This quasi-sequel to Jagged Alliance is one game everyone here at GameSpot HQ has been anticipating for a long time. In this day and age - when everyone and his uncle is developing a real-time strategy game - some good, old-fashioned, turn-based combat is a much-needed refreshment. Sirtech hasn't added much to the great formula of the original JA, but what has been added makes the game a little more modern and a great deal more fun for old players and new players alike.
For those who haven't had the pleasure of working with the mercenaries of A.I.M., here's a little background. Deadly Games works much like your typical turn-based strategy game. You have units, each worth a certain amount of "action points." During each of your turns, your basic goal is to use the points to kill as many bad guys as possible. But what made Jagged Alliance such a treat to play, and what makes Deadly Games even more of one, is that each of your units has personality. Not in some abstract, Close Combat way - but real personality. You hire from a huge pool of available mercs, but you must pick and choose carefully. Some won't work together, some will scream at you if you ask them to do something they don't want to, and some won't stop doing something they really enjoy - such as shoot at an enemy, even when taking heat from all sides.
Sirtech has added some nice touches to make the single-player game more enjoyable. For one, you no longer have one huge map to tackle. You can either play single scenarios or take them on, one by one, in campaign fashion. Unfortunately, the most frustrating aspect of the game is also directly related to this new, mission-based style. In the original release of Deadly Games, each mission has a very limited amount of turns allocated for completion. Not only did this make some missions next to impossible, it made gathering items from the battlefield out of the question. Thoughtfully, Sirtech has released a patch which allows you to alter the time allotments by adding more turns or doing away with the limit altogether, a must for anyone who wants to truly enjoy the game.
For each completed scenario, you get a nice sum of cash, which you can then use to hire more mercs or buy equipment from Micky, an arms dealer who sporadically appears to offer you items. In another great improvement, you can now also buy equipment (even if the quality is questionable and the prices sky-high); even better is the fact that you can sell excess equipment. Also new are several new types of weapons, dozens of new mercenaries, and a few subtle touches, such as trails of blood behind wounded soldiers, that give the game enough originality to keep it from being just an add-on.
The big news (which Sirtech has been shouting from the rooftops since the day Deadly Games was announced) is that the game now includes multiplayer options. Up to four players can play against one another - or against the computer. And while the action can get kinda slow as you wait for three other people to manipulate each of their units, the multiplayer game has some nice new options. Each player must select the mercs he wishes to employ, and if two desire the same hired-gun they must outbid each other. Same goes for equipment - when Micky comes around, the goods go to the person with the fattest bank roll. In combat, your mercs will react rather vocally when attacking someone they admire, and even more vocally when attacking someone they dislike. The only questionable feature is the ability to have your mercenaries taunt your opponents - fun at first, but rather tiresome in a matter of minutes.
Of course, this review wouldn't be complete if I didn't point the one major problem with Deadly Games: the graphics have not been updated in the least. Expect the same blocky, VGA imagery used two years ago. Of course, not everything can be beautiful, and Deadly Games manages to get by on its multiple personalities alone.