Quite possibly the paragon of squad-based strategy games.

User Rating: 8.9 | Jagged Alliance 2 PC

In many ways, Jagged Alliance 2 is the paradigm of what squad-based tactical games should be. The game not only does a superb job of combat but adds an additional strategic layer with a main story and numerous side stories. The game is nearing the decade old mark, so it is certainly not the prettiest, but the gameplay more than makes up for the fact that almost everybody in the game wears wife-beaters. Sometimes art does imitate life.

The game begins with the fictional country of Arulco having suffered a coup and the former ruler enlists you to retake the country from his evil wife (maybe that explains all the wife-beater clothes). Fortunately, you have contact with AIM, an international mercenary organization, to provide the needed muscle for such an undertaking.

You begin the game looking at your character’s laptop and going to AIM’s homepage where you peruse the merc’s files and contact them via webcam to work out contract details. The mercs are easily the biggest sell of the game as they all have very distinct personalities, abilities, and surprisingly large amounts of spoken dialogue. The mercenaries are also much improved from the original game (wherein many mercs just plain sucked ability-wise) and you have the option to create your own mercenary which is quite interesting. You take a personality test to determine your merc’s skills and assign your ability points, choose a face and voice and you are on your way. Other websites you can visit include Bobby-Ray’s which is an arms and equipment dealer, a second-rate merc recruitment website run by an alum of the original game who offers fairly lousy mercs at cheap rates, and some others that are not entirely useful but add nice atmosphere to the game.

The game begins with your mercs dropping into the rebel’s city, which just got attacked by the enemy army, and making contact with the rebellion. You also fight some weak enemies to give you a taste of battle. It is here within the battles that the game really shines.

Your characters can walk, move silently, run, crouch, go prone, and even climb on top of buildings. Finding and using cover is extremely important as your mercs can get pretty shot up if they aren’t crouching behind walls, lying down behind a tree, or otherwise trying to make themselves harder to hit. The enemy also uses cover pretty effectively and will actively flank you and even throw grenades to force you to move your mercs. The game also implements day/night cycles and it is much easier to sneak up on enemies at 3 am with mercs who are trained in night ops. There is even a melee combat aspect (that you don’t get to use very often) and mercs can be skilled in martial arts, brawling, and use weapons such as knives, brass knuckles, and crowbars. I do miss insane Reuben from the first game who came armed with the weed-whacker he used to kill his family and the chainsaw – but you can’t win them all I reckon.

Your main goal in the game is to take the capital city and kill the evil monarch. To do this, you pretty much need to take all the other cities on the map which you can garrison with militia to prevent them from being retaken. Most cities have a mine that will provide you with daily income so you can pay your mercs and buy equipment. There are also many side-missions in the cities and the countryside that are usually fairly easy to accomplish, but add a lot of fun to the game. In one city, a character’s sister has been kidnapped and taken to a whorehouse and you have to rescue her via stealth. In another, some tourists ended up in Arulco by accident and you have to escort them back to the airport. You run across a secret laboratory, find POW prison camps, a group of inbred hillbillies, bloodcat lairs, enemy SAM sites, and much more. While the graphics, as stated before, do appear dated there is a large variety of weapons and equipment you can find and purchase. Initially, you will be using mostly pistols and small SMGs but later you can find much deadlier toys such as the .50 cal sniper rifle, mortars, assault rifles, mustard gas grenades, C4 explosives, night-vision goggles, spectra vests, fully-automatic shotguns, and dozens more items. The sheer amount of things to find and do more than makes up for the dated look.

Jagged Alliance 2 is a game that you can finish and replay again and again. Even years after its release, it still has a very large fan base who are constantly making new modules. Granted, you need the Unfinished Business expansion to enjoy and create these modules so keep that in mind should you choose to seek out those mods. JA2 is now fairly easy to find via digital download or from online dealers. Remember to get patch 1.06 to avoid bugs.

If you are a fan of strategy games, you do not want to pass this game up. On the lowest difficulty, it should still prove a decent challenge to most gamers whereas the highest difficulty is insane and suicidal. Some modern PCs will require tweaking to run this, but it is worth your time to figure out how to get the software and hardware talking to each other. Highly recommended.