Jagged Alliance 3, now in the hands of Haemimont Games, is a sequel to Sir-Tech Software’s nearly 20-year-old classic Jagged Alliance 2. The series has always billed itself as a fond, yet satirical throwback to the action movies of the 80s, complete with American jingoism, unfettered “US good, everyone else bad” mentality, and the good guys being the ones whose perspective you see everything from. Jagged Alliance 3 follows this formula at times and often misses the mark, but the turn-based battles are just as satisfying as ever.
A topical story with little to say
You start the game as a commander hired to assist with the liberation of a fake, nondescript, and sadly cliched developing African nation that has experienced a coup. With access to A.I.M – and no, not Marvel’s Advanced Idea Mechanics – rather the boringly named “Association of International Mercenaries”, you get to hire any number of mercs to accomplish your goal of thwarting the coup.
Recruiting and gearing up your mercenaries ties into a secondary narrative that hits a little too close to reality. Your benefactor is a diamond mining company, which funds your operation on the basis they support the missing president of the country who was kidnapped by a fanatical group based in a mineral-rich valley they want to exploit.
It’s just way too close to the reality of what has happened across the continent over the decades, with local warlords gaining support to lead coups that “coincidentally” coincide with Western corporate interests. More recently, links between Russia’s Wagner Group and various mining regions in Central Africa have come to the fore, showing how conflict in Africa is still fuelled by foreign resource grabs.
Of course, basing a game’s story on real-world events is not something that should be forbidden or even frowned upon as art can shed light on intense and difficult situations – but it has to be done well. Unfortunately, the story in this game is largely forgettable beyond providing the basics of why you’re tasked with defeating a large cast of mostly nameless enemies.
Tactical turn-based combat never gets old
Putting the questionable story beats aside, Jagged Alliance 3 is a brilliant, tactical game that fans of the original games – as well as newer IP like the XCOM reboot and Phoenix Point – will enjoy for the tens of hours that it will take you to get through.
Using Action Points (AP) instead of a fixed number of actions per turn gives you greater flexibility in how you approach fights and opens up way more tactical options. You can move, shoot, and move again depending on how many AP you invest in each action. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the number of enemies thanks to tactically-poor positioning on your part, you can even spend extra AP to increase the chance of severely injuring or killing an opponent per shot. It’s a great risk-reward system that enables you to gain the upper hand in a fight but may leave you exposed and isolated.
Another tactically-advantageous mechanic, or at least one that helps you slow the enemy down, is the returning ability to target specific body parts. The first time I managed to get a sniper into an elevated position, take a headshot, and watch it pay off with an enemy’s head exploding was one of the most satisfying moments in my playtime. The system works even better when an enemy is in cover with only their leg or arm sticking out. Being able to still target a limb is just that little bit of extra damage you might need to make it through a game designed to be tough.
Levels play out as a mix of real-time and turn-based, similar to the system Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden pioneered. While you are undetected, you can move around the level freely, including sneaking up on and dispatching unsuspecting enemies to thin out their forces. At times, it reminded me of real-time tactical strategy games like Desperados 3 where you can scan the battlefield for the optimal path to that one isolated enemy.
When enemies eventually detect you, you will cry out in frustration when you realise they get a free turn to run into cover. Early on in my playthrough, I tried to sneak up on an enemy and, because I was impatient, I walked right into his line of sight. After screaming out in alarm and firing his gun, he scampered off to cover and left my merc sitting in the open to face every enemy nearby. After that, your tactical turn-based nous comes to the fore, or in my case shows your shortcomings, as you use your mercs to kill and clear the immediate threat.
At this point, it’s worth bringing up the presentation as Jagged Alliance 3 looks great – even if it’s not pushing any technical boundaries. The level design is wonderfully varied, from jungle paths to small villages and large cities, all rendered in a modern 3D engine that looks attractive and often beautiful. More importantly, the levels are clearly designed with tactics in mind, offering natural and man-made cover, as well as different elevation levels to give you a tactical advantage or put you at a tactical disadvantage. I just wish the mercs would talk less.
Mercs and management
Your mercs are ultimately the heart of your operation. Without them, you can’t fulfill your contract and the country will continue to suffer.
As in the prior games, your mercs have certain specialties and skills but they are not locked into a specific path. That earlier anecdote about sniping from a high position was actually performed by my medic, seeing as I got my sniper killed earlier in the mission. There’s a light RPG element to the game as each merc levels up during the course of the game and their skills are improved the more they use them; thus my medic eventually became a long-range hawkeye as I progressed while still retaining their ability to heal injured mercs.
Between missions, you can assign mercs to scout new areas to uncover more information about the enemy, supplies, and even hidden treasures. Alternatively, you can assign mercs to train other mercs in their specialty. More likely than not, you will be assigning mercs to recovery units as sending injured mercs into battle was always a recipe for disaster.
Managing your mercs extends to who to hire and fire. You start with a limited budget so will have to hire who you can get at first – typically “triers” more than “doers”. If you spend your full budget upfront on high-skilled mercs, you will find yourself in a position where you have no money to support your continued operations effectively, so it’s crucial upfront to balance your ambition against long-term needs and gains.
Just like The Wild Geese!
Overall, Jagged Alliance 3 is a welcome return to form for the franchise and one that gives tactical combat fans plenty to chew on. The story is forgettable, which is a missed opportunity to satirise the brutal opportunism we see in the world every day, but the satisfying gameplay makes you forget about that while you are liberating the country one stealth takedown or headshot at a time.
Jagged Alliance was reviewed on PC using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Jagged Alliance 3 (PC) ReviewJagged Alliance 3 (PC) Review
Sound8/10 Very Good
Ease of Play8/10 Very Good
- A reminder tactical turn-based combat never gets old
- Returns to a flexible action-point system instead of actions-per-turn
- Interesting, strategic level design
- The forgettable story needs work
- Merc dialogue can become irritating