After the successful and beloved Jagged Alliance squad-based turn-based strategy game (a whole mouth full), Sir-Tech expanded the genre by adding the sequel, Jagged Alliance 2, which was published later in 1999. On a side note, it’s sad to see the JA series become more and more popular thanks to mass download methods like Steam, after the virtual death of the company itself. Well anyway, decide for yourself if the purchase (while you’re at it, nab the Gold version!) is worth it or not.
When you boot up JA2 for the first time, you’ll enter a fake Computer Operating System, your operation base: the laptop. This portable will help you fund your hard earned money by hiring new team/party members trough various on-line methods. Later in the game, a huge internet store is accessible trough the laptop. It has never been easier to buy a couple of AK’s - free delivery! Also crutial mission information will be directly e-mailed to you via the OS. Nice touch.
The main menu allows you to edit the base parameters of a common Jagged Alliance 2 session: the kind of guns you’d like (Tons of em! or Regular), the difficulty, … Once you login into your laptop you can create your own party member for free, which will permamently be a part of your assault team. Other members are obviously for hire - which means you’ll have to raise enough funds to pay them on a either daily, weekly or monthly basis. Each mercenary (Let’s just say “merc”) has his own personality and speciality. You’ll be able to recruit a bad guy who kills every one standing in his or her way with bare fists, while other members prefer to use a scope.
Next to the general personalities (voice, appearance) every character has a hate/love relation with all other NPCs! Yes this is indeed quite amazing. You’ll have to watch who you’re hiring, because some mercs can’t stand each other and one of them will leave your team in time. A fight within the team will lower the moral of other non involved members resulting in less effective ways of dealing with the enemy. Trust me, you do not want this to happen. (Spoiler tip: hire Razor and Haywire and laugh your ass off!)
Between the hiring of new mercs and the buying of weapons trough the internet or shops distributed among various cities, you’ll have to watch your budget constantly. In the beginning of the game there is no income. None. You won’t be able to hire a full team and will need to use cheap hardware like pistols. When you take over some cities, there are a few opportunities to earn (a lot of) money trough different quests. For instance, liberate an occupied mine and you’ll be rewarded with the monthly income of that mine. Do not forget to keep occupying the mine with militia! Yes indeed, you are able to train militia from towns folks by using your highest educated team member. Of course using a low educated one will also work but it’ll take longer and your skills won’t increase that often. Be aware once you are training militia, you cannot use that member to do something else. Same story with fixing broken weapons and sleeping.
During the main mission you’ll cruise trough a lot of different cities and villages and they all include some or many optitional side missions. Talk to locals and ask them to help - or they’ll ask you. You can for instance rescue someone’s daughter, work hand in hand with the local mob (or kill them all and take their weapons!), escort a pilot, and many more things.
As said before, JA2 is a TBS game, which means it plays very much like a standard board game using turns. As long as your mercs don’t see or hear any enemies you can walk freely in the area and the game switches to a real-time mode. As soon as one of your team members notices something dangerous, the game switches back in TBS mode and you’ll have to set actions for each party member. Every merc has Action Points (more agile members obviously can do more stuff) which you can spend during your turn to walk, run, crawl, shoot, scan, …
If you want to shoot, you can increase your accuracy by upping the amount of APs you are going to spend. Aside from generally pointing and shooting at one enemy, you can also instruct members to aim for a specific body part like the head (“BOOM HEADSHOT! Sorry, couldn’t resist…), the legs, arms or body. Hitting legs immobilizes your enemy, which is a very good thing. The arms causes most enemies to drop weapons and run. Of course the chance you’ll hit a specific part is significantly lower than the normal body. It’s also a smart move to save APs if you’re in a corner. When the enemy peeks, you’ll get a free interrupt and can still kill him.
Aside from shooting, one of my favourite ways to silently liquidate enemies is using a knife. The knife requires a bunch less APs but you have to be close to the enemy. That’s where stealth drops in. Enabling stealth reduces your footstep sounds and reduces the chance enemies hear something and investigate. Most professional assassins are highly skilled in stealthing and knifing. Just using your fists will render enemies K.O. and make them drop their weapons which is a very good thing: automatic rifles early in the game are a blessing!
Talking about the graphics is obviously a little bit over-the-top. A game from 1999 can’t possibly look as good as a nowadays shooter (BOOM HEADSHOT! - Last time, I promise!). Still, back in 1999 the bad part about Jagged Alliance 2 were the graphics. Wizardry 8 did not have a potentially beautiful engine either, but both games are just so nicely put together we’ll barely make that a discussion point. Sadly most gamers disagree again. Damn you all! Oh yeah, the game features OK-ish cutscenes which explain the main plot in the game. They are of mediocore quality. But another great thing about all Sir-Tech games is the amazing achievement of the composer Kevin Manthei, which also made the Wiz8 soundtrack. The bad graphics feeling completely fades once the great music tracks shows up and you are getting attached to your crew members.
I just love hearing them talk, really!
Jagged Alliance 2 is still a fantastic game and a great example to all other turn-based strategy games recently released. Whoever lost his CD or never managed to play it, don’t delay any longer and try to grab the Gold version including the expansion Unfinished Business. If you’re also bored with that expansion, try the fan-made v1.13 modification which even increases the game resolution size! A fair warning to all potential JA2 players: the game sucks up all social life. And by all, I mean everything. Be warned.