Jagged Alliance 3 has been in the proverbial development hell for quite some time. Jagged Alliance 2 came out in 1999. Jagged Alliance 3 was first announced in 2004, with stop-start development finally ceasing five years later. So it’s been quite some delay since it was last seen. The rights went from one studio to another with Nordic Games sitting on the game for a little while, until it was announced for current gen consoles and PC in 2021.
The development team Haemimont Games, known for the Tropico series, has been deemed a safe pair of hands for this mainline series sequel. Make no mistake, this is very much aimed at the hardcore PC audience with the console versions making no real concessions or significant changes for the different platform. Down to the extent that we struggled to play on our smaller TV due to the UI being very much optimised for PC. We were minded of trying to play Dead Rising on a SD set at the dawn of the HD gaming age.
We’ve been spoilt by recent examples like Miasma Chronicles and before that, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics. Jagged Alliance 3 eschews any such creature comforts such as percentage chance to hit or whether an enemy has line of sight to a comrade you’re looking to off with a stealth kill. Not to mention if you lose a teammate during combat and you’ll have your remaining mercenaries lose morale, and in extreme cases go berserk and refuse to follow orders altogether. This is even with the ‘forgiving mode’ option toggled. Not for nothing did PC types create a mod for chance to hit to be shown. We wish for that on PS5, put it that way.
At the outset you’ll have to choose a team of mercs under an initially limited budget, your success in missions lets you bankroll your team. The game has a real-time clock of sorts where your mercenaries have limited contract lifespans. Set on the Francophone Caribbean island of Grande Chien, we’re assured that the motley crew you can hire are a mixture of returning favourites and new characters.
In essence, they’re a bunch of well-worn action movie tropes with the obvious Arnie analogue, gruff Russian types, femme fatales-a-plenty, a sniper who’s a ringer for Owen Wilson and a very obvious Fidel Castro. When you start the game, you’ll have a whole arsenal of mercs available. Critically, if one dies in battle, they stay dead, permanently KIA. This is especially galling when you have a good squad, only to lose members through arbitrarily harsh criteria.
This is felt most acutely when you have a decent medic or someone good at disarming mines. We came spectacularly unstuck on one mission before we abandoned a playthrough altogether when our inept squad failed to see a minefield, net effect was all but one merc dead. Get used to save scumming when things go awry, put it that way.
We found the most infuriating thing about Jagged Alliance 3, barring the chance to hit issue, was the fact that due to the inexorable march of time matters continue apace. Any semblance of you doing things at your own pace is out the window when you’re pulled into a battle with no option of delaying. This is particularly problematic if your mercs are in the midst of healing or recovering from a prior battle. In one battle that started out pretty well, our gang saw off a good dozen enemies before it became clear we were doomed. One by one our valiant mercs fell, eventually leaving a German stereotype who somehow didn’t die despite every remaining enemy bearing down him taking potshots as they did so. Eventually our plucky Teutonic pal pegged out and we had lost our entire squad. So we hired a new motley crew and went on to the next mission. However Jagged Alliance 3 had other ideas.
Our limited budget only stretched to lower-level troops yet we began to face high level bullet sponges who laughed in our faces. One took out our whole squad in fact. This time we called it and started a brand-new game, putting into action all that we had learned in our prior playthrough. Things went a bit better at least, but it very much highlights that Jagged Alliance 3 really isn’t a game to go into cold. We even began to enjoy ourselves a little when we weren’t battling the myriad interlocking systems that Haemimont assume you’re immediately familiar with.
One nice touch during recruitment happened when we started again. Upon picking a lady merc, she encouraged us to pick up a companion that she’d worked with before. He turned out to be a dab hand with a shotgun, rather handy against enemies that were bunched together. As much as Jagged Alliance 3 tries to obstruct you with the random chance aspect and your having no idea what chance you have on hit, familiar turn based staples like overwatch are present and correct. Though you can have the delight of enemies running across four sets of overwatch and somehow coming away unscathed.
As well as the steep learning curve and the UI not being particularly well suited to smaller HD sets unless you’re up close, we had some performance issues on our PS5 with enemy movements causing frame rates to plummet on multiple occasions. It’s not a great look, put it that way.
In conclusion, Jagged Alliance 3 is a harsh mistress. Unforgiving almost from the outset with an assumption that you’re already familiar with the series. Things have rather moved on with the genre while this is very much the throwback to the turn of the millennium. Make no mistake, this is very much a game out of time. The fact that your chance on hit is deliberately obscured feels harsh for the sake of harshness, especially when a virtually point-blank shot goes wide. Despite everything conspiring against us, we found ourselves enjoying ourselves. Though we’ll pass on an ironman run thanks.
+ Combat is fun enough
+ Turn based staples like overwatch are well done
+ A throwback of sorts, though mostly in a good way
+ When it clicks, you’ll have fun
- Assumes you’re very much up to speed with the game
- Difficulty curve is brutal
- Occasional frame rate issues
- UI is terrible on smaller HD sets