I have been waiting a long time to get back into the action of the Jagged Alliance world. I’ve been following this series since the beginning, having been attracted to the arsenal of real-world weapons and interesting character personalities. And some of these mercs have been on my team a long time, like when we liberated Metavira back in 1995.
After solving the first Jagged Alliance, I was delighted to play the first sequel called Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games. This was basically a series of single player missions connected in only the loosest sense of the word. However, it added multiplayer abilities which were amazing, and amazingly fun, for the time.
Jagged Alliance 2 was a leap forward from the original game, both in graphical quality and the sheer number of weapons you could obtain. Also, a lot of height-related mission elements were added in that you could jump onto buildings to get a better firing position. It is still largely a 2D world, but you get more of a 3D feel. It even added a meter to show you how much cover your characters were under at all times. This fixed one major problem with the original game, in that you could not really tell if your mercenary was hiding behind a rock or not because you were playing on a 2D battlefield that was supposed to represent a 3D world.
Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business at first glance feels a bit like an add-on or a mission pack for Jagged Alliance 2. However, you don’t need the original game to play JA2:UB. You can import your characters over from the last game, or you can start from scratch. If you do import your characters, the difficulty of the game is raised to accommodate your better stats and increased skills.
Since I had a crack team of special forces mercenaries waiting around on my hard drive from the last game, I decided to import them. Basically, this changes the stats of the mercs when you hire them in the sequel to their higher (or lower) levels from the last game, however you will need to pay to use them again. In the beginning of the game you get only so much cash to recruit your team, so you will probably end up with one or two heavy hitters, a specialist or two and the rest medium-level warriors. I was able to hire my two best snipers – both with 98 percent accuracy from the previous game – a doctor, my free merc who is supposed to represent you in the game, and two mercs that I had not worked with before.
Not to be a spoiler, but don’t save your money at the start. Whatever team you put together will basically be with you for a long time due to a plot twist in the game. In other words, money not spent won’t be able to be spent until much later in the game. So buy as many good mercs as you can.
Unlike JA2, this game does not find you trying to liberate an entire country. There is no need to takeover towns and then defend them with local militia. Your single mission is basically of the search and destroy variety. You are supposed to find a missile base that has been launching its death into Aruco, the country you just liberated. You are to find it inside the neighboring country and then destroy it.
This is fundamentally different than what most Jagged Alliance players are used to doing. For example, there is no need to capture enemy sectors. When I was faced with a wooded sector with no strategic value, I mostly snuck around it. Especially at night, this was very easy to accomplish most of the time. You will however have to raid guard posts and town sectors to gather equipment and information. There is a merchant in the game that, once located, will see you about every variety of gun on the planet. He will also take all the spare equipment you have collected and buy it from you. Eventually, I had a second team of low-level mercs on the ground whose only purpose was to go out to previous battlegrounds, collect equipment and then sell it. The B-team’s efforts supported my A-Team by keeping them flush with cash that was traded for equipment and ammunition.
The combat in the game is top notch and is what we expected from this series. Thankfully, Sir-Tech kept the dual turnbased/realtime interface. The game is realtime when you are just walking around, which keeps the game moving. But as soon as an enemy is seen, or takes a shot at you, the game goes into a turn-based interface. This puts a much greater emphasis on strategy than most realtime games where players are rewarded for fast fingers.
There is a lot of interaction between your team members, which makes the game a lot of fun. However, since this game is really short, you don’t have the time to delve into the intricacies of inter-party relationships. The longest I heard them talk to each other was after I had won my overall mission. This is my second-biggest complaint with the game. You only really get to fight through one town and a base complex to complete your mission. I finished it in about three days of play, with a good five or six hours put in each day. This is a nice size, but nothing compared to the original JA2, which took me months of combat to finish.
The coolest part of the game is that you can get your hands on nearly every type of gun on the planet. So you can experiment with the differences between, say an M14 and a Calico M950. There are also about five different types of sniper rifles in the game, which are arguably the kings of the battlefield, at least outdoors. My best sniper could put a .50 caliber bullet into the head of almost any enemy and either put them down outright, or move their status from Strong to Critical, which means that they are not long for this world.
Indoors, the machinegun rules, as it only takes a few action points to trigger a deadly burst of fire. The downfall of the sniper rifles are that they take a long time (lots of actions points spent) to aim and fire, so you mostly won’t be able to shoot at multiple targets. When there are several bad guys in a room, its better to use the "spray and pray" combat philosophy than to take careful aim at each one.
Taken as a whole, I had a great time with this game. I was a bit disappointed that there were several LAW rockets in the game and countless mortars and grenade launchers, yet no armored vehicles – that I found anyway. In JA2, one of the most fun things for me was to lay down a smokescreen behind a tank so my guys could sneak up and pummel it with rockets. In JA2:UB, the best you can do is shoot your rockets at other people. This did come in handy a few times, especially when taking fire from a darkened corner when I was not sure where the enemy was. Rockets don’t tend to care if you know exactly where your assailant is or not. Neither do grenades, especially the chemical ones that spew mustard gas over large areas.
I said that the shortness of the game was my second-greatest complaint. The greatest was the lack of any multiplayer ability. I was expecting something like Deadly Games, only with more guns and better graphics. This game would get a perfect score if you could play over the Internet or a LAN. Never have I had so much fun at a LAN party than when hunting my friends playing Deadly Games. Well, ok, some of the Rogue Spear tournaments were pretty fun, but I digress.
Come on Sir-Tech, if I am going to spend money on a sequel, I really, really want there to be a multiplayer interface. For that matter, there should have been multiplayer support in the original game. In this day and age, any game without some multiplayer interface is performing at a loss. Obviously you have the multiplayer technology based on your past games. Lets break it out and use it, ok?
Despite this shortfall, you will be hard pressed not to enjoy yourself in the world of JA2:UB. After you obtain state-of-the-art weaponry, being the toughest hombre on the block is a good feeling. I mowed down waves of enemy troops in one sector that were trying to invade a house I had secured. My rooftop snipers on a nearby building bottled up most of the main approaches, and mercs inside the house popping up in windows and through doors with automatic shotguns blew apart sneaky soldiers who got in close before retreating to cover. At the end of the battle, the town looked like a scene from Zulu Dawn.
If you have a long weekend and are looking for something fun to do, Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business can be a wonderfully bloody diversion. And since it runs on its own, you don’t need prior experience or a prior version of the game to get right into the killing. It earns a respectable 4 GiN Gems, with a few points off because of no multiplayer support, and because when it was over, I was still hungry for more.