by Jordan Helsley
reviewed on PC
Welcome To Grand Chien
The president of Grand Chien has gone missing, and The Legion, a hostile power, has gained control amid the turmoil. Your goal is simple: use your mercenary-recruiting and planning prowess to find the president and restore order to the country. Your influence on accomplishing this goal is significant. Entering the country with a modest-yet-impactful sum from the president's family, the first order of business is making landfall with an initial mercenary force. At your disposal is a marketplace filled with various guns-for-hire, all of which have their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and even desires. As I weighed my first hire, opting for an agile medic named Fox, I kept my budget in mind. Early in my campaign, while The Legion is still unaware of my presence, and thus not prepared for my assault, I preferred to lock in low-experience mercs for my first week in the country. Quantity over quality, before their experience and skills demanded a higher payout. I hired Fox at a modest price, but she made an immediate request: she wanted to work with Wolf. Luckily for her, Wolf came at enough of a reasonable cost that we made a deal. Wolf was a strong marksman, so I rounded out the team with an amenable all-rounder.
Each of these soldiers carries their own personality. Many are recognizable as parodies or call-backs to action films, such as Wolf's suave, Great Escape persona. This plays into more than interactions with you and your mercenary squad, though. Sometimes it might benefit you to have one particular unit speak with an NPC, for instance, to pass a speech check. The RPG elements at play here, with these characters, are significant. Each merc has a variety of stats to start with and increase, but there are also perks to consider accompanying your playstyle and mission. Characterisation of both team members and prospects also extends beyond the field. At one point, I had a member anointed with "Merc of the Month" from the Institute of Mercenary Profiling. It was nothing tangible, but added a story behind the scenes of their battlefield exploits I had experienced with them. Deeper still, you can track their performance for as long as they remain alive. Sometimes you might find someone's accuracy is too low to remain on board. War is business.
There's much more to the management aspect as well. Travel logistics need to be accounted for when considering the length of a contract. Ammo and inventory needs managing. Guns need acquiring and modifying. This top level, the "sat map," provides you with a staggering level of planning and opportunity as you venture further into the expansive country, which is presented as a grid. Each grid space is at least one level to be explored, rather than a series of limited battlefields. Those are more dynamic. Out of combat, you can move freely throughout the zone. Finding items and opportunities during this time can be critical, but watching out for opposing forces is paramount. Getting caught with your pants down because you stumbled into an encampment is not only embarrassing, but also puts you at a combat disadvantage. Best to enter those encounters with the elements of surprise and cover intact. Or, better still, entertain the possibility of sneaking around foes entirely.
Entering combat transitions naturally into a turned-based tactics map. Cover level readouts, grid-based movement, and sightlines come into play as enemies scramble when alerted to your presence. The slightly fiddly control scheme becomes a little more apparent when the fighting starts, but that too can be overcome, or remapped entirely, with dedication. Combat UI favours a glut of information to help you succeed, which can be overwhelming at first. Once you flow with it, though, it all becomes critical information to meticulously plan the scenario, lest you lose one or several of your valuable assets. Considering action points, distance, flanking, and many other variables keeps you on your toes as you get into position to take your first shots. Hit percentages are invisible, opting instead for crit chances, but you can also spend extra action points on a shot to aim more true. Sometimes a severely wounded enemy gets a little too close to an ally, and you just want that extra chance to deal any damage at all before your turn ends. I used this feature a ton, but it made missed shots that much more nerve-wracking. You have plenty of options at your disposal, though, and can often benefit from taking things slow.
Enemies can punish you quickly. This is their terrain, and they know how to use it. More than a few times, I ended up in a standoff with a single combatant who had a stellar defensive position, meaning I had to get creative to overpower their assault rifle with my pistol by taking risky moves. It's challenging because they feel like a real thinking, tactical force prepared to die for the cause. They're also personalities in their own right. I was just as amused the first time I heard one of them chastize a cohort for missing too much as I was when they mourned the turning tide against them. These challenging combat puzzles can often be rewarding, but sometimes end in disappointment, even in victory. Taking down an AK-armed enemy with my pistol doesn't guarantee an upgrade for my equipment, or anything at all, which can deflate the high of conquering a thrilling battle. You'll more often find ammo and similar resources, but in a game focused, at least partially, on realism, I would have liked a higher drop rate of weapons, no matter how useful, or even some sort of "gun parts" resource out of busted firearms. This isn't a recent issue for the series, which might make it that much more egregious, but it stands to slow the progression maybe a little too much.
A camera that maintains a moderate distance (sometimes frustratingly so) helps Jagged Alliance 3 look good both in and out of combat, and also emphasizes the significance of terrain in Grand Chien. Using foliage for cover is only mildly effective, but its ability to affect sightlines and movement proved critical in the jungle sections, for instance. Combat encounters here felt downright claustrophobic, and I loved it. I did occasionally want the game to allow me to zoom right into the action, to verify my cover was sufficient or something similar, but it wasn't enough to push me out of it. The mix of the environments, art design, character portraits, and UI aesthetics fit the theme perfectly. They nailed the vibe, which is something akin to a 90s action movie with enough humour to keep things interesting.
Those familiar with the series will feel quite at home, as will general turn-based tactics fans. Genre stalwarts, such as overwatch and defensive position, aren't going anywhere, but the layers on top of all that are where Jagged Alliance 3 most proves its worth. Finally, I've found the type of one-more-turn game I've been looking for. I was challenged by it in the most satisfying ways: planning, leadership, and patience. Despite the flaws, I wanted to see the campaign through from the opening encounter, and I felt rewarded for that. To sum it up: Jagged Alliance is back.
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Mentally and physically challenging combat and overworld interactions with satisfying mechanics and visuals.
Maintains many issues present in the series from more than a decade ago.