As a Gamer, I can…sometimes find myself a bit too engrossed in my work. We’ve all been there; a quick play turns into a couple of hours and then more and more and more. You don’t want to leave the gaming zone you’ve created for yourself. There’s always an excuse: “Just to the next save point” “I just have to finish this quest” “Just a few more levels, then I can face the boss”. And if you’re particularly unlucky, the game tricks you into playing it more and more by exploiting the most likely excuses you’re making to yourself to keep going. That happened to me when I started playing Jagged Alliance 2.
Released back in 1999, the game is set in the fictional country of Alruco, which is suffering under the tyrannical rule of Queen Deidranna who took power in a coup in 1988. Since then she has monopolised the country’s wealth and suppressed all dissent. But that’s about to change. The former King, Enrico Chivaldori has hired you to get his country back for him by whatever means necessary. The game is split between the tactical map and the 2D isometric real-time zones where combat takes place. You start with a fistful of dollars with which to hire some accompanying mercenaries and to create on yourself by answering a multiple choice personality test and assigning skill points to particular areas.
With that done you’re dropped into Alruco and sent to meet what remains of the rebel movement. In order to take on the Queens forces you need more cash, which can be acquired by taking back towns and the mines that produce precious metals. You will spend the majority of the game fighting Deidranna’s soldiers in the real-time zones, which can be both deeply frustrating and satisfying. Sneaking one of your mercs around a building or cover to take pot shots, or dash in with a knife or fists to finish them off quickly. But if the enemy sees a group huddled together, pray your body armour can resist a grenade coming your way or that gas masks are ready to deal with any gas attacks. The tactile map shows where your mercs are, what condition they are in and where you want to move them, including the locations of mines, cities and SAM sites that might shoot down the chopper you can quire to move around more quickly.
Once you take a town you need to hold it to ensure that you have a steady income so that you can pay your mercs, hire new ones and buy better equipment for them to use. So you have to hire and train militia units to hold the towns. You do not have direct control of the militia and they will only help you if you are in the same square when enemy forces invade.
But why does this game endear itself to me so much? The graphics are VERY dated; it’s still buggy and you’ll find yourself re-loading saves quite often. Well, JA2 works because it’s able to endear itself to you. Like an old bloke down the pub that’s a bit rough around the edges, a bit insane, but always has something interesting to say. For example, the mercs you hire have their own little foibles, likes and dislikes. Of course, if you’re working with someone who has to kill for a living they’re likely to be pretty unhinged…and funny! As you walk along or situations arise, you get to hear gems like: “I don’t know why everyone thinks I’m psychotic. I’m not psychotic! I just have a passion for my job!” and “I’m here, I ate every bug on the way, they were many.” The turn based combat, while a bit choppy is still very much enjoyable, even if the A.I can be a bit daft sometimes.
Also the plot is straight out of a bad 80’s action movie with cheesey 2D yet funny character archetypes. This is particularly prevalent with the Queen herself, who pops up from time to time, usually when you’ve just taken a town. Her hapless minion Elliot comes into the Palace related the news and..well…lets just say Deidranna hasn’t heard of the phrase don’t soot the messenger. It usually ends with her slapping him about and screeching “ELLLIOTTT YOU EEEEDIIIOT!” All she’s missing is a skull castle and a better haircut.
JA2 is a nostalgia trip, you know if you’re going to enjoy it in the first half hour of playtime. It is currently available on steam.
- That Bloke In The Beanie