Turn based tactical gamers have been eating good this year, from Miasma Chronicles to the recently released The Lamp Lighters League, there has been plenty for us to sink our teeth into. After releasing on PC earlier in the year, Jagged Alliance 3 makes its way to consoles.
That’s right; a new Jagged Alliance game is here, 24 years after JI2 was released. It’s been a long time coming for fans of the series. But before I get much more into it here, I just want to warn anyone reading this to know that I haven’t played either of the 2 previous JI games, so you won’t see any comparisons if you were hoping to see any.
When you start a new game, you’re greeted with a message saying how the original Jagged Alliance games of the ‘90s poked fun at cliches and stereotypes that existed in action movies at the time and that JI3 continues that tradition but also now takes jabs at contemporary issues and pop cultures. So based off what I played so far, if you’re not a fan of these then I’d advise staying away.
The story/plot of JI3 is simple enough to follow but does have some complexity here or there. The president of Grand Chien has been kidnapped and it’s up you and your rag tag bunch of Mercenaries to rescue him from the antagonist know as ‘The Major’.
So with the general story out the way, how does the game actually play? I mentioned Mercenaries earlier and that’s what you’ll have at your disposal throughout. There are 36 Mercs in total to choose from for your squad, but you can’t have them all at once of course. Mercenaries charge money for their services, and money is what you’ll need to hire the Mercs from anywhere from 3 to 14 days. Not all Mercs are equal either and are split into Recruit, Veteran, Elite and Legendary and by reading that then I’m you’ve already figured out they all cost different amounts to hire as well…and you’d be correct. So no, you won’t be able to hire Legendary’s straight off the bat.
The Mercs are known for different roles; Doctor, marksman, engineer, and explosive expert are just some of the roles on offer and any Merc can use any item or weapon, however with the stats the Mercs have you it best you use them for the strengths they have. For example, if you hire Dr. Michael Dawson, he’s best used to patch up wounds with his 81/100 medical skill. If you try to use explosives with him, his 0/100 skill could well backfire in your face.
You can train the Mercs over time and with 12 stats to choose from including health, agility, marksmanship, and wisdom. You can boost your favourite Merc if they have a weak area. You can have up to 6 Mercs in a squad, I wouldn’t recommend that at the start as money can be hard to come by, 3 or 4 should be plenty. One thing I’ll mention as well is to make sure that whilst you’re browsing through the Merc catalogue to scroll across with RT. There you’ll be able to ‘make’ your own Merc, there are 6 default looks to choose from, but you can distribute the attribute points the way you see fit. In my opinion this character can be vital to a playthrough so to potentially miss it (like I did the first 3 times I started the campaign) is poor UI planning really.
I’ve talked quite a bit about the Mercs so I’ll move onto the controls…oh my. They’re not BAD bad, but you can tell Jagged Alliance 3 was primarily made for PC gaming and not a lot of effort seems to of been made to make the controls console friendly. Having to press LT+B for one thing then RT+X for another can easily lead to unwanted actions being taken. Another example is the B button, sometimes it used as a ‘back’ action, but for others it’s to start, so it can be really frustrating trying to navigate your way through and pressing the correct button.
The most frustrating I found though was the combat itself. A key component of turn based tactical games is the ability to see a % chance of hitting a target when aiming. JI3 doesn’t have that, so it’s a complete guessing game as to whether you’ll hit a target or not. I mentioned before about Mercs having stats, and despite the Merc I used having a high marksmanship and standing at point blank range, they still managed to miss their shot and leave themselves exposed. In my first 2 attempts at a playthrough I ran out of ammo because of the number of times a shot was missed. Things managed to get even more comical as I changed the Mercs who ran out of ammo to melee so they can still punch the enemy…but they somehow missed a punch…It wasn’t until my third attempt at a playthrough that I found a Merc that had a rifle, gave that to the Merc I made and I could now successfully hit the people I shot at the majority of the time, but the others were still pretty much useless.
The enemies themselves don’t have health gauges, but they do tell you when they’re uninjured, injured or nearly dead. You can aim at different parts of the body, you can try to shoot their arm so they’re less accurate or you can just simply aim for the head for maximum damage (If you connect that is).
The last frustrating feature I mention about combat is sneaking. You can indeed sneak up on the enemy, however enemies seemingly have x-ray vision, as one spotted one of my Mercs behind a bunch of trees. So if you intend of using stealth long term once you’ve got enough parts to modify your weapons then I’d suggest learning they’re movement pattern so you’re not directly in their line of sight.
An area that JI3 excels in is its world map. It has over 100 tiles to explore, each has its own 3D battle map. Whether it’s an urban area, a desert that’s filled with hostile wildlife or even a tile that has no significance to the story or a side mission, they’re all worth visiting to collect those valuable resources.
A tactical turn-based game wouldn’t be complete without the permadeath option either, so If you’ve grown attached to a certain Mercenary that you’ve used and trained from the get go don’t put them in harms way if you want them to return for the next battle. Choosing Mercs at the start can be tricky, as some just don’t like each other and won’t accept the contract if they don’t like a certain Merc. This can however work in your favour as if you have Mercs that are friendly with each other they will get a boost in morale and performance (allegedly).
Jagged Alliance 3 has many ups and downs but I ultimately came away frustrated, especially with the combat and the over complicated controls. There is potential there but I’m not sure I can wait around another 24 years to see that potential flourish.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.