Jagged Alliance 2 is locked, loaded and ready for action

Jagged Alliance 2
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Jagged Alliance 2 gives armchair mercenaries the ability to travel to exciting places, meet new and fascinating people, and kill them.

Jagged Alliance 2 is actually the third in the mercenary-for-hire series on the PC, and by far is the best one yet. I love turn based combat games, especially the ones where you can maneuver in real time till the shooting starts. This gives you the ability to wander around and explore without having to worry about your characters annoyingly running out of action points. It was this type of interface that was missing from the second game in the series: Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games.

This time players again find themselves in the role of the boss of a mercenary company. Charged with liberating the small country of Arulco, you must manage your income wisely, using it to buy talented mercenaries, equipment and other supplies. If you run out of cash, your mercenary army will not be very happy. In fact they will quit, run back home and tell all their friends not to work for you. A mercenary that just had their paycheck bounce is not a happy camper.

One of the first features players will notice is that this time around you get to play with a mercenary who represents yourself. Besides not having to pay yourself every two weeks, effectively giving you a free soldier in the field, the personal mercenary supposedly is created with your personality traits. This is done by answering a series of questions, the results of which are applied to the character. I ended up with a character who goes wild in combat and starts spraying automatic weapons fire all over the place, but that’s a personal issue I suppose. Guess I should not have answered the survey with exactly what I thought should happen to Barney the purple dinosaur.

The second thing you will notice is the game is beautiful. Where the graphics in Jagged Alliance and Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games were functional, Jagged Alliance 2 it off the charts. Buildings and other terrain features look very realistic and explosions are nicely rendered using what I call the Charlie’s Angels effect, with the overlaid explosion fire covering up the fact that the map is changing underneath. On occasion this looks a little bit fake, but for the most part the effects are put together well. Fans of the series will be very impressed when fighting over the new landscapes.

Of course, like the other games of the same name, the mercenaries steal the show. Your mercs are not simple drones doing whatever you tell them. Push them too hard and they will stop to rest, or even take a nap out in the field. Tell them to do something stupid like waste ammo on an impossible shot and you will get treated to some verbal abuse like, "What do I look like, Siegfried and Roy?"

Also, some of the mercs don’t like each other very much. So if you try to put enemies on a team together, they won’t get a lot accomplished. All the headaches of leadership that you came to love in this series are alive and kicking here.

One of the major improvements in JA2 is the addition of realism, particularly in the area of firearms and equipment. Whereas in previous versions of this series you might pick up a 9mm pistol or a pump action shotgun, now you can find a Beretta 92F or a Remington M970. There is even an option where you can find "lots of guns." This option means that the type of weapons you find will be more varied, so those gun nuts out there can argue the subtle differences between one company’s firearm verus another.

There are a lot of little improvements as well, like the ability to fire two pistols or submachine guns, with one in each hand.

The storyline you find yourself in is rich, and to some extent customizable. I play with the science fiction option turned on, meaning you can run into some pretty fantastic things when wandering the countryside. Not to give any of the plot away, but the evil dictator running the country will stop at nothing to end your little band’s romp through her domain, including breeding some nasty non-human creatures to try and stop you. Not to give anything away, but those non-human bad guys mostly come at night — mostly. Purists can turn the sci-fi option off if they only want to be confronted with mundane horrors like a pissed-off soldier wearing a bandoleer filled with mustard gas grenades, though I would not recommend this because you would be losing a fun aspect of the story.

There are a couple of problems I occasionally had with the interface, although they were not major ones. In certain situations it would be helpful if you could rotate the battlefield view. It is difficult to tell what side of a wall — which drops out to a wire frame when you are nearby — an object is located at times. Other times enemies could shoot down a corridor and nail my characters when from my angle it looked like their shots should have been blocked by walls or other terrain features. A simple rotation of the map would have helped.

That alone would not have caused Jagged Alliance 2 to miss a perfect rating, but the complete lack of a multiplayer option does. I can not believe that Sir-Tech did not include an option to play against others over the Internet, or even over a LAN. Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games was all about multiplayer fun, with people picking their mercs and going head to head on various maps. Sure there was the annoying timed levels, but against others there was really nothing better.

With all the new levels and eye candy available in this game, it’s inconceivable that it is confined to a single player experience. Had multiplayer functionality been added, this would have been the next great tournament playing sensation.

As it is, the game is still worth the money. Perhaps Sir-Tech will come out with Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games 2 in the future. Till then, you will have to stick to constantly thrashing the computer AI, which is no small feat, but not equal to the challenge of a human opponent.

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