Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business is neither a sequel nor an expansion, but a budget-priced stand-alone product that continues the story of the excellent 1999 strategic role-playing game. The core turn-based tactical combat between squads of mercenaries is still intact, though many of the noncombat elements have been stripped away and a few new gameplay features have been added. Otherwise, the game retains many of the same great qualities of its predecessor - but it also inherits some of its problems and introduces some new ones.
The original Jagged Alliance and its sequel had one major fault in common: They both had endgame sequences that were far more difficult than anything leading up to them. Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business avoids this problem - by making the entire game incredibly difficult. The game plays like a protracted finale. From the moment it begins, you are outgunned, outnumbered, and overwhelmed - and it only gets tougher as it goes on. The result is a game that is as entertaining as it is frustrating.
In Unfinished Business, you are once again called upon to help the struggling island nation of Arulco. When Jagged Alliance 2 ended, Arulco was free from its tyrannical leader. Now, the original owners of Arulco's lucrative mines have returned and have established a missile base on the nearby island of Tracona. You must get a team of mercenaries together, infiltrate Tracona, and disable the missile base.
Unlike in Jagged Alliance 2, in Unfinished Business there's no need to manage money and militia in a strategic overview between all the mercenary gunfights. You are given a lump sum at the beginning of the game, you hire a bunch of mercenaries, and you head out to Tracona. A helicopter crash in the game's opening sequence disables your laptop, initially removing your ability to communicate with your employers and mercenary agencies. For the first half of Unfinished Business, you're stuck with your initial team and equipment. You'll find people willing to help, and you'll find equipment left behind by fallen opponents. But for the most part, you'll hobble through the first few sectors with increasingly wounded and tired mercs under your command.
You'll also find money, but it won't matter at first. When you first hire mercenaries in Unfinished Business, you pay their whole fee up front. It's billed as a promotional deal from the mercenary agencies, but it's really just a gameplay device to make money management a nonissue - at least at first. Otherwise, in Jagged Alliance and Jagged Alliance 2, you needed to train militia to protect key sectors that provided a source of income to fund your invasion. In Unfinished Business, you just invade. In this way, the designers have opted to focus on the combat, admittedly the best part of the game. But the ultralinear structure of Unfinished Business may seem less appealing to fans of Jagged Alliance 2's more open-ended gameplay. In Unfinished Business, you'll rarely even have a choice of which sector to attack next.
The turn-based combat in Unfinished Business is great, and the new features are welcome, if a bit poorly implemented. Noticeable indications of your mercenaries' weapon range and line of sight as well available cover have always been sorely unavailable in previous Jagged Alliance games, and the developers have finally included them. Unfortunately, the new color-coded line of sight and cover overlays aren't as helpful as you might like them to be. To see where your merc can see, as well as where he can't be seen, you simply hold down a hotkey and drag the cursor around. The color of the surrounding tiles indicates the amount of cover provided by or from a particular location. It works, but it's not as intuitive as the rest of the game's interface. A better means of determining these crucial elements would have been welcome.
The mercs from Jagged Alliance 2 have all returned, and though some will seem oddly absent from the roster, they're bound to show up during the game. Ten new mercs have been added as well, including Gaston Cavalier, an arrogant Frenchman; and Stogie, a grizzled military vet. As always, the relationships between your mercs can be one of the best things about the game, and Speck T. Kline, president of the competitive mercenary agency, M.E.R.C., is usually very helpful in advising you about who works well together. The game also adds several new weapons, and includes a mission editor that should help increase the game's longevity for some players.
Unfinished Business uses the same engine as the one in Jagged Alliance 2, and as such, the graphics look even more dated than they did a year ago. Even so, the animation still looks good, and the characters' voices are still highly varied and universally excellent. Unfortunately, all the music is straight out of the previous game, but it worked well; and it's still effective the second time around.
The biggest drawback of Unfinished Business is its sheer difficulty. There are three difficulty levels - yet, even on the easiest level, the game is very challenging. Enemies have better weapons, and they are all good marksmen. You won't defeat them without excellent tactics, lots of stealth, and luck. You'll enter sectors with 18 proficient enemies against your half-dozen mercenaries, and that's right at the beginning of the game. The game also features a new ironman mode, which disables your ability to save during combat. Given the fact that the game is incredibly difficult to begin with, this mode is advisable only for masochists.
The sheer difficulty makes Unfinished Business hard to recommend for newcomers and makes the game suitable only for players who are very familiar with the series. These players will probably learn to put up with the problems, and will enjoy Unfinished Business if only because it's another new installment in the excellent series. It can be endlessly frustrating, but it also has most of the elements that make the Jagged Alliance series so outstanding.