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With all that in mind, some of the later stages, where you have a semblance of a proper squad under your command, can be pretty fun. The game's systems interact with one another and can lead to some neat situations. For example, you can shoot a silenced rifle at an enemy soldier, and miss. But the sound of the bullet wheezing past his head forces that particular soldier to turn around and allows your other mercs to sneak up behind him and take him out. Or, you may want to intentionally show yourself to the enemy commander, who then raises the alarm and orders his soldiers to leave their posts and rush your positions. This in turn allows your other mercs to walk through the previously guarded gates and pincer the enemy.
Unfortunately, even the bigger maps in JAR can feel claustrophobic at times and don't really encourage prolonged battles. You will maybe have to face 20-30 enemies on a single map during the later stages, and even that makes things feel a bit cramped.
When it comes to difficulty, JAR is not afraid to punish your mistakes, and a single dumb move can at times cost you a loading screen. However, even though the game offers three difficulty settings, the limited map and squad sizes mean that you don't get that many opportunities to mess up, so once you figure out how things work, the game becomes quite easy.
And even though some of the game's missions can be pretty fun, certain design decisions bring that fun factor way down. For example, the game stays turn based even when you're not in combat, which makes exploration quite frustrating. And its controls, while decent on both keyboard and mouse and a controller, don't feel great on either. This is especially noticeable when you're trying to loot after a battle. When the shooting is over, the game lets you loot things remotely, but going through each and every corpse while searching for rare and precious resources like water, repair parts and ammo becomes real annoying real fast. And this is coming from someone who generally enjoys inventory management in games.
And now, I have to mention what is perhaps the game's biggest flaw - it doesn't feature character development or progression of any sort. Sure the mercs are all unique, and yes they are already veterans of countless battles, but without a chance to increase their skills or new levels to look forward to, the game starts to feel a bit hollow, like there's no point to anything you do. Now, seeing how this is a roughly 15 hour game, the lack of progression doesn't sting too too bad, but it still sours things a bit.
JAR is made with the Unity Engine, and this is where I usually would complain about unnecessarily long loading times. However, thanks to its small maps, the game saves and loads almost instantly. And when it comes to saving, you can save at will and have a couple of autosave slots to fall back on in case something goes wrong. Unfortunately, something goes wrong fairly often. During my playthrough, the game got stuck on various animations a bunch of times, which forced me to reload.
And while in general, the game's AI was fairly competent, occasionally it went haywire, forcing units to just run back and forth for no good reason. Another annoying bug I noticed was that at times the game's noise indicator didn't work, which led to a merc breaking stealth even though the game was claiming otherwise. There were some other minor issues here and there, but nothing game-breaking.
On the plus side, the game ran pretty well for the most part, except for some dropped frames when I was moving the camera over elevated terrain.
I should also mention that you can play through the game together with a friend, so that's also something to keep in mind when considering JAR.
Overall, Jagged Alliance: Rage! is not even in the same ballpark as the early entries in the series. But while it's not the glorious return to form we've all been waiting for, it's not completely devoid of merits either.
It's not pretty, it sorely lacks polish, its story is on the “so bad, it's good” level, and its mechanics are slightly above average, but even so, the game has its moments and can be quite fun despite its numerous glaring issues and lacking features.
Those of you looking for a worthy Jagged Alliance successor should stay as far away from this game as possible. But if you're good at tempering expectations and have $20 and 15 hours to spare, you may want to give Jagged Alliance: Rage! a shot. It's really not as bad as it initially appears, and that's the highest level of praise I'm willing to give it.
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