“ Genre: Action & Shooter / Released: 10 Feb 2012 / Developer: Kalypso Media „
The original Jagged Alliance game came out in the mid-90s, around the same time as UFO: Enemy Unknown and its sequel XCOM- Terror From The Deep. Like them, JA was a turn-based tactical strategy game with added micromanagement elements. Instead of fighting aliens however, JA had you controlling a team of mercenaries fighting to free the people of some obscure carribbean island from the clutches of an evil dictator. The gameplay was tense, engaging and fun, and the visuals colourful, whilst the excellent range of mercenary characters complete with some great voice-acting that helped pile on the charm, all of which ensured JA2's status as a strategy game classic. Released in 1999, the sequel, JA2, improved and expanded upon the original in every concievable way without altering the essential game-mechanics, making for a life-drainingly addictive game that retains a massive underground following to this day.
When I heard that a second sequel was in the works, I was excited to say the least. The box cover-art retains that classic knowingly cheesy charm of the originals, whilst the rendered FMV intro of a remote village coming under attack is a great homage to its predecessors, which were released back in the days when CD space-filling FMV intros were the norm. The new game is a direct, updated remake of the second game, which was fine in my book, as JA2's gameplay was esentially perfect already. The game is once again set upon the war-torn island of Metavira, with the same top-down combat screen and grid-map screen as before, and the same micromanagement elements, such as weapons management, control of silver mines for income, and so on. You hire mercs for the duration of the game now though, as opposed to hiring and firing at will, which sucks. The individually unique merc characters from JA2 all return, which is great, or at leas it would be, were they not all sad shadows of their previous selves. Their character portraits are terrible this time around, and the wonderfully cheesy yet largely high quality voice acting of JA2 has been replaced by abysmal mumbling. None of the same voice actors are back, which is a crying shame.
The grapics are suitably modern and snazzy, but tend towards the sterile side now. The combat screen is now in rotatable 3D, and looks decent, but the 3D aspect is pointless and confusing and the charm and sense of connection is gone. Worse still, you can now see all the enemies from any distance, which destroys any tension and completey changes the way you will play the game.
All of this is as nothing compared to the major game-destroying problem with JA3: they did away with the turn-based aspect of the combat, aka the CORE gameplay element that made the game so endlessy enjoyable. Instead, we get a badly implemented pausable realtime system with stackable commands that are largely useless because they become largely obsolete as soon as you unpause the game. Gone is the almost ubearable tension and excitement of mentally dodging richocheting enemy bullets as the enemey soldiers take their combat-turn whilst your troops hide behind cover, awaiting their turn to fire back, and instead what we are left with is a sub-RTS mess that is largely devoid of any real cerebral aspect or visceral punch and utterly fails to suck you in as a result.
It really is completely unforgivable. Sure, Microprose did something similar with their XCOM sequel Apocalypse, but whilst flawed and disappointing, the combat in that game was still far better implemented than this waste of time. The developers responsible for the original JA games, Sir-Tech, are long gone, and JA3 was made by a different team entirely, seemingly without any understanding of what people loved about the originals. If you fancy playing a game of generic, spinney-rotatey, stealth-strategy-lite then by all means check JA3 out, but if you want a tense, intelligent carefully-paced strategy combat game then stick to JA2, or, its add-on pack, or if you want a real challenge, one of the many mods out there, like the rock-hard Wildfire mod for example. What a waste.