E3 '07: Jagged Alliance 3 Impressions - First Look

We finally get an up-close look at Jagged Alliance 3, the sequel to the cult-classic strategy game.

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SANTA MONICA, Calif.--We'll gladly come in out of the warm summer sun in Santa Monica for a look at Jagged Alliance 3, the long-awaited sequel to the beloved cult-classic 1999 strategy game from retired Canadian studio Sir-Tech. What we saw was extremely early, pre-alpha code that was definitely rough around the edges, but still showed hints of potential that we really, really hope will be realized. We hope.

Jagged Alliance fans are already familiar with the series' unique combination of deep turn-based tactics, role-playing-style character advancement, contemporary military fiction, and an unforgettable cast of hard-bitten, loud-mouthed mercenaries who don't always get along. Apparently, the sequel will take place in a fictitious South American country during a modern-day conflict that will require you to once again commission the services of the Association of International Mercenaries (A.I.M.) and hire a team of mercs for a new tour of duty.

We watched a brief demonstration level with a small team of mercs, though for the purposes of the demonstration, cheat codes had been enabled to boost each character's abilities well beyond what they'll actually be in the game. If the early demonstration is any indication, we can expect to see the return of at least three familiar mercenary faces: knife expert Jean-Pierre "La Malice" Viau, covert ops expert Kyle "Shadow" Simmons, and expert sniper Sheila "Scope" Sterling. The team infiltrated a small installation which was apparently the headquarters of a local drug lord with the purpose of assassinating him. According to an Akella representative, the game will have an overarching story, but like previous installments in the series, it will be largely open-ended and will feature side missions you can take on.

The game's interface seemed a lot like what you'd expect from a game like 3D Jagged Alliance. At the bottom of the screen, as ever, was the mercenary interface with each merc's photo, health and status bars, and statistics, including old favorites like leadership, marksmanship, strength, and speed. When an individual merc is selected, a new interface appears, packed with additional iconic buttons for every available action, such as changing the firing mode on your weapon if you have an automatic or using a first-aid kit if you have one.

In Jagged Alliance 3, you still give move orders to your teammates to send them along through the areas, and once you've sighted hostiles, the game still switches to a fully turn-based battle that lets your team and your enemies move and act only as long as they have "action points" they haven't spent yet. The turns in the battles still switch between your teammates and the enemies, who, when out of sight, are represented by glowing red polygonal silhouettes. The game will still have "interrupt" phases for alert characters who still have remaining action points that let the characters react to enemies who have blundered into line of sight. Interestingly, the new game will have some measure of destructible objects, so that you can shoot through doors, for instance, though we didn't see this have any significant effect on gameplay so far; we watched Scope blast through wooden door to get at an enemy soldier who had run into sight, though we were still unable to draw a bead on an enemy who was just around the corner from the shattered entrance.

Then again, Jagged Alliance 3 isn't very far along yet, or so we're told. The game's 3D graphics seem like they could definitely improve. The environments, though populated with plenty of appropriate objects like swaying palm trees on the beach and cluttered furniture inside the houses, have a rough feel to them that could benefit greatly from some antialiasing, more-detailed textures to bring out the lived-in feel that the game is clearly shooting for, and extensive lighting effects to help differentiate different parts of the environment and add atmosphere. Still, we're told that Russian developer F3 is providing production work with design feedback from the original Sir-Tech Canada team, which is encouraging news indeed. The game itself won't be out for some time--most likely near the end of 2008--and we hope the development teams will take all that time to make sure the game ends up being highly polished and as playable as the previous games in the series.

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