The Wargamer

29 May 2017

PC Game Review: War Tapes Jagged Alliance

Welcome to the semi-regular feature War Tapes, where Jake Tucker examines some of the better PC games of years gone by

Published on 6 JAN 2015 7:05am by Jake Tucker
  1. ground combat, tactical, present day / near future, introduction, intermediate, turn-based igougo, pc, isometric, english, 1, yes, moddable data files, squad

Welcome to the semi-regular feature War Tapes, where Jake Tucker examines some of the better PC games of years gone by.

 

Like a fine wine or a Colt 1911 - this one gets better with age. Originally coming out in 1999, Modders have stepped in to give this game a whole new lease of life. The most recent release of popular mod JA2 1.13 has seen series fans old and new jumping in for a fresh start. 

Maybe itís time you found out why Ö 

 

What Is Jagged Alliance 2? 

Jagged Alliance 2 is, as you would imagine, the second in the Jagged Alliance series. Itís a TBT game, released by Sir-Tech in 1999. 

It was beloved on release for an unrelenting approach to combat, unforgiving mechanics and a totally free-form narrative. You spend a while trying to pick a balanced team (itís not) and look over some dossiers to maybe get a sense of whatís going on (you wonít) before being dropped straight into combat in one of the quieter towns of Arulco. Every merc has their own personality, and from time to time youíll be forced to take the role of combat HR manager, keeping problematic troops away from each other before tempers get to boiling point. This means sometimes your dream team can have problems before you even wade into your first city. 

Thereís a brief bit of storyline but youíre soon just left to your own devices. Whatís fascinating is that even in the base game you can feel up against it. Time is your big enemy initially. Weapon shipments, bullet wounds and training militia to guard the sectors you capture, these things all take time. Your better mercenaries are all on quite tight timed contracts. This means youíll probably have a few false starts before you manage to hit the ground running fast enough to make an impact and take over one of Arucoís mines for your own source of income, but youíll remember these early failures fondly, making big mistakes and learning valuable lessons. 

Thereís a sci-fi option that adds aliens and laser guns, but I prefer to keep it realistic. 

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How Does It Play Now? 

Itís still got a unique feel and energy to it that makes it a joy to play. Assaulting the islandís prison under cover of darkness with some dodgy scavenged night vision goggles and gas masks is still gripping. Your characters are scrabbling through the corpses of the dead to try and find a few more rounds of 5.56 ammo for the next fight. 

You have a lot of different approaches that you can attempt and many of these are memorable, but due to some balance issues never quite addressed with the base game means that recruiting a team of ďnight opsĒ skilled mercenaries means that emerging into the daylight is silly. You can still enjoy everything the vanilla game has to offer, youíre just going to have an easier time if you become that which goes bump in the night. This is a small blip on what is otherwise an incredibly strong game, but has long since been remedied by the still active mod community. 

Once you hit your stride youíll find yourself slugging your way through Arulcoís cities and woodland and defending your gains against the loyalist counter attacks. Every action feels urgent, and time again rears its ugly head as you try to manage the logistics of the revolution.  

 

Technically Speaking 

Operating system dependant, Iím fairly certain any machine in your house could run this game without breaking a sweat. Its turn based and graphically not that intensive, so the only grunt work to the game is the calculations. 

In terms of graphics options youíve got a whole raft, including the option to turn off the blood and guts. The vanilla game doesnít support many high resolutions, but if you havenít got the message yet itís my strong opinion you should be playing the game with mods to get the best out of it. 

The game looks pretty good considering the low quality models. The interface/models have probably aged better on this than the other TBTís that were popular around the same time period (Silent Storm, X-Com). 

 

Mods 

Iíd recommend playing this game exclusively with the total overhaul mod 1.13. 1.13 rebalances the game and AI while adding in a few hundred extra weapons and introducing mechanics like webbing, suppression and weather effects. It gets an update once a year or so and the most recent one has brought construction so you can re-enforce your control centres with sandbags and defensive walls. 

Itís an extensive modification that adds massively to the tactical depth of the game. Usually Iíd be worried that this might make the game a little convoluted but Jagged Alliance 2 is so good at providing feedback to player decisions that adding additional layers to it doesnít actually make it any harder to play, although it does increase the amount of options at your disposal. 

If youíve ploughed through it and want more of the same, try Deidrianna Lives. Iíve never finished this one because I had some issues getting it to work with 1.13 - but it feels like the changes are fairly subtle. You can get a 1.13 compatible version from here 

If you wanted something completely different, why not try fighting in a city with Urban Chaos, which drops you in a concrete jungle, the most testing of JA2ís battlegrounds. AI is more aggressive and more numerous so check those corners. You can get that 1.13 compatible version here. 

 

Is This Right For Me? 

Iíve written about a couple of other games for Wargamer and hopefully Iíll be writing about a few more, but I can recommend a tactical experience more than this one. Press on through the unforgiving start, because once youíve knocked a couple of radio outposts down and you have an ďAĒ team of fully equipped mercs, the game falls into place. 

Iíd love to hear some of your stories from the game! You can grab it from Steam here or from Good Old Games here. Both are the ďgoldĒ versions of the game, but the base sequel is much better than unfinished business.