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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Jagged Alliance 3 gameplay summary: This could really be a hit!

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Our turn strategy expert Martin Deppe has been waiting 24 years for this game: a real new Jagged Alliance that really deserves the “3” in its name. Here”s his analysis of the current version.

Tense, our mercenary “Livewire” ducks under a window on the second floor and surveys the situation on the street. There! Three guys with assault rifles loiter behind a section of wall, carelessly close together. Livewire fishes a hand grenade out of her backpack, aims carefully, throws … and the explosive device bounces off the window frame, tumbles to the floor and detonates. The floor collapses and our mercenary lands on the ground floor as rising dots tick up her blast and fall damage. That”s what you get for letting a hacker handle grenades!

Scenes like this are supposed to happen from time to time in Jagged Alliance 3. Realistic battles where shots and grenades don”t just hit or miss. They bounce off, scatter, hit your own people – or a gas cylinder standing around stupidly. That was exactly one of the questions we asked at the gamescom presentation of Jagged Alliance 3: How are the battles simulated? The developers” answer is reassuring, because just like in the predecessors from 1995 and 1999, each shot is calculated individually, even in a volley.

This question is so important to us because the realistic, turn-based battles were one of the three great recipes for success of Jagged Alliance 2, and the gameplay trailer released in mid-August left some anxious questions unanswered. That”s why we”ll go into more detail about the combat system later. Recipe number two: the cool, completely different mercenaries with their strengths and quirks, CVs and comments.

And thirdly, the strategy part, in which we conquer the fictitious Arulco sector by sector, fend off counterattacks, train militias for defence. We could choose from over 50 mercenaries, assemble several squads and decide for ourselves when and where to strike next with whom. The good news is that all this will also be available in Jagged Alliance 3.

Mercen in the Snype Call

With one exception. Arulco became Grand Chien, the fictional African country is an ex-colony of France and rich in precious stones mined in mines. When the elected president Alphonse LaFontaine is kidnapped by a mysterious legion, his daughter Emma contacts the legendary mercenary association AIM, short for Association of International Mercenaries. From now on, the fate of the President and Grand Chien is in our hands, we are to free both. But who do we hire, who is the best woman, the best man for the job?

And we bet you: Every Jagged fan will immediately pick his favourites from back then. For me, it”s markswoman Scope and explosives expert Fidel, technician Vicki and medical man MD (because of his initials, of course). At the same time, we have to keep an eye on our budget, several squads full of top-class mercenaries are simply not possible. The amount of time I spent putting together my first squad!

The new Jagged Alliance is set in 2001, and developer Haemimont with our nostalgic feelings. The laptop and software we use to contact our mercenaries, order equipment or gather information are reminiscent of the technology of the turn of the millennium. We chat via “Snype”, which in turn looks like old messengers like ICQ or AOL”s Instant Messenger – the latter, funnily enough, being abbreviated exactly like our mercenary organisation. Pop-up colourful banners, ancient fonts and oldschool websites round off the time travel into the Internet Stone Age. Great!

(On contact with the enemy, the game switches from real-time to turn mode, just like back then. Fidel, MD and Buns were already in Jagged 2, hacker Livewire is new. Thanks to the handy preview function, you can try out how well a mercenary would hit from the new position before you make your move).
(On contact with the enemy, the game switches from real-time to turn mode, just like back then. Fidel, MD and Buns were already in Jagged 2, hacker Livewire is new. Thanks to the handy preview function, you can try out how well a mercenary would hit from the new position before you make your move).

The Voice of Cuba

Haemimont has internally compiled up to ten pages of info for each of the several dozen mercenaries. In addition to classic character values for the game mechanics, such as accuracy, endurance and skill, biographies, likes and dislikes are important. Because most of the wage warriors were already in the predecessor, their characteristics have to be updated, so to speak.

With newcomers like Livewire, the team can let off steam. During our presentation, the hacker gets the flak jacket of a shot enemy shoved into the clothing slot and grumbles via text and voice output about the poor condition of the booty: “Now I know why I have an allergy to flea markets.”

(Shots often go into close-up. Good to see: the hacking equipment on Livewire''s back. Doctor MD comments on her hit with a ... flirtation attempt?)
(Shots often go into close-up. Good to see: the hacking equipment on Livewire”s back. Doctor MD comments on her hit with a … flirtation attempt?)

Such commentaries on the action should be much more than before, and Haemimont even hires voice actors from the countries where the dubbed mercenaries come from – so Fidel gets a Cuban voice. In Jagged 2, the voice actors already contributed a lot to the atmosphere. In the new game, there should also be likes and dislikes among each other, like Hitman”s comment about his colleague Raider: “How could a pearl like Raven end up with a moron like that?

Dress code: Casual

Let”s get back to Livewire”s flak waistcoat for a moment: armour is not represented on the character model. This raised our eyebrows briefly, but the producer”s reasoning makes sense: “Each character should remain unique, and if they”re all wearing almost the same thing, it”s hard to tell them apart.” The actual weapon is always visible on the mercenaries though, phew.

Special equipment such as MD”s medical bag or Livewire”s hacking gear are strapped to their backs, easily recognisable. Before military tacticians have a crisis: Even though not every mercenary wears camouflage and combat boots, Haemimont Games doesn”t overdo it with civilian clothes either. No mercenary runs around in a neon yellow raver waistcoat, even hacker Livewire hides her colourful hair under her hoodie. And mercenaries with an army past, such as Fidel, usually wear their camouflage suit and beret.

Island as bridgehead

With over 200 sectors, Grand Chien is about as big as Arulco was back then. The landscape and development is varied, we could already see jungle and savannah, cities and industrial plants, swamps and coastal strips. How individual the individual sectors will be in the end is still difficult to say, after all 200+ is a real house number. However, the respective area should not only look different, but also have a noticeable impact.

In hot zones, fighters exhaust themselves more quickly and need a break, in the jungle it”s good to sneak, in settlements house fights rage at short range. Some sectors also have several levels, for example caves, mines and bunkers. We discover small staircase symbols on the world map at sector borders and ask what they mean: “These are, for example, underground passages that connect city sectors with each other. That”s how you can secretly get in or out – if you”ve found the access.”

But until you get to the big cities, you bake small rolls. You first have to visit the small island off the west coast and take the harbour town of Ernie – from here you head across the water towards the mainland. How you then proceed is up to you, as before. A single squad with the best mercenaries possible?

Several battle groups with weaker fighters who cover larger areas? And who is to train AI militias, mend weapons, care for the wounded? It is this freedom of play, in which no two games are the same, that captivated us so much back in 1999. And Haemimont wants to expand this freedom even further.

Love under palm trees

Grand Chien is supposed to be more lively than Arulco was back then. For example, we can threaten, bribe or simply kill gang boss NPCs in multiple-choice dialogues to secure their gang”s support – or their enmity if things go wrong. Some of our mercenaries unlock special conversation options; at the presentation, our squad flatters the vain boss Bastien, who wears more gold chains than B.A. Baracus from the A-Team.

(And so it begins: The satellite map shows the western half of Grand Chien. We must first liberate the port town of Ernie in the north-east of the island to get to the mainland. With over 200 sectors, the country is about as big as Arulco from Jagged Alliance 2.)
(And so it begins: The satellite map shows the western half of Grand Chien. We must first liberate the port town of Ernie in the north-east of the island to get to the mainland. With over 200 sectors, the country is about as big as Arulco from Jagged Alliance 2.)

We witness a love story between a mercenary and a local woman. There are particularly valuable diamonds sewn into some armchair in some house in some sector, and we come across puzzle piece clues throughout Grand Chien as to where the valuable piece of furniture is located. We weaken enemy outposts and strengthen ourselves by intercepting and capturing weapons transports. And we capture airfields to have fresh mercenaries and equipment delivered more quickly from now on.

Explore in real time, fight in rounds

But just like before, you can also lose a conquered sector again. The strategically important cities, mines, camps and airfields are especially coveted. To defend them, you can once again train NPC militias to fight off attackers on their own. Just watching the automatic NPC battles was super exciting back then – hopefully the excitement will come across as well in Jagged Alliance 3.

(Weapon ranges are crucial. Here we prefer to get closer to the enemy on the right because our Colt doesn''t fire far.)
(Weapon ranges are crucial. Here we prefer to get closer to the enemy on the right because our Colt doesn”t fire far.)

In any case, what already comes across well is the combat system. We already described at the beginning that every shot and every trajectory is calculated individually. But we took away even more information from the gamescom presentation. For example, the smooth transition from real-time to turn mode: As usual, you wander through the sectors and maps with your mercenaries in real-time. Only upon contact with the enemy or upon request does the game switch to turn mode and its action point system. Experienced mercenaries now enjoy the “Free Move” skill and can still dart behind cover or run away without wasting action points.

Head down!

There will be more of these skills, they depend on character stats and equipment. Agile mercenaries with a pistol, revolver or MP, for example, can use ۚ”Run and Gun”: With this they dash to a new position and shoot on the way up to three times at previously marked enemies, but with a minus 25 percent hit probability.

Good shooters with a precision rifle hold down enemies so that a buddy can flank them – the holding down is illustrated with a fancy laser pointer. And explosives experts as good as Fidel throw two grenades at once.

Very handy (and fancy): Before you send a mercenary to a new position in turn mode, you can see his preview “ghost” at the destination. From this silhouette, aiming lines at already sighted enemies show how well you hit from there. This way you can try out different shooting positions before the actual move.

Take the knife to the gunfight

The gamescom presentation also reassured us about weapon range. In the trailers and game scenes shown so far, these were extremely short, even opponents with rifles only ever shot at each other at a distance of a few metres. No comparison to Jagged 2, where a rifle bullet sometimes flies over an entire map. But there will be that in Jagged Alliance 3 too, the developers assure us, “a sniper on a turret can cover the whole map.”

There will again be portable light mortars and MGs, with the heavy versions placed in fixed positions for you to capture. Light bazookas are also part of the arsenal, as are mines and grenades (for throwing or firing via grenade launcher). However, mortar shells and bazookas are rare. Many weapons can be equipped with sights and scopes, bipods and silencers.

(Use the crosshairs on the right to aim at the head, torso, arms, lower body or legs, the last three body parts wear armour.)
(Use the crosshairs on the right to aim at the head, torso, arms, lower body or legs, the last three body parts wear armour.)

Skilled mercenaries improve breechblocks to fire faster, extend barrels for more range and accuracy, or enlarge magazines. “You can boost the Run and Gun skill even more with a pimped gun,” points out Producer Brad Logston, “especially for mercenaries with the Ambidextrous skill and two tuned handguns.” At the moment, the team is experimenting with different melee systems, because “we also want a knife fight to fit in well with our combat, even if it”s very different from a gunfight. “

Breast or club?

The aiming system is again divided into three parts: You aim at the head, torso, arms, abdomen or legs. The five body parts are shown as symbols, smaller symbols in front of them indicate whether the body part is wearing protection (such as Kevlar trousers or a helmet) and/or is behind cover. Secondly, depending on the weapon, you can choose between a single shot and a burst of fire. Finally, you invest action points in aiming – the more points, the higher the probability of a hit. Fire!

This reads a bit complicated, but as in the predecessors, it is intuitive and quick. However, a lot can go wrong: With a volley or shotgun you run the risk of hitting an ally or civilian. The latter is not at all welcome among the population, worsens morale and the relationship with you. Then, for example, militias become more expensive or don”t want to work for you at all.

Great here!

Optically, the freely rotatable and zoomable maps are really something. In the jungle, light breaks through the trees, every now and then a leaf floats past the edge of the screen, a tattered French flag hangs lazily around and reminds us of the colonial era. Dust swirls on the ground in barren villages, we can literally feel the heat, and when it rains it gets really muddy.

(Warning shot: Alert, the mercenaries are coming! Note details such as the prosthetic legs of the two right fighters, who also carry sticks of dynamite - in the game, a grenade symbol warns of this)
(Warning shot: Alert, the mercenaries are coming! Note details such as the prosthetic legs of the two right fighters, who also carry sticks of dynamite – in the game, a grenade symbol warns of this)

The animations are also smart, for example when a mercenary sprints into cover and slides the last few metres. When an enemy spots us, he fires warning shots in the air to alert his colleagues. Hand and mortar shells disintegrate house parts, and when an enemy is caught at close range by a shotgun, he slings back.

Jagged Alliance 3 is scheduled for release in 2023, and we”re optimistic that after 24 years we”ll finally get a worthy successor that deserves the “3” in its name. After the presentation and the interview afterwards, it”s clear that Haemimont Games are the right people for the game. After all, they”ve already shown with Tropico 3 to Tropico 5 and Surviving Mars that they can do strategy. And with their new epic, it”s clear that they”re not just doing a contract job with a licence, but know exactly what Jagged Alliance is all about!

Editor”s verdict

There were really bad, a few nice and a few good attempts to get to Jagged Alliance 2, and with each new attempt a piece of hope died inside me. Yeah, sounds theatrical, but I just love the series, and that”s why Jagged Alliance 3 is privately THE waiting game for me. What I”ve been able to see and hear so far more than restores hope. I”m going to go out on a limb and say: this is going to be really good!

Because the Haemimonts are not only working on a good combat system with calculated shots, on lovable, sometimes slightly insane characters and on an extensive strategy part – no, they also link these three elements together very well. And the camera work, which in 3D maps tends to dengel in front of trees or houses, seems to me to be well thought out. Here comes a Jagged Alliance 3 that takes the strengths of its predecessor, modernises it visually and expands it slightly. That”s exactly how it should be!

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