STAFF REVIEW of Jagged Alliance 3 (Xbox One)

Wednesday, April 24, 2024.
by Adam Dileva

Jagged Alliance 3 Box art While sequels are never a guaranteed thing, it’s certainly not common to get one over two decades later. Jagged Alliance finally makes its long awaited return with a third main installment. With Jagged Alliance 2 having released in 1999, franchise fans patience have finally paid off, and better yet, console fans are now included as well.

Taking place in the fictional country of Grand Chien, its president has gone missing after being kidnapped by a paramilitary force known as “The Legion”. Led by "The Major”, The Legion now rules the countryside and is hostile to practically everyone as they take over. The President’s family won’t let this stand, and his daughter works together with the Adonis corporation to hire a group of mercenaries to not only save the President, but also return order back to the country. The story is by no means its strong point, but it’s serviceable enough to give you an overall objective to work towards stopping The Legion.

This is where you come in, a part of a mercenary group hired to track down The Major, defeat Legion, and rescue the President. Even though you have good intentions, sometimes your actions won’t always be perceived that way by locals. During your excursions, you’ll actually have a lot of decisions to make, and there will be consequences for your choices, regardless of intent. These outcomes were not always what I expected, as I thought I was helping at times, only to have a result that was quite different.

A turn based strategy game at its core, Jagged Alliance 3 pits your mercenary team in a number of different situations where you’re going to have to learn to adapt on the fly, with each play being different based on certain outcomes and what team of mercenaries you have with you. Before you begin your rescue mission though, you’ll need to decide how difficult you want your game to be. There’s actually quite a lot of toggles to change, not just the overall difficulty, but other options as well like permanent death for mercenaries and a bunch of others to make things easier or harder. I will say, even with all of the easiest settings enabled, some battles were quite challenging.

I’ll admit, the first few hours going from mission to mission, I wasn’t enjoying myself very much. I was dying, losing mercenaries, running out of money and simply struggling with the controls. I decided to start over once again from the start, seeing if I would have a better run the next time with a few hours under my belt. While there’s tooltips that somewhat help you early on, it doesn’t do nearly enough to actually teach you best how to play or how to handle the poor controls. Starting out with weak guns and low level mercenaries doesn’t help, but soon as you start killing some Legion, you’ll loot bodies and find some better items along the way.

With a steep learning curve, it’s not helped by the terrible console controls. Clearly designed for a PC experience with mouse and keyboard in mind, while it technically works on a controller, it’s a frustrating mess with having to hold either Left or Right Trigger as modifiers for a bunch of commands, or the bumpers to swap targets, none of which are really taught to you. Even hours in I was still making mistakes on the controls or having to try and squint to read what buttons did what, as it never feels natural even dozens of missions in.

As you make your way across the country, you’ll clear sections on the overworld map. There’s two portions to the gameplay; exploration and combat. Before you’re spotted or start a fight, you’re in exploration mode where you can freely wander, talk to locals, scavenge for loot and more. Completing missions will earn you more cash which will allow you to do more and hire better tiered mercenaries as well, as no one works for free.

Your mercenaries are the core of your teams. The game firsts asks you to hire four to start your team off, so I did, not knowing that I could actually hire more and even create my own. This is all done through a UI that’s meant to emulate early internet era, and it’s not always clear what you can or can’t do, even in the menus. It wasn’t until my second game restart that I figured out I could actually create my own mercenary for cheaper.

You can choose to do a ten question quiz that’s quite humorous, which will form a merc a certain way for its class and stats based on your answers, though you can skip this and simply move the stat sliders to whatever you like, as well as choosing two perks. I opted to make a sniper focused character, though you don’t get to choose their starting weapon, so my sniper simply had a pistol to begin with.

There’s about 40 mercenaries to choose from when you’re hiring, ranging from rookie to legendary, with the better mercs costing much more, as you need to pay their salaries for employing their services for days at a time. They all have their own look, style and personalities, some of which are parodies or stereotypes, which I found quite hilarious. There’s also some times where the merc you want to hire refuses to join because they aren’t a fan of one of the people on your team already, so sometimes you need to settle or spend more on someone else. If you’re a fan of the previous titles, you might even see some familiar faces, and as they level up you’ll be able to improve your mercenaries and choose new perks.

The turn based combat can be quite tactical once you figure out its intricacies and wrap your head around the terrible controls. Like other games that are similar to X-COM, you have a set amount of Action Points which can be used for movement or attacks. This AP will vary mercenary to mercenary based on their stats, so you can spend more to move further, or take more accurate shots. Instead of firing a number of times, you can spend more AP to narrow in on your enemy for what I assume is a better percentage to hit. Part of the problem is that it seems the enemies aren’t restricted by AP though, as they can run half way across the battlefield then take a shot at you with ease, as they seem to almost have 100% accuracy regardless of where they shoot from.

I say assume because Jagged Alliance 3 never tells you the chance to hit or miss enemies. This becomes apparent when you land a long range sniper shot, but then miss a point blank shotgun blast. This randomness is by design but makes it near impossible to decide what the best course of action is. If I knew that certain shots were a very low percentage to hit, I’d figure out something else, but missing three times in a row for what seems like an easy attack becomes frustrating every time it happens, which is quite often.

Once in combat and trying to take a shot, you can zone in on specific body parts to aim for, which is sometimes necessary as a portion of them might be behind cover. Obviously a lot of your damage is factored by your position, critical hits, type of weapon, distance and more, but some enemy soldiers seem to be bullet sponges. I’ve head-shotted an enemy more than once and it still didn’t kill them. You also can’t see how much health they have remaining in a numerical value, only text that says “wounded” or otherwise. Again, this makes it hard to strategize when you don’t really know how much health they have left.

Overwatch is a system that can be used, setting up your mercenaries to watch specific areas, shooting if an enemy passes through, but there’s a few issues here. From what I can figure out, again because the game doesn’t teach you much and the controls are horrendous, you can’t freely aim where you want to place your overwatch cover. You can choose to aim at a specific enemy, but this isn’t what I always wanted. Even on my third game starting over, I tried everything and couldn’t figure out a way to freely aim my overwatch direction to anywhere I wanted like you can do on PC. Maybe I’m missing something, but it made it almost useless at times unless you just happen to be in the right area and facing a specific direction.

While I appreciate there is online multiplayer co-op so you can play alongside friends, I was unable to find a single match, nor had anyone join when I was hosting each time I attempted, so I’m unfortunately unable to comment on how that plays or differs from single player.

While the game looks fine overall, but it also won’t impress. Each the maps are detailed enough that it does feel like you’re exploring and fighting in a jungle or desert, but unless you zoom in quite close, you’re going to miss a lot of the smaller details. It’s all passable, including the animations, but there’s nothing that really stood out visually. There’s a good amount of voice overs from all the mercenaries, and while some of the performances were over the top, I believe many of them were meant to be, especially the Arnold-like muscle guy with plenty of one-liners.

While I don’t think as many would have the patience I did to start over three times (the third due to a game breaking bug), even hours in I was still becoming frustrated with the horrendous controls. Clearly designed for mouse and keyboard, while yes it’s been ported to console controllers, it’s not intuitive and was a constant frustration trying to read the tiny text to determine what trigger I needed to hold to do specific actions so I don't accidentally end my turn again.

Waiting more than two decades for a sequel, I’m sure true Jagged Alliance fans will overlook many of its shortcomings and frustrations, as it does capture the same feeling, it seriously needs some work on its control scheme to be more much fluid and less confusing. For every moment I was enjoying, I was equally frustrated when I missed point blank shots or accidently ended my turn prematurely due to a wrong button combination.

**Jagged Alliance 3 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.3 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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