Reinstall: Jagged Alliance 2

The latest Reinstall column for PC Gamer covers Jagged Alliance 2, in its 1.13 patch/mod variant, and, aside from making a weird en passant comparison to Dragon Age, should give you a pretty good idea of what the game is like and why it's so fondly remembered. Here's an excerpt:
Naming a party of characters is one of the game-given rights of X-COM-like turn-based tactical RPGs. It's instantly gratifying to take a commando named after your cat into combat. And when permanent death is a possibility, it's a way of emotionally investing yourself in the animated sprites you're sending into harm's way.

Jagged Alliance 2 didn't release with that feature, but the community-produced 1.13 patch/mod that I'm playing with adds it. It injects content into PC gaming's best late-comer to the isometric tactical RPG party without altering any story or quests.

Easily installed, 1.13 doesn't change JA2's identity it's still a game of deliberate, tactical gunplay that feels like South American guerrilla chess, in which you hire a team of mercenaries to stage an insurrection against the unruly queen of Arulco. And there's still charming '˜90s action-humor threaded through the plot ((Let's pop some zits!) one lady-merc yells when an enemy is spotted).

1.13 enhances what's there, upping the maximum resolution to 1024×768, adding hundreds of new weapons including gratifying super-items like Ghillie suits and depleted-uranium bullets reorganizing hotkeys and altering the AI so that enemies flank better, take cover more often, can climb onto roofs and utilize suppressive fire.

Playing back through JA2 with 1.13 appended is an exercise in intricate tactics and character development. There are so few RPGs that make the act of fostering a party member a series of small-but-meaningful decisions in the way that JA2 does. By the third mission the liberation of a mine and sweatshop in Drassen you're juggling piles of pistols and equipment that you've inherited from deceased enemies or found lingering in rooms, closets, shelves and refrigerators that you explore during and after combat.