Free the third-world country of Arulco from its oppressive overacting dictator with hired thugs. Lose your job because you stay home all week to play it.

After unbelievable difficulties finding an American publisher, Sirtech finally got their act together long enough for me to find this game at EB. I expected a great game, since it grew out of the original Jagged Alliance series, the best early turn-based strategy system. I was not disappointed.

Avoiding the problems associated with realtime and turn-based strategies, JA2 utilized a hybridized system like Fallout… real time until combat is joined, then turn based mode. This makes careful maneuvering of your squad before enemy contact a bit tricky if you want to keep a specific formation, but it’s well worth it in terms of avoiding aggravations while searching the map or running to a specific NPC in non-tactical mode. With some practice, you can simulate a reasonable creep in formation, moving crouching/stealthed mercs from cover point to cover point and leading the rear gunners and snipers behind them. The absence of a strict turn limit also makes it more feasable to use this sort of careful stalking strategy rather than charging people straight at the enemy so you can finish the battle before time expires. The strategic element also allows you to enter an area with a relatively weak team, soften the enemy, and make a retreat to heal and resupply; as long as you don’t take forever, you might make it back before the enemy has replaced their losses.

JA2 also has some of the strongest computer RPG elements on the market today. As in its previous incarnations, the mercs in JA2 are fully fleshed out individuals with stats, skills, specialties, personality quirks, and speech files. Being teamed with someone they don’t like personally will cause their morale to drop, but you can keep them in seperate sectors to minimize this difficulty. There are plenty of side quests you can do with appropriate rewards, i.e. save the chopper pilot who’s gone to ground and get his services, bring Shank to the gas station so you can get a deal on this hard-to-get commodity, etc.

The strategic view is possibly my favorite part of the game, even more so than the tactical battles, which are also excellent. One of the big problems with JADG was the fact that if you wanted a merc to do anything except missions (this includes mission-critical tasks like repair, healing, medic duty, etc.), you needed to keep them on your payroll AND have them sit out a mission… quite a pain if your merc limit is 8, as it was in JADG. The strategic aspect of JA2 means that you can still have mercs sitting in a sector performing these tasks, but more than that, you can take a couple days off from killing Charlie and use the downtime to heal your wounded, train skills, maintain your gear, and wait for shipments of supplies to come in (assuming you have control of an airport).

The tactical engine is fantastic. JADG players will slip quite naturally into it, and the already impressive AI is stronger. Enemies use cover effectively, flank, sneak up behind your position, lure you into grenade range, etc. The only weakness of the enemy AI is its inability to bandage, allowing the player (if he’s really really bored or desperate) to wound enemies and then try to hide from them for the next half hour. Fortunately this comes up very rarely, and it takes a long time to bleed to death, so more than likely the enemy will manage to flank you and kill you before this happens.

The one complaint I have about JADG is an unusual one from me: lack of multiplayer support. Normally if a game is designed with the SP experience in mind, I usually think it’s a horrible mistake to adapt multiplayer to it. However, JA2 would be an incredibly fun LAN game, and a mission/campaign editor would no doubt add longevity to the game. Fortunately there’s a mission pack out now, and in a decade or so they might be able to get it into american stores.

Mu rating: 9/10. Play it and be astounded.

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