Jagged Alliance 3 Review
I'm honestly probably not the best person to review Jagged Alliance 3. While I appreciate these sorts of tactics/RPG games — I enjoyed Wasteland 3 and recently reviewed Miasma Chronicles — this is actually the first game I've played in the Jagged Alliance series.
So, that means I can't directly make comparisons in how this newest entry compares to recent efforts under the same name. I gather, broadly, that people liked Jagged Alliance 2, which originally released all the way back in 1999. Most everything since then, which have been spinoffs or stand-alone expansions, seemingly have mixed reception at best. Back in Action, Flashback, Rage!, and other efforts all seem to have either largely missed the mark in either recapturing what people liked about the series, or simply weren't able to provide a well-put-together game in the first place.
Quite literally, when Jagged Alliance 3 was originally unveiled, one of the project's taglines was "Don't f*** it up!" Very aware of the recent state of the franchise, THQ Nordic and Haemimont Games knew that they had to make this entry worthy of being the first numbered title in more than 20 years.
When you first boot up Jagged Alliance 3, there's a disclaimer: "The original Jagged Alliance games of the 1990s poked fun at cliches and stereotypes that existed in the action movies of the time. Jagged Alliance 3 continues this tradition..." This is appropriate because the tonality of Jagged Alliance is explicitly over-the-top as you would expect from cheesy action movies of the 80s and 90s. The game's setting emphasizes this, also.
Jagged Alliance 3 is set in the year 2001 in the fictional tropical nation of Grand Chien. The country's president has been kidnapped by a paramilitary force during a period of high tension for the nation, and his daughter has hired you to rescue him before the embers of civil war can ignite into all-out flames. Are you a bad enough
dude mercenary squad to rescue the president?
It's a fun setting, especially for grognards like me, who have a weird sense of nostalgia for that time period. Even the game's user interface and typeface emulate computer programs and websites you would see in the late 90s and early 2000s. But adjacent to a rose-tinted UI, the game's characters and dialogue unabashedly imitate the types of characters that wouldn't be out of place in movies of the era.
The mercenaries you can recruit to your team are more highly exaggerated caricatures than believable human beings. There's a pool of several dozen mercs that you can recruit, each with different specialties in how they can contribute to your unit. Steroid is a bodybuilding Schwarzenegger wannabe with high Strength and Health. Fox is a medical marksman that mutters a sexual innuendo every other line she speaks. Barry is an Eastern European demolitionist who is also a devout Christian, so he'll explode people while praying for their souls in the same breath.
I gather that several of these characters are found across the Jagged Alliance series, but as a neophyte, I can't be certain who is new, who is returning, or how characters might have changed a bit from entry to entry. That said, the cast is cartoonish, but entertaining in their overdone personalities that are not-at-all believable. I think the game is self-aware enough, and the tone is tongue-in-cheek enough, that none of these stereotypes come across as mean-spirited or insulting, but be aware this is the attitude that the game thoroughly exudes. There are serious moments, but you can't take the whole game seriously.
The tactical components of Jagged Alliance 3 are quite good. As you might expect, you'll face off against enemy squads in a tried-and-true isometric format, taking cover against scattered buildings, wreckage, and other chest-high walls hoping to take out the enemy before they can take you out. You have a variety of weapon types with different types of firing ranges, abilities, bullet spreads, and the like. Medical units can bandage up allies who have taken a few hits, etc. Each character has a set amount of AP that can be used to move, shoot a weapon, use an ability, reload; you can do whatever you want in a turn as long as you have the AP to spend.
There are a few ways in which Jagged Alliance's combat systems are marginally different from contemporary RPGs in this genre space. I won't go into them all in detail here to avoid getting too much into the weeds, but the feature most unique to Jagged Alliance is that you are never given a percent chance number to hit a target. While numbers are all over the place in Jagged Alliance 3 — from stats to damage to health and beyond — you'll never quite know exactly what your actual hit chance is to land a shot.
Instead, as you aim as a target, you'll get an icon about your line of sight, maybe telling you if the target is behind cover, or even behind another person. Your character will make a quip if they feel the shot you are about to take is a good one. You can even spend more AP to focus more in lining up a shot, increasing your chance to hit (although you'll never actually know what that percentage is). Ultimately, it's more something you gain a feel for, rather than playing the numbers. It took me a few hours to get accustomed to this, but after a while, I didn't miss hit chance percentages much at all.
Jagged Alliance 3 doesn't slouch on the RPG components either. As your mercenary squad enters Grand Chien, you'll encounter numerous NPCs and plenty of side quests to undertake. These components genuinely feel like a classically computer-style RPG in spurts, with plenty of dialogue options between your 'party' and NPCs, using skill checks to access various speech options, and several avenues to accomplish these side objectives.
There's a quest to either support or quell a Communist uprising in one of the cities you encounter. There's a game-long sidequest to eradicate a Red Rabies outbreak across the island, in which infected civilians effectively become zombies. There's a particularly memorable sidequest in which you meet a retired gang of Grandmas (known affectionately as The Coffee Beans) whom you must reunite with each other to defend a port town against incoming forces. The types and objectives of these various quests are varied and amusing. And plenty more besides.
Several of the quests play together in forming a larger picture of what is actually going on in Grand Chien. While the opening premise of rescuing a hostage president is a straightforward one, more wrinkles and twists in the happenings on the island and the people involved, are uncovered the more you delve into things.
The other major component to Jagged Alliance 3 is effectively the world map. Here there are roughly one hundred sectors you can visit, each with a bite-sized map for your mercenary squad to explore. Some of these sectors are cities, where you'll find your NPCs and quests. Some of these sectors are wilderness areas where you might stumble across enemies, secret stashes, quest objectives, or other oddities.
Probably the most difficult component of the game for me to acclimate to was on the expanded tactical world map - controlling sectors and defending them against enemy invasions. Specifically, enemy outposts on the map will periodically send squads to retake portions of the map that you control, which can be frustrating when they invade your diamond mines and cut off some of your income. You can train NPC militias to defend these places, but they never seemed to fare well in my experience.
What I ended up doing is beelining towards these outposts as soon as I could, in order to take them out so they would stop dispatching hostile squads. This was a bit difficult, as I probably took on some outposts before I was really ready to, but it was worth it to allow me afterward to more leisurely explore Grand Chien without the looming threat of these invaders.
Besides a few quibbles with the forthright narrative, some minor performance woes, and some personal growing pains in getting accustomed to its particular stylings, I quite enjoyed my time with Jagged Alliance 3. There's enough variety in how you can approach the game in its narrative, quests, and combat, that I am eager to play it again down the road.
Jagged Alliance 3 is an excellent game, merging squad-based tactics and classic computer-style roleplaying in an entertaining veneer of cheesy action movies. There's a little bit of a learning curve to get acclimated to this style of game if you are new to it, but once you get the hang of managing your mercs, money, and ammo, there's a lot of fun to be had in the tropics.