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Jagged Alliance is a long-running series of turn-based tactical games that had a couple of outstanding entries back in the 1990s. In my opinion, Jagged Alliance 2's combination of guerrilla strategy, income management, complex tactical battles, charismatic mercenaries, and continued fan support makes it one of the best games in the genre. Sadly, none of the later entries in the series have been able to surpass or even match their venerable predecessor.
Developed by Cliffhanger Productions and published by Handy Games, a division of THQ Nordic, Jagged Alliance: Rage! (JAR) is the latest attempt to revitalize the series. The game is set twenty years after the original Jagged Alliance and features a total of seven familiar, if slightly worse for wear, mercs.
If you know your Jagged Alliance, that number alone should be enough to make you temper your expectations, so with that in mind, let's see what JAR has to offer.
B-Movie in Video Game Form
Before you start the game, you're asked to pick two mercenaries out of six. This will be your party for the early stages of the game. Later on, you'll be able to recruit a couple of additional mercs and get that number up to four, and on some missions you'll get a chance to command a couple of local rebels as well. The Team Player achievement makes it sound like you can recruit more mercs in a single playthrough, but I wasn't able to do so and couldn't find anything online to confirm or deny this fact. So, when it comes to squad size, things aren't as grim as they initially appear, but they aren't exactly great either.
On the plus side, each merc is unique and comes with multiple positive and negative traits, along with decades' worth of baggage and grievances. For example, one of them has a compromised immune system, which forces him to constantly pop antibiotics or risk catching all sorts of infections. And while running a fever is not exactly pleasant, it also provides a boost of adrenaline that translates into additional action points and damage resistance, and grants access to the so-called Rage Skills.
These special active skills that range from a precise armor-piercing shot to a short-range teleport help set the game's mercs apart even further and influence how you use them in the field. With how unique each merc feels, it's a real shame that there are so few of them.
When the game actually starts, you're greeted with a fairly stiff-looking opening scene where your two grizzled veterans get captured in the most amateurish way possible by queen Deidranna's whipping boy Elliot who you may remember from Jagged Alliance 2. Without wasting too much time, Elliot lets you know that he's now in the mind control drug business and your mercs are to become his latest test subjects. This needlessly long opening scene wouldn't be out of place in any cheap TV movie from the 80s where most of the already limited budget was spent on hard drugs, but because of how utterly ridiculous it is, it can actually get a chuckle or two out of you.
The not so great voice acting doesn't help though. While Jagged Alliance 2 had more than its fair share of cheese, its voice acting was an absolute joy to listen to. From the looks of it, JAR was going for something similar but missed the mark completely, and as a result its flat deadpan delivery can easily rival the infamous “A bomb!” line from the original Deus Ex. The same can be said about JAR's merc interactions, where it simply feels like the characters are talking past one another, instead of catching up and sharing old war stories.
After your team narrowly escapes being turned into drug-fueled zombies, they first try to leave Elliot's island, and when that fails, join the local rebels and help them overthrow the unstable dictator. The story is simple, but I have to admit that it does have some neat hooks. You have a crazed scientist turning old mercs into mindless super soldiers. There's a rivalry between your aging squad of has beens and the next generation of mercs, and even your allied rebels don't seem all that trustworthy. Unfortunately, none of these story elements really go anywhere or have a satisfying arc to them, which only furthers my “so bad, it's good” movie comparison.
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