Jagged Alliance 3 Review

July 17, 2023


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When asked what his plan was for his enemies, Sun Tzu once said he wanted to “track ‘em, find ‘em, kill ‘em”. Well, it was either him or Sylvester Stallone, but it doesn’t really matter, because it was a great plan. So great, in fact, that countless video games have used it as their overarching narratives. But those games rarely include the context in which it was said, because that context is too stupid to actually put into a piece of interactive entertainment. However, the team behind Jagged Alliance 3 ignored the fact that nobody actually likes to watch The Expendables while sober, and built an entire game around the concept of being a quasi-washed up mercenary in the early 2000s. And, thanks to the title’s phenomenal XCOM-esque gameplay, it’s one of the most enjoyable turn-based combat strategy games since XCOM: Enemy Unknown. 

Like in the aforementioned The Expendables, Jagged Alliance 3’s premise is about as Soldier of Fortune Magazine  as it gets. When a rogue mercenary faction takes over an African nation, you’re tasked with assembling a squad of freelance soldiers to overthrow some comically evil bad guys. Once you pick your team of condottieri caricatures, all of which were ripped straight from cheesy ‘80s flicks, you’re thrown into an open world and told to track, find, and kill the ominously-named “The Major” while restoring order to the hilariously-named Grand Chien (or Big Dog, for anyone who didn’t take French in primary school).

You use cRPG mechanics for the tracking and finding parts of the title, and turn-based combat for the killing. The latter is about what you’d expect; you start each level, of which there’s a solid variety, by freely positioning your troops. When your mercs are situated or get spotted, you and your AI foes take turns shooting at one another, using skills and moving around perfectly-sized maps until one team is dead.  Anyone who’s played XCOM knows that it’s hard to mess this kind of gameplay system up, and thankfully, Jagged Alliance 3’s take on the genre is incredibly enjoyable. It ditches the chance-based hit percentages that most titles use, keeps the traditional move and cover mechanics, and allows you to destroy walls with high explosives to get a tactical advantage. 

UN-involved in peace, am I right?

This all, unsurprisingly, works well, and even though it is a tad uninspired, it’s a lot of fun to use realistic weapons to take down enemies. However, actually finding your foes is where Jagged Alliance 3 comes into its own. The game doesn’t tell you where the leader you need to kill is, and instead, forces you to explore its large open world using mechanics that are weirdly akin to those in Divinity: Original Sin 2. This means you’ll have to wander around completing side objectives, meeting new characters and taking out enemy outposts to keep your troops paid and properly equipped while you’re on the hunt. These elements add a level of depth and roleplaying to what would’ve otherwise been just another XCOM clone. Doing the logistical aspects of mercenary work that Blood Diamond glossed over may not seem fun, but it means that there’s more to do in Jagged Alliance 3 than just kill bad guys, and these things turn the title into a proper cRPG. 

Jagged Alliance 3’s wonderfully well-written characters and dialogue also ensure it’s just as enjoyable as the likes of Baldur’s Gate 3. While the game’s story is as serious and stupid as you’d expect from a game about toppling a dictatorship in Africa, everyone you interact with is straight out of a cheesy action flick. The conversations you have, including highlights like chatting with the warden of a prison while in control of a Russian who spent years in the gulags, or ordering a Scottish explosives expert to parlay with a random drunk in a village, are nothing short of phenomenal. The game nails the atmosphere of the media that inspired it, which is saying something given how great that media is. 

I wish Alexa would offer me a job

It’s worth noting that you can experience Jagged Alliance 3’s fun atmosphere and gameplay in two-player co-op, and with mods, if you so choose. When you invite a friend to your game, you give them control of some of your mercenaries and can play the game normally. When you’re done playing together, the save file is stored on both you and your friend’s computers, and that save can be continued in single-player or started up again when both parties are present. The title also has day one Steam Workshop support, and these two things give the game a lot more longevity than some of its competitors. 

For as great as everything in Jagged Alliance 3 is, it’s worth noting that it does have a few minor flaws. The biggest issue with the title is that it’s incredibly difficult, to the point where almost every mission you go on is all but guaranteed to be a pyrrhic victory after your mercs get killed or wounded at an alarming rate. The game also doesn’t run especially well, and it doesn’t have an interactive tutorial for its non-combat elements. None of these things ruin the game, and you can find workarounds for all of them easily enough, but they’re still very passively annoying. 

However, when the only real issues with a game are little more than passive annoyances, that means the game is pretty great. And, well, Jagged Alliance 3 is in fact pretty great. Although its minute-to-minute gameplay isn’t especially innovative, the title does a first-rate job at bridging the gap between combat-based RPGs and more traditional cRPGs. It does this while nailing the looks and writing of classic American television and film, its visuals are decidedly solid, there’s mod support, and there aren’t even any major bugs to complain about. In the words of the great Lieutenant Colonel Hannibal Smith, I love it when a plan comes together. And whatever plan the developers of Jagged Alliance 3 had came together almost flawlessly. 

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Jagged Alliance 3 is a near-perfect and playable recreation of an issue of Soldier of Fortune Magazine that has great gameplay to boot. 
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.