Jagged Alliance 2


Genre:   RPG, Strategy

Developer:    Sir-tech Software

Publisher:    TalonSoft

Released:   1999

PC Requirements:   Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP, Pentium 133 Mhz 4X CD-ROM Drive or higher 32 MB RAM minimum 373 MB free hard drive space Microsoft® compatible mouse SVGA Graphics Adapter DirectX compatible sound card




by Drizzt

Once in 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 it.

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 suffering country.
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.
Markmanship: 59
“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, trust me).

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 again.

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 getting slapped.
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 the road.

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 in.
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 scenery).

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 background.
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 “Realistic” setting.

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 process.
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 the morning.

An attention deprived classic.


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