The Old Mercenary Comes Out of Retirement
A money-hungry rogues gallery of mercenary operatives is at your disposal in Jagged Alliance 3. In Gamewatcher’s preview, we spent some time with these dangerous guns for hire as we sent them into the jaws of death.
I’ve often pondered the appeal of a squad-based tactical game where the driving force behind the group’s unity is the allure of wealth and peril. The concept becomes even more fascinating if the characters harbor personal feelings towards fellow operatives, potentially refusing work due to their involvement. So when Jagged Alliance 3 immersed me in precisely that scenario from the outset, my interest was piqued significantly.
As I persist in pursuing the elusive thrill of XCOM, with little hope for a new installment in the near future, I remain eager to explore turn-based tactical strategy games that share similarities with Firaxis’ exceptional sci-fi creation. Jagged Alliance 3 presented a promising beginning on this journey, offering an intriguing glimpse into its recruitment mechanics.
But before I get into that, a little about what Jagged Alliance 3 is cooking. This is the latest in a franchise that’s got a fine following for a good reason. The original and its sequel came out a whopping 28 and 24 years ago respectively, with various expansions, remakes, and sidesteps in the years since. It has brought a particular flavor to the turn-based strategy genre and as such, this third entry comes with a bit of anticipation and baggage. It’s been in development in some form or another for the better part of two decades after all. It’s one of those cases where it’s almost a miracle to actually see it happen, even if there have been several entries in the meantime.
Thus, the stage is set for this turn-based escapade. The fictional nation of Grand Chien enjoys prosperity due to its abundant natural resources. However, the situation takes a dark turn when a paramilitary group seizes control of the countryside, coinciding with the mysterious disappearance of the president. Whether this is a mere coincidence remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: Grand Chien now finds itself in quite a predicament.
So the president’s family got together with a corporation and funded a mercenary task force to eradicate the paramilitary problem and find the president. The player’s job is to find the team and send them out into a brutal death-dealing melting pot. Easy enough on paper, right? Just buy up the best of the best and send them to hell. Unfortunately for you, even mercenaries have their standards.
Things kick off with a computer terminal and a messaging application for contacting a list of mercs for the job at hand. There are messages back and forth about their demands. Some want more cash, others want particular mercs on the mission with them and others will just tell you no because you already picked someone that they despise.
It’s a pretty cool touch and one that permeates the experience overall. There’s the opportunity to partake in the deadly soup of permadeath with these characters so these extra bits of character really help build connections and attachments with your ragtag group of badasses.
That brings us back to the action. In the vein of games such as XCOM, the player clicks on places to move characters a few tiles, and when the combat kicks in a second level of interactivity emerges and every choice becomes brutally final. Each merc has its own specialization and skillset, so the options they bring into a fracas are important to remember. At its peak, Jagged Alliance 3 is unforgiving to the point that you simply cannot make an uncaring decision. Everything matters and that’s intimidating and exciting in equal measure.
It’s probably going to be frustrating for some, but for me, the heavy consequence of failure pays off beautifully in Jagged Alliance 3. The combat carries such risk that it properly sells how deadly the situation is. Taking too much damage means a merc will need medical attention, but it’s not always easy to get done in the middle of a skirmish. So you need to find ways to protect them while the rest pick off the enemies. The moment something goes belly up, the pressure builds. There’s still hope however, you just need to pick the right course of action to turn the tide. Battles tend to be done in small pockets, so there’s not too much chance of brutal escalation while you’re still learning the ropes.
Stealth is thankfully an option if planned correctly. Individual members can continue on a stealthy path if they’ve yet to be seen, and that can be a valuable weapon in gaining the upper hand. Smartly, you can effectively distract some soldiers by being open and noisy elsewhere to allow another merc to slip through somewhere else. Like everything in Jagged Alliance 3, it’s difficult to pull off, but oh-so-exciting when executed.
Mercs that successfully complete missions can gain new skills and become increasingly reliable and invaluable. You’ll undoubtedly gather favorites as you go because that’s always the hook of such systems. It will make it all the more devastating when a fumbled mission leaves them looking like a blob of jam.
I’m captivated by the depth of this rabbit hole. Although I seldom enjoy games that are deliberately punishing, Jagged Alliance 3 possesses a unique allure that makes it both compelling and, dare I say, enjoyable. In this context, failure enhances the personal drama, while success becomes all the more rewarding.
Most Anticipated Feature: Finally building a winning team that doesn’t get splattered across the battlefield within minutes.