by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
FIFTH STAGE OF GRIEF
Fallow sap. It was a lot of work to keep control of the sectors where this sap could be produced in the original Jagged Alliance. Without the sap there was no income. Without income, there was no way to pay AIM for the rowdy mercenary crew I had selected to get rid of the evil tyrant I had been hired to dethrone, or their equipment.
There’s no sap in Jagged Alliance: Rage, nor do you need to pay for your mercenaries or their gear for that matter. The premise and scope of this “not quite Jagged Alliance” game is different enough that it does not require an economical component. I missed this sorely, along with many other gameplay elements that gave the original games their depth and longevity. But that does not mean I did not enjoy Rage. But before I made it to the fifth stage of grief and accepted that this was not Jagged Alliance, I had to learn to look at Rage as “a game in the Jagged Alliance universe”. When I did, it wasn’t all that bad.
BOOZING UP IVAN
Jagged Alliance: Rage tells a familiar story of an evil regime that is souring the lives of the peaceful people on some remote tropical island. It brings back the equally familiar faces of fan favourite mercenaries such as Ivan, Shadow and Fidel, and a good dose of turn-based gunplay that is solid enough to warrant a playthrough or two.
Rage is set some years into the future from the previous games. AIM has been all but forgotten and the mercenaries that gave it its shine are past their prime, and then some. When you have these characters as wedged into your heart as I have, it’s more than a little painful seeing them in their sorry state. Ivan is dependent on alcohol — without it his hands become less steady — and Raven has physically weakened to the point that she can barely handle her fateful sniper rifle, let alone heavy weaponry. Story wise it’s an interesting twist and the game gives you enough tools to deal with the various weaknesses of your geriatric crew as to not break things. There is a steady supply of booze for old Ivan and Shadow’s withering immune system can be bolstered by medicine found in the field as well, but… damn, these guys were the bomb in the good old days!
The first handful of missions made it a little difficult for me to look beyond the game’s decreased scope. Tiny maps, poor weapons, an overly heavy reliance on stealth, the inevitable “let’s get you familiar with the controls” and other “set pieces” just weren’t very welcoming. But as a reviewer you cannot just switch a game off in the first half hour when you don’t like it. Like the intrepid AIM mercenaries, we have a job to do, albeit a lot less dangerous one. I persevered and found a perfectly enjoyable game beyond those first missions, even if it has its fair share of shortcomings (beyond the obvious that fans will find missing from its too-short feature list).
First off, the animations are a bit clunky and if you’re not into low polygon graphics you’ll have some trouble seeing past those too. The writing isn’t stellar, though it does improve midway through the game. The same is true for the voice acting - the mercenaries are well voiced but the rest of the cast is as weak as I’ve found it in any game. Come to think of it, that’s actually true to the originals, kudos to the devs for authenticity then?
And the AI does crazy things sometimes. Well, often. I’ve seen soldiers scaling a fence, only to turn around and go straight back over as soon as they had gone across, and then back again. They’ll happily run straight into the firing line and, especially during night missions, will opt to sit around waiting for you to pick them off one by one from afar without ever firing their weapon or checking to see what the ruckus is all about. Yet the most annoying thing I found in the game is what happens — after — the fight. Picking up loot is ridiculously tedious, as is inventory management, and the fact that the game remains turn-based even when the map is cleared feels like a rooky mistake from developers that have more than a few strategy games under their belts.
But that’s not the whole story. There’s fun to be had here too. Stealth remains an important component throughout each of the missions and it’s been well implemented. I love suddenly emerging out of the grass with my team and mowing down nearby soldiers, and there’s a good amount of feedback from the game when you’re about to do something that will get you caught. Another area where the game shines is weapons, and sound effects in particular. The whizzing of bullets missing their marks, the deep sound of the M4A1 as it empties its magazine, and the satisfying thuds on impact… it’s just the way I like my gunplay to sound.
Early on, there’s a real sense of dread as enemy squads sprout from bases spread around the map and then hunt you across it. I would have liked this to last longer but finding better weapons and armor make these squads look a lot less imposing a bit too soon for that. Fortunately this gets replaced by a growing wish to help the islanders break free from their oppressor. The story may not be particularly strong and definitely picks up late, but there’s enough of it to make you develop a real distaste for what is happening to these people, along with an urge to help them.
One thing that did carry over from the original games is the banter and feedback from the individual mercenaries. There’s a good bit of humor tucked in between more general dialogue and I had more than a few chuckles listening to what the mercs had to say to each other.
Jagged Alliance: Rage is a fun game when judged on its own merits. It’s certainly not a proper sequel, and perhaps that would be a bit too much to expect from a game that’s selling for a mere 20 bucks. It does have a few whiffs of what made Jagged Alliance great though, and if this would have been sold as a way to whet our appetites for a full sequel coming out next year, I think it would have landed much better with the fans than it did. As it stands, Jagged Alliance: Rage is a cute distraction, a fun-for-a-while-not-quite-Jagged-Alliance that will polarize fans more than it had intended, but should not be dismissed right out of hand.
Decent turn-based gameplay, return of fan favourites
Lacks depth, weak AI, simply not Jagged Alliance