Blasting Enemies For Fun And (Mostly) Profit

HIGH N-Night is the Greatest. Mission. Ever. Recruiting the Coffee Beans is amazing. 

LOW Important mechanics are not well-explained to new players. A few glitches.

WTF Where did my plot critical items go?  I don’t remember selling them!

Running a mercenary company isn’t easy.  My sniper is at odds with the medic, but I can’t fire the medic because she’s also an amazing scout who can sneak and assassinate.  I can’t fire the sniper (even though she’s overcharging me) because she can kill enemies from half a mile away.  If that weren’t enough, my explosives expert is loath to kill, and my tech wizard can barely aim. Funds are running low, enemies are on the move, and my mercs’ contracts are almost up.  How am I supposed to liberate an island under these conditions?

In the world of Jagged Alliance 3, Grand Chien island has been overrun by “The Legion,” a heavily armed band of ne’er-do-wells who’ve absconded with the president’s daughter and are terrorizing the population.  What to do? Request help from the Association of International Mercenaries (AIM) for high-priced assistance, of course!  During the course of the campaign, the player must juggle finances to keep their mercenaries happy and well-armed while also leading teams on missions and training locals to defend their homes, all the while making choices that have major implications on future events.

Jagged Alliance 3 is played mostly from a third-person isometric view where players control individuals or entire mercenary teams via a point-and-click system which will feel familiar to any RTS fan. 

During the initial exploration phase, the game proceeds in real-time but becomes a turn-based system when encountering enemies.  At this point, each mercenary in a squad has a set number of action points which can be spent on movement, attack, overwatch, or taking cover.  When all action points are spent, the player ends the turn and watches the enemy respond.  Once the battlefield has been cleared of foes, JA3 returns to real-time exploration. 

Between missions, players can assign squad members tasks like healing injured comrades, scouting the local sector, repairing items, or moving to a new location.  All these tasks take time, which is time not spent acquiring additional resources which are needed to hire and retain mercenaries or buy equipment. This means the player must balance their time between gathering necessities and performing action in the field, which adds strangely addictive tension as each decision can potentially lead to great reward or tremendous failure — mercs can get injured while scouting, for instance. I generally go into “analysis paralysis” when trying to make these kinds of decisions, but with the fate of the island on my well-paid shoulders, I was able to plow through, and it was exhilarating.

Mercenaries gain experience and can be upgraded with perks which increase their combat abilities or grant buffs such as frightening enemies upon inflicting damage.  They also come with their own innate abilities, such as Barry Unger crafting stick grenades every few days, or Livewire’s ability to locate all enemies and loot on a given battlefield if enough intelligence was gained from scouting.

During missions, players may encounter NPCs who offer quests which will increase the team’s reputation amongst the island population, or may even be recruited to the team.  Conversations with certain NPCs may also have a permanent impact. For example, sparing an enemy character may allow them to be recruited later, but keeping them alive will anger the locals, locking the player out of other quests or opportunities down the road.

These RPG elements made me feel the stakes involved, as these NPCs became people to me, not just animated stacks of stats to deal with. I’m a sucker for a good moral choice in a game, even if they aren’t quite nuanced, and it certainly helped get me in the right headspace knowing that I was supposed to be a mercenary. Letting a suspected Legion member go in exchange for his horde of diamonds felt right, especially because I knew I could probably off him later.

The last part of Jagged Alliance 3 is contract negotiation.  From this screen, a player can hire or terminate the contract of a mercenary. 

High-priced mercs are generally better fighters or come better equipped, but there are hidden gems to be found among the ‘cheaper’ options.  Regardless of who the player hires, finances need to be carefully monitored, as does the time remaining in a merc’s contract, as a merc will hold the player up for more money in the middle of an encounter and might even leave the team if the contract isn’t renewed on the spot. 

Additionally, not all of the mercs get along.  They may demand more money to work with a hated teammate, or they may refuse to work with an individual altogether.  Many mercs also have a best friend they click with, making them more likely to remain loyal (and work a bit cheaper) if their friend is brought along for mayhem. This leads to some fantastic in-game banter between mercs as they snipe at each other figuratively or literally. Some memorable verbal sparring between a pair who truly hated each other was especially enjoyable — it’s not often you hear a game character say that “we only need one loose woman on this team.” The dialogue won’t win awards, but made the campaign more enjoyable.

The combat is satisfying for the most part, and setting up the perfect sniper shot or catching a foe in a hail of fire from a merc waiting in overwatch always satisfies. Exploration is fast and usually rewarding, and balancing budgets has never been so stressful-yet-satisfying as when I got to watch money roll in, knowing I could keep the gang together (and eventually hire additional squads to take the load off). Even with the occasional missed shot (reminding me of XCOM), the generous save system allowed me to try again, and the option to re-load saves in such case is appreciated.

Jagged Alliance 3 throws a ton of mechanics at the player, and to its credit, the user interface is generally clean and the controls responsive.  Unfortunately, many mechanics are explained poorly or not at all, leading to some frustrating learn-as-one-goes moments like as finding out that sending a merc home and “cashing out” their contract means they may sell items in their inventory, including irreplaceable quest-specific ones, which then leads to quests which can’t be completed.

Also, many status buffs or item characteristics are not described in any useful detail, and information can be difficult to locate on sub-screens.  I found weapons with icons that seemed to indicate special abilities or improved stats of some kind, but I was never able to determine exactly what they did, for example.

Additionally, I encountered technical bugs where allies didn’t spawn until after I restarted half a dozen times. There was also a strange issue where my map screen kept scrolling even when I didn’t enter an input.  Luckily, the save system is forgiving, allowing for as much (or as little) saving a player wishes, meaning many glitches or issues can be overcome easily.

Like some of these mercs, Jagged Alliance 3 can be a bit rough around the edges, but when the chips are down there’s no question it delivers. This is an easy recommendation for players who enjoy the genre, especially since it’s been 24 years since the last mainline entry in the series.  With addictive gameplay, a great cast of characters, and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, liberating this island is a mission worth accepting. 

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Haemimont Games and published by THQ Nordic.  It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 24 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. 1 hour of play was spent in multiplayer modes.  No players joined open multiplayer sessions, and no one on my friends list had the game to test the multiplayer functionality.  Multiplayer allows co-op control of the mercenary team, but all operations must take place in the same sector.  Multiplayer saves can be continued in single-player campaigns, but a new game must be started when entering the co-op mode.

Parents: The game had not been rated by the ESRB at the time of review.  However, according to the THQ Nordic website, the game has a pending rating Likely Mature 17+. The game features intense, realistic violence against human enemies, including close-up shots depicting heads exploding from bullet wounds as well as other realistic blood death animations.  The game’s language is mature, featuring frequent use of F### and S###, and also offers sexual innuendo.  This game is BY NO MEANS for children.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. All in-game audio cues have a visual component.  All mission and story-critical dialogue is subtitled, as are most character interaction sections.  In-game dialogue between characters such as reactions to being attacked, confirming commands, etc. are not subtitled.  As such, this game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Jeff Ortloff
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