ride. I fear, however, that the layers of systems present here do not present a satisfying challenge; they serve only to frustrate the player and impede on Jagged Alliance 3’s stronger elements. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t tools to help you tolerate the tough nature of this title, though. Tapping “H” outside of combat will cause you to become “hidden”, a state that makes you far harder to spot and enables the execution of silent stealth attacks. It’s not quite as robust as the stealth found in something like Commandos, though; the vision radius of enemies cannot be tracked and often seems unreliable. Much of the time, my stealth attacks failed to land anyway — and even when they didn’t, it was only a matter of time before an immovable body was spotted and the alarms were raised. Though I believe it to be this way by design rather than by accident (the game is a tactical RPG, after all, and doesn’t want you clearing the entire campaign in sneaky-sneak mode), the inconsistent and unrealistic nature of stealth in Jagged Alliance 3 still left me feeling exasperated from time to time. 

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You can also trail off the beaten track, where you’re likely to come across documents or computers containing intel — vital data that might reveal patrolling enemies, expose buried explosives, or offer other advantageous information that helps you gain the lay of the land. You might meet an NPC who, after a deftly navigated series of dialogue options, will tell you about a lucrative mine or underground bunker that you can check out — just be careful that no one is trying to spring a trap on you! Taking advantage of Jagged Alliance 3’s focus on exploration isn’t only a leisurely sidetrack from the main event, though. It’s almost required to see you through your journey safely, as avoiding it will see you miss out on all-important parts for your guns, mandatory meds for your near-dead, and of course, cold hard cash that will keep the world turning. Dealing with the consequences of prior conversations you’ve had or feeling the fruits of your labour pay off as you get the scoop on enemy tactics is always gratifying; the role-playing elements are seamlessly woven with the strategy here and make for compelling basic systems that will drive you for dozens of hours and beyond.  

Jagged Alliance 3, as we’ve noted already, has a compelling premise and presentation that’s likely to appeal to fans of zany action movies. The narrative serves its gameplay and tone well and certainly has some high moments, though it is not the focal point of the title. The characters, too, are so charming that you might find yourself becoming attached; since you are likely to lose them on a somewhat regular basis, though, they naturally do not serve as a vital connection to the game’s story. Dictated by design as these things may be, sprinkle in some great music, mix it up with a handful of memorable NPCs, and your adventure through Jagged Alliance 3 will be far from forgettable in this regard.

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Overall, Jagged Alliance 3 has the bones of something brilliant. Such was my appreciation for its finer elements that I tried fervently to penetrate its predominantly pesky systems over my time with the game, though I ultimately failed to do so. I walked away feeling conflicted because I had enjoyed my experience overall; I only wished its tactical framework wasn’t so intent on frustrating away the fun. I hold a sincere hope that a few patches from the developer and a bit of love from the series’ committed modding community might eventually elevate Jagged Alliance 3 to the heights it ought to have been able to reach. 

6.50/10 6½

Jagged Alliance 3 (Reviewed on Windows)

Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.

Jagged Alliance 3 is a bold attempt at blending the best of multiple genres. Despite success in several areas, its overbearing systems often sideline the enjoyment of an otherwise well-made game.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Conor McGuigan

Conor McGuigan

Staff Writer

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