Jagged Alliance 2
for PC (Windows)

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Mr Creosote:
Company: Sir-Tech
Year: 1999
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Science Fiction / War
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 246
Review by Mr Creosote (2024-06-29)
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The North American production Jagged Alliance was a big hit in Central Europe whereas on Sir-Tech's home market, the British production UFO: Enemy Unknown (under a silly changed title) was clearly dominant. Overall, the success was sufficient to warrant a second part, which once again became a European phenomenon.

Which was quite deserved, because honestly, there isn't much more to be done within the constraints of the mercenary genre. And that is even though there is “just” one major change to the concept. Instead of structuring the game strictly in days, time can now be freely and continuously used and planned. Which changes a lot more than obvious at first glance.

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Above all, it increases the pull significantly. There is always something happening somewhere. Even while some mercenaries may be treated in the sick bay, militia is being trained elsewhere or other non-interactive tasks are being performed: there can always be several active squads in parallel. At any time, there is somewhere to fight. To sneak from building to building. To infiltrate a mine. To defend oneself against attacking wildcats. There is never a good time to save the game and take a break.

The variety of possible actions during the tactical turn-based fighting is a major source of entertainment. Creeping, crawling, cutting fences, climbing up to a roof or blow up the back wall while the guards are exception an attack at the main gate. Under the cover of night, equipped with appropriate goggles and silencers, take out a complete army base. All that being performed, different from the aforementioned UFO, by hand-picked mercenaries showing a lot of character.

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Character which pays into the subtle hints at roleplaying and plot. Here and there, you will run across named NPCs which might join or provide quests. Following those side threads remains optional. Interactions with the local merchants, on the other hand, is less optional. What's offered by them is urgently needed.

Which is where a couple of minor weaknesses creep in. As the game progresses, the percentage of game time going into purely logistical planning increases. Having small groups of mercenaries, preferably cheap ones with no specifically good abilities, which just transport things from A to B. Regularly checking those merchants for their latest offers. Likewise, the lengthy systematic search of every newly conquered sector in which every single door, every crate must be opened manually, becomes rather annoying. None of this provides an actual challenge in gameplay terms. It's just mechanical routine from A to Z.

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On top of that, the computer-controlled enemies don't act all that intelligently. The selectable difficulty levels are defined through the budget available to the player and the equipment used by the enemies. They don't make them more intelligent, however. It is apparent that some of them have been fixed to specific places in the sectors in order to make the player's life harder. Though every time the simulation takes over, the artificial intelligence taking decisions based on programmed criteria, the only danger is really in numbers. The default player tactic therefore is to fortify or hide their own squad somewhere, lure the enemies with noise and there they are, walking right into the obvious trap. One after another. There is no alignment, no communication between those enemies.

It is a pity, but nevertheless, it is sufficiently challenging. The graphics were widely criticised at the time of release. Today, we can consider ourselves lucky that none of the 3D engines trending at the time have been used. The finely pixelled surroundings and smoothly animated sprites are still pleasant to look at. Unlike what was considered modern at the time.

All in all, Jagged Alliance 2 provides the same amount of fun today as it did back then. Thanks to the fan-made and still maintained Stracciatella engine, it can be run pretty much on any system today, even in higher screen resolutions allowing for more overview (originally, it was restricted to 640x480). It is easy to understand the legendary status. The genre itself may always have been niche, but its fans are very engaged and devoted.

Comments (1) [Post comment]

Mr Creosote:
If that email interface doesn't scream 90s, I don't know what will! And wait until you see their website. Straight out of Frontpage Express. Uh… that was a horrible "WYSIWYG" website editor from Microsoft in case you don't remember. Jagged Alliance 2, the game in which this virtual mail application and those virtual websites appear, has aged a bit better, thankfully.
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