Jagged Alliance 2

Sirtech’s tactical role-playing hybrid, Jagged Alliance (1995), remains one of the greatest PC games ever. With the release of the sequel, published this time by TalonSoft, we’re once again confronted with the same raw tactical combat and mercenary management. To skip the suspense, the game is simply superb. It’s detailed, it’s engrossing, it’s replayable, and it’s varied. The manual is only adequate, and the level of micromanagement and non-linearity might be a bit much for some, but basically, Jagged Alliance 2 does justice to its legacy.

21_1Jagged Alliance 2 moves you into the action in a satisfying and reasonably speedy manner. After you choose your difficulty and detail options, the game begins with a cinematic depicting how you came to be hired by Enrico Chivaldori, the deposed former ruler of Arulco, who everyone thinks is dead. He isn’t, and his estranged wife Queen Deidranna is despotically ruling over the old country, and you get a whole lot of money to depose her. You do this by hiring mercenaries, buying supplies and managing their stats, all through a mock laptop interface with a simulated internet connection.

Strategically, you have to take over towns and mines, from which you gain income, and protect them with militias, which you recruit and train. You also have to clear out SAM sites, secure airfields, scrounge up vehicles, locate fuel, and generally make it hard for Queen Deidranna to rule her little country. The interface works well, and it’s quite entertaining to figure out how best to use your mercenaries to recruit and train militias without weakening your strike forces.

But your first step in Jagged Alliance 2 is to hire some mercs with your blood money, who will constitute your starting force for the liberation of Arulco. Half the fun in the game comes from choosing mercenaries, equipping them, and watching as they improve through constant battle and training. Smart moves early can have big payoffs later, as mercenary abilities increase a lot faster than their salaries if you hire them early on.

3_1Though the original game featured some 60 mercenaries to choose from, in the sequel you’re initially given access to 40 from A.I.M. and a handful from startup competitor M.E.R.C. One potential drawback to the game’s large scope is that it somewhat dilutes the variety of mercenaries available. You have to hire so many mercs, and use so many at once, that the game lacks the exquisite torture of having to choose the special few from so many that characterized Jagged Alliance. Still, Sirtech has done a remarkable job in differentiating the mercs that are available, and in defining their unique characteristics.

Once your men are in combat, there is enough battlefield considerations to please most virtual generals. You have access to real automatic weapons now, which changes the nature of combat dramatically. Burst fire eats up ammo, but is excellent for suppressing the enemy and for close-range destruction. Incoming fire can force posture changes, costing action points, thus making area fire suppression tactics workable. Depending on which option you select (normal or more guns) you might have access to an incredible array of modern firearms. Each weapon has at least two types of ammunition, generally hollow point or armor piercing, and you can modify most weapons with add-ons like laser sights and bipods. Explosives include grenade launchers, mortars and antitank rockets.

20_1Firefights are fairly easy to control, though the use of the right mouse button for multiple functions dependent on where and how hard you click can get confusing. The game rewards good tactics and punishes poor play; overwatch works, and bum rushes usually don’t. You can aim for the legs, torso, or head of an opponent, and sometimes you can’t hit various parts of a target’s anatomy due to obstacles. Leg hits often cause the target to collapse in a heap, while head hits often stun if they don’t kill outright. Armor covers the same target locations, so it’s a good idea to fully outfit all of your mercs with Kevlar.

What makes Jagged Alliance 2 so unique is its combination of tactical combat, role-playing, and strategy. The only minus you could give it is a lack of multiplayer, with the design team’s main fixation going into streamlining the solo portion of the game. But a fine job they did! For everyone who values a deep, immersive, and highly polished tactical role-playing experience, Jagged Alliance 2 is unbeatable.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, Win98

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