every while, a game comes along that despite almost no attention by
magazines and no advertising campaigns still manage to climb to the
Top 10 sold games list. These games usually do not need any of that,
since they usually manage to capture the most important thing in the
industry; The gamers favor.
One of these games is Jagged Alliance 2. Released in 1999, it was a
sequel to the relatively unknown Jagged Alliance (except for a few
hardcore gamers). Despite the “good” (as in just above average)
reviews and close-to-no attention, it managed to climb to the second
place of 10 most sold games here in just a week. Naturally, such a
game must be interesting to check out, I thought, so I downloaded
the demo of it and was quite impressed by what I saw, but something
kept me from buying the full game itself. Maybe I didn’t feel like
it was that worthy of my attention, and I soon almost forgot about
Then, about a year later, when my friend bought it, told me it was
good, and I saw it cheap, I thought “might as well try it”. I was
totally blown away by it. I will give my reasons in the review
following, and hope that you, as well as I, will find it one of the
best games ever made.
Jagged Alliance 2, like the prequel Jagged Alliance, is something as
unique as a Tactical Roleplaying/Strategy Game (TR/SG I will refer
to the genre as from here).
Set in a small country somewhere in South America, where a ruthless
dictator rules with her iron fist, after managing to rid of the
previous democratically elected president.
Said ex-president arranges a meeting with you, the player – a
skilled mercenary commander – to “reconstruct” the government of his
So, let us travel beyond real countries and deep into the continent
to the country known as Arulco.
Or should I say, let us travel to our laptop computer. Yes, you read
it correctly; A laptop computer. This is one of the highlights of
the game; Your laptop computer. This is where the game starts, and
from here you can check your email (from your employer, shipment
notices and even some quests are related here), visit different
websites such as AIM (Affiliation of International Mercenaries),
where you hire your mercenaries to do your dirty work and Bobby
Ray’s (Selling guns and equipment).
As in all RPG’s, you naturally create your own character, but it is
done in a different way here. It all starts out with you receiving
an email from a company that run “personal tests”, and from there on
(for a small fee), you create your own, personal made-character. At
first, it looks normal, with determining portrait, soundset and
distributing skill points, but after that, you have to go through
10-15 questions of how you would react in different situations. This
affects your characters psychological state of mind.
Seriously, can you see yourself being entirely calm during a
firefight if you answered the question regarding the “You hear a
burglar in your house. What do you do?” with the option “Pick out
your guns from under your pillow, kick the door out of its hinges
and go blasting downstairs while shouting ‘Come get some, tough
guy!’”. Eh, can you?
After this, unless you want to play the game with just one mercenary
(NOT advised, and most probably impossible), it is time to hire some
mercenaries. You have a certain amount of cash from the start, and
for this you can go to the two different Mercenary Sites – AIM for
the more professional mercs and M.E.R.C. for the “cheaper” options.
I never used M.E.R.C. just because I didn’t like the managers
attitude or their overly arrogant descriptions of the lousy
mercenaries for hire.
“Graduated with HIGHEST grade from shooting school, and there is
nothing in the entire world he can’t handle with that gun of his”.
No thanks, then I’d rather just go out and try to do it with my
slingshot. At least the slingshot doesn’t have an attitude to match
Deidrianna (Queen, Ruler of Arulco and main villain in the game).
Hiring these other mercs are quite interesting…you contact them
through AIM (or M.E.R.C. if you wish, but the manager handles it
there), have a short “video conference” with them and determine the
length of the contract as well as if you’d rather have them arrive
with equipment (more expensive) than totally defenseless (cheaper).
After the contract expires, you have the option to just let them go,
or rehire them for another period of time (unless they are not
satisfactioned with the arrangement, but then they’ll let you know,
You should be careful with who you hire, though…some mercs cant
stand others, and needless to say, this will lead to confrontations
and problems within the squad.
But there are also mercs to like and admire other mercs, and that
might outweigh the dislike.
Mercenaries in this game constantly improves in whatever they are
doing. This really follows the motto “learning by doing”, and when
they have learned a certain amount of new things, they gain an
experience level. This experience level decides their chance to see
new enemies, being caught unprepared, how much time it takes to
reload their gun, and so on. This does not in any way affects their
health points or skills as in other RPGs, and they certainly don’t
become invincible. They might be more skilled as soldiers, but they
are still humans, and that is one of the things that differ this
from most other RPGs. It tries to be realistic. Or, as realistic as
the occasion allows.
You can have a mercenary on the level of 10, with the best armour
available, strong, healthy and as skilled as anyone. It still
doesn’t help if he suddenly finds himself looking down the barrel of
a gun. If it is a moderately strong gun and at close range, he would
probably be injured a third of his health as well as the risk of
losing dexterity or wisdown points - dexterity if he is hit in the
shoulder, wisdom if he is hit in the head. This means you can mostly
forget all about thinking “I have gained a few levels and have a
great armour rating, that means I can rush right on, right?”. This
is tactic, and nothing else.
The gun store I spoke about earlier is not available (“Under
Construction”) until you have captured your first airport, and then
you can arrange for all new equipment bought through Bobby Ray’s to
be shipped there.
There is even a flower boutique, that you can have very fun with,
for a reason I will divulge later on.
So, when you have played enough with your laptop, checked out your
data recon files on Arulco and hired Mercenaries, it’s time to get
tough (as Scully – one of the best mercs – says).
You now see a map of Arulco, ready to be conquered. The map is
divided into about 100 sectors (I think that’s the number). Each and
every one of these sectors are unique, have their own layout and can
contain quests, special people or other things.
There are also cities and mines. The cities are in possession of
Deidrianna’s forces, and must be truly wrestled out of their grip.
That is also the case of the mines, and these are very important
throughout the game. Capture a mine and you have a new source of
income. Quite needed, as you start with a daily income of $0. But
don’t expect it to be easy. As all regimes, this one needs money to
keep running, and army forces will try to recapture it again and
Even the cities will have to live through many battles, where
enemies try to recapture them. If they manage to defeat your mercs
and recapture vital sectors, the population’s loyalty to you will
dwindle. Fight well and treat the locals with care, and you will by
the end of the game have all of Balime’s loyalty (the city where the
upper class and those who favour Deidrianna live). To ensure the
total loyalty of Meduna, the capital city is a very hard thing to
do, but if you are persistent enough, it can be done.
So, you as yourself now, if there are 100 sectors, and I have a
maximum of 18 mercs, how am I supposed to be able to defent all
cities, mine’s and sam sites (more about those later).
The answer is easy; Train militia.
That’s right, as soon as the local population’s loyalty to you goes
above a certain percentage, you can train militia do defend the
sector in your absence. There are three levels of militias, but you
can only train them to the second level. The third level is reached
only through experience of battles.
In the middle of the game, this has turned from an oppressed country
into a country now in open rebellion and civil war. Enemy squads
will move out from the main capital regularily to try to regain the
territory lost to them. Therefore, you must constantly be on the
move. And to your help, you can acquire certain vehicles, namely the
Hummer (uses gas, though, which is very hard to come by) and a
Helicopter (as soon as you find the pilot, who is hiding from
Deidrianna). For the helicopter to be of much use, though, you must
defeat the enemies at the sam sites in the country, and prevent the
enemy from retaking them (this gives you more available airspace).
Luckily, you can also train militias here.
Throughout the game, as you progress, make vital conquests or
otherwise annoy the ruler, you will see a cutscene with Deidrianna
and her poor servant Elliot – who always have to face her anger –
which always ends in her getting upset by the news and Elliot
This is where the online flower boutique comes in, as you can order
flowers (how about a “crushed boquette black roses”?) down to Meduna,
and watch a very amusing scene.
I think I have covered everything about the map screen now, so let’s
go on to the tacical screen, the screen where you go down to Arulco
at a closer level.
The perspective is not that much different from other RPG’s, but one
of the things JA2 (and many other TR/SG) are built on is the line of
sight. This means, you can not see the interior of a building unless
you are in it or watching through a window. You can not see what is
behind the large rock over there, or just around the corner. This is
where the tactical part comes in; guide your mercs as best you can
to defeat your enemies by catching them unprepared, luring the into
an ambush or just rushing head on (might work at times, but not
recommended). One of the most important features that JA2 offers is
the “interrupt” sequence.
Since this is a turn-based (action points) game – it would be
impossible otherwise – you have to be very careful with how you
place your mercenaries. Luring enemies into an ambush is one of the
funniest things to do. Just make some noise around you, place one or
two mercs just behind a rock or by the wall you know where they will
run around the corner and wait. As soon as they run into your line
of sight, you often get the first shot (depends on level of the
merc)or, if in combat, you get an “interrupt”. This is to prevent
people using the run-out-from-the-wall-and-back tactic to take an
enemy down. It takes some time to get used to and even more time to
be able to integrate it into your way of playing the game, but once
you know the technique, it is amazingly fun to lure one of those
stupid enemy soldiers around the corner where you sit with a rifle
trained at his/her head as soon as you see him/her.
The environment of Arulco truly looks like a devastated country.
Wrecks of cars, degenerating houses, littered streets and ruins
gives you the feeling of actually being in a nation torn apart.
You can use all this to your advantage, though, as cover to hide
behind and use in your tactics. Roofs can be climbed upon to put
someone in a favorable sniping position, and trees can be used to
lie behind as a squad of blissfully unknowing soldiers wander down
This all mixes into a great tactical part of the game. If you arrive
at an enemy base, with a main entrance, heavily guarded, but the
base itself is just protected by barbed wire, what do you do? Of
course you pull out your wire cutters and make a silent entrance,
avoiding all contact, until you decide to make your grand entrance.
My favourite way of doing this is putting dynamite next to the wall
of the building I wish to enter, put my mercs covering all
directions enemies can bear down on me from, as well as a few
covering the wall.
When detonated, the explosive will blow a huge hole in the wall,
attracting any nearby soldiers rushing to check out the noise,
straight into my mercs’ sights.
Anyone standing close to the wall inside the building is either
incinerated or severely damaged, and in that case I finish them off
with the mercs who were aiming for the wall.
If there is one thing that elevates the entire experience, it is
just the option to destroy walls. With a powerful enough explosive,
you can destroy as good as any wall (there are two or three
exceptions in the entire game), and make your entry that way,
catching your adversaries totally off guard.
Do you know someone is just around a corner, but your mercenary is
constantly being mowed down by him as soon as you peek around? Easy,
just run inside the building and place an explosive next to the
wall, and then have mercs aiming for whichever direction he can fly
You can climb up on the roof above him, throw down a grenade and the
result will be the same (but not the same awesome damage to the
One must always keep in mind that when you are not in combat, this
is a real-time game. Which means, if you see (on the Map screen) a
squad of enemy soldiers heading towards your sector, you better find
cover and make up some tactics quick, because while you are dawdling
around, they draw closer all the time. And being caught unprepared
is not something you would want.
If this happens, and you find yourself being seriously outnumbered
and outmaneouvred, it happens that the enemy gives you the chance to
surrender. If you do surrender, I have heard (have never done it
myself), that the mercs in the sector becomes prisoners and goes to
the prison Tixa, from where you can organize a sort of “rescue
operation” and break them free. Which, of course, means assaulting
the installation and taking out the guards.
The graphics look old and dated now, but when I recently played it
yet again, I found it doesn’t matter at all. The resolution is only
640*480, but the amount of detail for such an old game is quite
impressive. Debris, litter and the effects when you blast a wall
away just to name a few.
The animations are most of the time quite good too, like the
animation of someone being shot on the edge of a roof losing his/her
balance and tumbling down to the ground below, as well as when
someone slumps together of exhaustion.
The sound is most of the time very fitting, with excellent voice
acting (where many mercenaries actually manage to sound really
sympathetic) and good ambient sounds.
Especially at night, when in the woods, and it adds to the tension
of knowing an enemy patrol is nearing your well-set ambush behind a
row of rocks offering good protection, and you hear the chirping in
The only thing that could have been better is for many of the
weapons to sound more as weapons and less as soft air guns. Most of
the time, it sounds more as if somebody pulled the cork out of a
champagne bottle and blasting off a rifle round. Of course, there
are exceptions, but unfortunately not many enough.
The music when you are in an enemy sector is very tense and
oppressing, and fits perfectly, just to turn into a more hectic tune
when you spot the enemy. Otherwise, it is mostly used as background
music you don’t really notice, and it works fine with creating the
feeling that everything is calm…for the moment, since you never know
what might turn up.
I must say that game can be very hard, and very frustrating at
times. If you are not familiar with JA since earlier, I strongly
suggest you play it on the Novice-mode, and preferrable with the
I played it the first time on the Sci-Fi setting, and when you do,
the story contains some…how should I put it…”unorthodox” creatures I
would rather not have seen in a game like this.
Sure, it was challenging, and fun enough, but it really didn’t suit
me. Of course, to each his own, so if you like a bit more
unrealistic story, go for it. If you are like me and prefer normal,
human opponents, I think you should go for the realistic setting.
This doesn’t prevent some of the wildlife predators present in
Arulco, though, but these feels much closer to reality, and are a
bit of challenge as well, if encountered.
There have only been a few bugs I have encountered, and those are
very annoying, and is supposed to be removed by the v1.06 patch. I
still experienced them after the patch, but to a much lesser degree.
They consist of the game after a certain action starting to think
about something and never stop.
For example, after firing a weapon in real-time mode without being
in combat mode, the stopsnatch indicating the game was processing
something could suddenly appear, and you had to minimize it, close
it and restart it because it didn’t actually have something to
The other one was the time-out bug when in combat, and when it said
the it was the opponents turn, the opponent would just think, and
think and think, and nothing would happen. Same here, ctrl+alt+del
and restart it. But in none of these occasions did the game itself
hang, since the map could still be scrolled, and the mouse could be
moved, but not do anything. Annoying, nonetheless.
These things aside, if I had to make a Top 5 games ever, this would
definitely take it’s place there. It might be old, but it is still
atmospheric, exciting and most of all, it has that “special” feeling
that makes it so hard to click the “exit” button when it’s 5 am in
An attention deprived classic.
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