Retro Game Review: Jagged Alliance 2
Retro Game Review: Jagged Alliance 2
Developer: Sir-Tech Canada
Hey everyone, this is Miguel and this will be my first game review on Beer and Joysticks. I’ll be reviewing Jagged Alliance 2 (JA2), a turn based strategy game released by Sir-Tech in 1999. Many people consider the Jagged Alliance series a very strong contender, if not a classic, in the turn-based strategy genre. JA2 offers an in-depth turn-based combat and character advancement system, as well as witty humor. In its time, it was also one of a smaller pool of games that featured non-linear gameplay.
The game starts with a short 90’s 3D graphics movie that depicts a small village being blow apart, rather unceremoniously, by unnamed military forces. The cutscene then skips to a seedy bar in Prague where an Enrico-Banderas like voice addresses you and explains the situation. Without giving too much away, the scenario is basically this: Deidranna, the wife of a popular monarch has taken control of the government and military of Arulco, terrorizing the nation for her own gains. Her (ex) husband, who was supposedly killed in the events that led to Deidranna becoming queen, hires you to gather and lead a team of mercenaries to wage a guerilla war to take out his wife.
JA2’s gameplay can be a bit difficult to learn at first. Turn based games tend to be complicated and JA2 is no exception. While the game instructs you on how to navigate the well done out-of-combat interface (more on that in the Graphics section), the lack of a proper tutorial doesn’t really help you along the learning curve, especially in terms of actual combat. And while the first few missions are easy, without a deep understanding of the game mechanics your mercenaries can quickly become outmatched by Queen Deidranna’s forces.
That being said, the game’s level of complexity adds some real depth to gameplay once you start to understand it. I highly recommend that you read the manual as knowledge of game mechanics such as using cover, action points, prone, kneeling and standing positions will greatly increase your mercenaries’ combat effectiveness and lifespan. Even more reasons to read the manual include learning how to use skill training and forming militias, as these will serve as useful tools in your (most likely) long battle against the authoritarian Deidranna.
JA2’s character creation and advancement system also add a lot of fun to the game. A hilarious (or not, depending on how seriously you take it) personality test helps you create your own mercenary and an online mercenary catalog helps you pick your team. The different kinds of mercenaries you can hire, the varied skills and stats that they each have, as well as the variety of equipment available will make any stat happy gamer very excited. In addition, JA2 employs an experience mechanics. The more mercenaries use a skill, the better they get at it, so sending your more experienced mercenaries on missions creates a nice tension as their death (as well as hours of invested skill training time) is always imminent.
The non-linear gameplay is another nice touch to the game. While the main objective is to overthrow the despotic Deidranna, you and your hired guns can explore the island as you want, liberating towns, capturing income-generating mines or exploring the island’s many secrets as you please. Each playthrough is also designed to offer a different experience. You’ll find that certain events will happen in one playthrough and not the other, even if you chose to play each rerun in the same way.
It can be difficult judging the graphics of older games after being exposed to the visual beauties that big budget producers deliver to us nowadays, but for its time. Jagged Alliance 2 was visually appealing.
Major plus points to the art team for making the graphical interface very immersive – the out-of-combat menu was made to resemble an old, military grade laptop. Certain other menus, such as the interface where you hire mercenaries, buy guns and even buy life insurance for your men were made to look like an old internet browser and email system. All these put together really make you feel like a rebel leader, organizing your forces and requesting reinforcements and supplies on-the-go through your sturdy, quartermaster-issued laptop.
JA2’s sound effects definitely hit their mark, though I wouldn’t say that the SFX are anything special. What is most notable in the sound department are the different voiceovers for the mercenaries and main characters. Each mercenary is unique, and the voiceovers add a lot of (often humorous) flavor to the characters.
In an age dominated by quick, action packed thrills and less than 5-second infinite respawn timers, JA2 may seem a bit slow paced. But if you have the patience to get over the turn-based mechanics, a moderate learning curve and possibility of permanent death for your poor mercenaries, you get a game that offers tactical depth, plenty of funny moments and hours of enjoyment.
Verdict: 5 of 6 cans