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Jagged Alliance 3: Did they screw it up? – First Impressions

Written by Marcello TBL

Reviews
Jagged Alliance 3

Jagged Alliance is one of the most beloved series in the world of strategy games, thanks to its first two chapters, Jagged Alliance (1994) and Jagged Alliance 2 (1999), which Sir-Tech published and developed alongside Madlab Software and Talonsoft.

However, after the first two iterations, we witnessed some “spiritual” successors that failed to capture the essence and mechanics that fans are still attached to. Surprisingly, THQ Nordic announced in 2021 that the talented team at Haemimont Games, known for their essential titles such as the Tropico series, Victor Vran, and others, would be developing the next installment.

Jagged Alliance 3 Aim System

Throughout various updates, Haemimont Games always conveyed to the audience how much attention they were putting into the game’s creation, aiming not to disappoint fans again. Now, after spending 15 hours into the game, let’s see if they didn’t screw it up.

Jagged Alliance is a popular franchise thanks to its engaging gameplay that combines strategic resource management and turn-based tactical combat. The series revolves around the concept of hiring and controlling a team of mercenaries, each with their own unique abilities and personalities.

The mature storyline, which tackles themes like political unrest and mercenary life, adds depth and appeal. The well-developed characters and their relationships create an emotional investment for players.

The series’ first two games offer replayability with multiple approaches and outcomes to missions. Additionally, the Jagged Alliance series has a dedicated fan community contributing to its ongoing popularity.

All the Jagged Alliance Games so far

The series skyrocketed in popularity thanks to its first two titles and expansions, but unfortunately faltered in delivering something modern so far. Here is a comprehensive list of all the Jagged Alliance games released to date.

  1. Jagged Alliance (1994): The original Jagged Alliance introduced players to the fictional country of Metavira, where they lead a team of mercenaries hired to liberate the land from a ruthless drug lord. It featured turn-based combat, strategic gameplay, and a wide variety of mercenaries to recruit.
  2. Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games (1996): This standalone expansion to the original game introduced new campaigns, maps, and weapons. It focused on the combat aspect of the series, offering a more intense and challenging experience.
  3. Jagged Alliance 2 (1999): Considered one of the most popular entries in the series, Jagged Alliance 2 expanded on its predecessor’s gameplay. It continued the story of Arulco, a small country ruled by a dictator, where players once again hired mercenaries to liberate the land. It added new features like customizable mercenaries, improved graphics, and an intricate strategic layer.
  4. Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business (2000): This expansion pack to Jagged Alliance 2 provided additional content and continued the storyline, offering new missions and challenges for players to undertake.
  5. Jagged Alliance DS (2009): Jagged Alliance DS was a tactical role-playing game developed by Strategy First and published by Empire Interactive. It is a handheld adaptation of the popular Jagged Alliance series specifically designed for the Nintendo DS platform.
  6. Jagged Alliance: Back in Action (2012): A remake and reimagining of the classic Jagged Alliance 2 game, developed by Coreplay GmbH and published by Kalypso Media. It brings the beloved turn-based tactical gameplay of the original into a modern real-time strategy format.
  7. Jagged Alliance Online (2012): A free-to-play, browser-based tactical strategy game that brought the Jagged Alliance series into the online multiplayer realm. Developed by Cliffhanger Productions and published by gamigo AG, it offered a unique online experience for franchise fans. It was officially launched on April 19, 2012. However, the game’s servers were shut down on January 15, 2015.
  8. Jagged Alliance: Flashback (2014): A prequel to the original game, Jagged Alliance: Flashback took players back to the series’ origins. It aimed to capture the essence of the original game while offering updated graphics and gameplay mechanics.
  9. Jagged Alliance: Rage! (2018): Set 20 years after the events of Jagged Alliance 2, Jagged Alliance: Rage! brought players to the fictional island of San Hermanos. It introduced a more streamlined approach to gameplay, emphasizing tactical combat and survival mechanics.
  10. Jagged Alliance 3 (2023): Announced by THQ Nordic and developed by Jagged Alliance 3 is the highly anticipated next installment in the series. Developed by Haemimont Games, known for titles like Tropico and Surviving Mars, it promises to bring back the series’ beloved strategic and tactical gameplay while introducing modern improvements.

Welcome to Grand Chien

The Jagged Alliance series has always featured a mature storyline filled with coups, authoritarian regimes, and mercenaries. The new chapter is no exception, as it takes the player to the turmoil-ridden Grand Chien, where the recent president kidnapping by a group called the Legion, led by a mysterious man known as the Major, has taken place.

Jagged Alliance 3 Sat View

The kidnapped president’s daughter hires the player to attempt to resolve the situation. To do so, they will have access to the famous catalog of the world’s best mercenaries, A.I.M, and the I.M.P where they can create a customized mercenary – a feature also present in the second installment of the series.

During the course of the adventure, the player will have to make crucial decisions that will influence the story and how the local population perceives the group from that point onward. This allows access to certain rewards rather than others, breaking free from the cliché of right or wrong.

Gameplay

Jagged Alliance 3, following in the footsteps of its predecessors, offers a gameplay experience that unfolds across two interconnected layers. Players take charge of their units on the strategic layer, meticulously orchestrating their movements on a sprawling game map.

This strategic aspect encompasses a range of activities, including tending to the wounded, mending broken objects, and training local inhabitants to form a formidable resistance militia.

Meanwhile, the tactical layer immerses players into the heart of the action as they navigate through individual sectors, engaging with non-player characters and embarking on gripping turn-based combat encounters against well-fortified enemy forces. These meticulously designed layers seamlessly blend together, catching what made the earlier titles captivating.

Combat System

Jagged Alliance 3’s combat system offers real-time exploration, allowing players to interact with the surroundings and find the best positions to set up ambushes against enemies and utilize stealth kills to avoid attracting the attention of all enemies within a specific area (another respected feature), which feels really rewarding.

Jagged Alliance 3 Talking to NPCs

Once engaged, the combat shifts to turn-based mode, where players can move all their units and take action, spending action points before ending their turn and allowing the enemies to act. Options such as running attacks, overwatch, grenade throwing, and, notably, a targeting system that allows precise aim at different body parts provide a distinctive aspect that players will need to consider (which, in my opinion, adds an interesting twist).

The targeting system doesn’t simply indicate a percentage chance of hitting or missing a shot – yes, you read that correctly. I admit that even after about 15 hours of gameplay, I still struggle with not having this information. However, it should be noted that although the percentage is absent, players are provided with bonuses and penalties that show whether a shot is likely to succeed.

Bonuses such as position, lighting, and elevation counteract penalties such as enemy cover, harder-to-hit body parts, distance from the target, and so on. To increase the chances of hitting the target, the player can spend additional action points to narrow down the target.

Mercenaries

Jagged Alliance doesn’t have flawless heroes as characters but rather ruthless (mostly) mercenaries still seen as heroes by the freed local population. And this third chapter seems to have done a great job, first by bringing back many of the money-oriented soldiers present in the previous installments and then by characterizing each one of them and interweaving their relationships.

Jagged alliance 3 Mercenaries

It is possible that when attempting to recruit a mercenary, they may refuse or ask for a higher salary because they don’t get along with a certain mercenary already on the team. Other mercenaries may suggest that hiring a particular character would be more beneficial on the battlefield, and so on.

The dialogues are also very well done, where the various characters’ personalities emerge prominently, just as I experienced with… the famous hothead who has made a strong comeback from Jagged Alliance 2.

Attributes and Specializations

Continuing to talk about mercenaries, each one of them has specific attributes that influence their tactical and strategic specialties. Building a balanced party will be vital for a successful start. Mechanics capable of lockpicking and repairing objects, medics who can revive the party after a firefight, leaders who can effectively communicate with the local population and form militia to protect conquered sectors, and more.

Mercenaries will improve their statistics by operating in the field, completing missions, reading books, or by utilizing a team member who can act as a mentor in a particular skill – a feature seen in Jagged Alliance 2 that I was delighted to find it here.

Weapons Customizations

Another notable aspect is the weapon customization. In Jagged Alliance 2, it was possible to add accessories in specific weapon slots. In this third installment, that feature has returned but greatly improved, resembling the weapon customization in games like Warzone.

Jagged alliance 3 weapons

In this section, players can view the weapon from all angles and play with the various available slots to apply enhancements. For example, enhancing a weapon’s night effectiveness, attaching sniper scopes for improved aim, higher critical hits, making a silent weapon using recycled materials, and much more.

The attention to detail in reconstructing the accessories and weapons is truly meticulous, showcasing the developers’ dedicated work.

Graphic and Sound

Jagged Alliance 3 does a great job when it comes to the audio department, offering high-quality and realistic sound effects, and a soundtrack that echoes African settings, providing a strong immersion, especially during important dialogues. As for the graphic aspect, the 3D world is well structured, but perhaps something more could have been done for the animations, which often seem a bit simplistic.

I would have liked to see an animation dedicated to stealth kills, instead everything is reduced to the mercenary waving their knife and the enemy falling to the ground. The African settings are beautiful, though.

I was also very convinced by the UI, which is intuitive and well structured. I really liked the tooltips reminiscent of Jagged Alliance 2.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned in the introduction of this article, expectations for the third chapter of the saga were sky-high. Every series fan hopes for a great title that can at least evoke the same feelings experienced in the beloved previous installments. Rejoice!! Because this third chapter manages to offer a tactical strategy game that faithfully brings back the mechanics of the series while presenting them in a modern way, making all fans feel at home.

In the early hours of gameplay, you might have some negative feelings due to the little bit scary aiming system – the complexity primarily stemming from the absence of a hit percentage indicator – and a not-so-intuitive stealth system. However, after that, the game flows smoothly, and I believe we are facing one of the best strategy games of the year, offering many hours of gameplay for both series enthusiasts and genre lovers.

Therefore, I can confidently say that Haemimont Games didn’t screw Jagged Alliance 3 up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Marcello TBL

Italian Dad in love with Turn-Based RPGs and Indie Games. In 2018 he started Turn Based Lovers and now he can't live without it.