Jagged Alliance 3 Review – Command Pure Chaos

JA3 review

Jagged Alliance 3 deployed on high ground; it is a game in a unique position. It’s not the first time we’ve gotten a sequel to a video game after a multi-decade wait, but that list of titles is small. With breakthroughs in graphics, interface, story presentation, and physics simulation, what would a new Jagged Alliance game even look like? It turns out, quite a bit like the originals. Jagged Alliance 3 is a true sequel, filled with all the stupid awesome musclehead action of the 90s, and everything that entails.

Anything But Expendable

We talked gameplay in our Jagged Alliance preview, but there are some things worth focusing in on. The one thing Jagged Alliance does better than any other turn-based game out there is cinematic gunfights. These aren’t the brutal, balletic sort of fights you’d see in a John Wick movie. These are the sort of engagements you’d expect to see Schwarzenegger or Stallone tangled up in. Actually, pick any of the Expendables and you are on the right track. The original game had a very arch sense of humor and its genre, and this new game bears a similar smirk.

You will command your mercs in asymmetrical firefights, positioning them behind cover each turn, and trying to claw for any advantage. You will also manage the company which involves salaries, ammo, and some light RPG elements. There’s also a surprisingly large world map, and you will take territory square by square.

Made To Order

Each of those squares represents a map (sometimes two, if there’s a secret basement). There isn’t procedural level generation in Jagged Alliance 3. Instead the whole war-torn nation features bespoke level generation. This mostly rules. The level design is one of Jagged Alliance’s strongest elements. Planning an ambush on a bridge, or a desperate firefight in an abandoned mansion are both highlights. There will be a few high traffic maps that you will probably grow sick of, but there’s also day one Steam Workshop support (not to mention a patch or two), so I’m confident there will be fresh content someday.

Looking at the Steam Workshop page, I noticed something interesting. One of the most controversial features in Jagged Alliance 3 is the lack of an aim percentage. You eyeball your shots (sometimes spending AP to increase your accuracy) and then there is a true ballistics simulation. Shots can go wide and hit allies, or pierce one enemy to kill the guy behind him. There is ricochet to watch out for, and interesting tricks you can play with line of sight.

But on day one, there’s already a mod adding in a shot calculator- with a note from the devs! They passionately argue for their original vision and balance, and so far after playing a good many hours, I am inclined to agree with them. It’s different from a total information strategy game. This is something altogether more chaotic. And there’s a real place for that. If XCOM is the Street Fighter of turn-based tactics, Jagged Alliance is the Super Smash Bros.

Diamonds Are Forever

I was curious how the story and setting Jagged Alliance would be updated to fit a modern era. It isn’t. This game is set in the late 90s with some fun retro email clients and big ‘ol cell phones. It also follows the formula of the previous two games almost identically. Again you are in a war-torn nation in Earth’s southern hemisphere killing ill-equipped scavengers who prowl through the rust and mud.

As you play through the Jagged Alliance 3 story, you will learn a bit more about Grand Chien. It’s an African former French colony making money through the foreign diamond trade. Most levels are in the sort of aluminum-siding slums you’ve seen a zillion times in this sort of action adventure. You’re not supposed to take much of it seriously; there isn’t a lot of nuance in the way you capture diamond mines from the locals to pay your merc salaries. There’s a character named Greasy Basil. But the arch tone never really rises to the level of being funny. It’s mostly lazy stereotypes with a smug sense of remove. And that’s to say nothing of the unit barks, which get real real old, real real fast.

After beating the story in Jagged Alliance 3, I still really wanted to play more. I want to try out every merc on the roster, and learn how to use each of their unique abilities. There are fights that I want to play again, this time with a new approach. Fans of turned based action will find Jagged Alliance 3 to be a genre-best game. But I’m probably going to play those gunfights with the volume turned way down. After all, I’m not in Grand Chien for the atmosphere and the company. I just want to find new ways to blow stuff up.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Frenetic firefights
  • Unique tactical combat
  • Intuitive flowing strategy

The Bad

  • Annoying lines get repeated
  • Story isn’t much
  • Not the highest level of polish