Do you believe, that our name shapes our destiny? Some PR-managers do. They gave name Jagged Alliance to another stealth turn-based tactics made by a small mobile games development team, expecting JA fanbase to go for it. However, they get more than they bargained for. Jagged Alliance: Rage! not simply attracted the Jugged Alliance undying fanbase, but also drove them into RAGE!
Jagged Alliance: Immortal
But. Let’s forget for a minute about Jagged Alliance name. If we do that, we will see this game for what it is. And it is… well, a decent turn-based stealth. Not a really sophisticated stealth – structures in the field can’t be destroyed even by grenades, enemies hardly coordinate their actions and not very smart in general (though this is sort of explained by the story).
However, the options are wide enough. You can whistle or throw items, to lure the guards (albeit suspicious sounds raise their level of alertness). Sneaking or crawling allows you to get undetected even right at enemies’ backs to snap their necks. All seven mercenaries in the initial pool have special abilities, and some of them are quite useful for a stealth approach.
You are surprised that we use grenades in a stealth? The thing is, Rage! is not stealth per se. We have quite an assortment of different weapons, from sniper rifles and silent pistols to machine guns and heavy ammunition. However, for at least the first quarter of the game, we have only two mercenaries against dozens of guards. And even after that, your numbers increase slowly and some missions have nasty complications when you raise the alarm. So until the very endgame, you can’t exactly go all guns blazing, unless you cull enemies’ rows.
Another problem is that most impressive moves use “rage points” (that also boost your mercs stats). And you can get those only by adrenaline bursts, that happen in the heat of the battle (adrenaline rises in case of critical hits, etc). That’s why you wouldn’t often have the opportunity to use game title mechanics. Though you probably will be fine enough without it.
Island of Dictator Elliot
After you dispatch all hostile people in the area (sometimes, there are also civilians there), you can loot their corpses and stashes. Then it’s time to leave and make your way to the next assignment on the island map. There you can move relatively freely, choosing targets for next assault and avoiding (or intercepting) patrols. There is also day/night cycle, so arriving at the target location at night can be a boon for a stealthy approach.
Here is where the story comes in. Two mercs that you chose at the beginning of the game find themselves on an island, controlled by mad dictator Elliot and his private army. They use a drug, called “bliss” to brainwash locals and make them into new recruits. Though the process is unstable, and in addition, bliss production poisoned most drinking water on the island. Probably everyone, including Elliot himself, was exposed – which would explain all mental problems in their behavior and dialogues.
To survive, you must not only accomplish missions but also manage your stuff. Fix and upgrade weapons and armor, keep an eye on ammo and supplies. Mercs need attention too – health problems mean worse performance in the field. Tender wounds as soon as possible, avoid infections and dehydration. All that you can do during the rest at the safe spots on the island map. However, rest takes time and enemy patrols spawn relentlessly.
Don’t forget that each character has his/her own issues. Addiction to alcohol, claustrophobia that affects stats on underground levels, heart problems that manifest during high adrenaline level – damn, those guys are really past their prime.
When things go south
In other words, there is a hell lot to do on the “strategy” level of the game. And unfortunately, the game interface is not much of a help. Inventory is rather small and you will often have to move items around to use or combine them.
There are also interface problems on a tactical level. Enemies’ line of sight and zone of hearing are calculated in a very sophisticated (and I’m not sure if correct) way. Thus it’s very hard to predict if you can get past them or not. Except using save/try/load method. Also attack outcome determined by RNG at the very moment of attack, encouraging you to re-load for better results (though considering my XCOM experience, where randomization is fixed, I would question if this is a bad thing).
And of course, there is “Jagged Alliance” part of the title. It makes you expect to have the whole regimen of mercenaries, who improve skills through the course of the game. Ability to control the economy of the island in addition to standard mission rewards, so you would have enough cash for your staff and equipment. Or do you want to destroy buildings with grenades, maybe even personally (as two main games allowed the creation of custom protagonist)? All those things you had in Jagged Alliance 2, and which you will not find in Jagged Alliance: Rage!
Shame, really. And I don’t talk about developers. They did their best to make a solid experience, that I, frankly, kinda liked. Heck, if not for the bugs, I would recommend Rage! as an entry point for the turn-based tactics genre. Shame on marketologists, who think that a brand name is something akin to a magical whistle. It’s not. People go for an established brand, a well-known franchise because they know its tenets, its principles, and they know what to expect. When game developers use a franchise name, they need to live up to franchise fans’ expectations. Otherwise, they are going to feel fans RAGE!