In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never played a Jagged Alliance game before.
It’s because of that fact that I entered the world of Jagged Alliance: Rage! free of any baggage or expectations. Fresh like a newborn baby, I was able to enjoy it for what it is, without constantly comparing it to its predecessors like they’re some sort of Holy Grail. And you know what? It is somewhat enjoyable once you’ve got past the fact that it’s obviously a low-budget affair that tries to keep things simple.
What’s really a shame is that you won’t care about Jagged Alliance: Rage!‘s story, but then the game never earnestly feels like it tries to make you care. Perhaps it’s because you choose a duo of mercenaries from a pool of six at the start of the game, limiting the game’s ability to tie their personalities too closely to its narrative. Maybe its because it also tries to inject some humour into its turn-based antics, but mostly misses the mark. Whatever the reason, you won’t be remembering your time spent with Jagged Alliance: Rage! because of the yarn it has thrown in your face.
What you might remember, however, is its gameplay. Jagged Alliance: Rage! isn’t groundbreaking in any way, but its bite-sized maps that mostly allow you to choose between fight or flight give it a some character. Your small team of mercenaries will often face insurmountable odds, and it’s how you go about either eradicating your enemies using stealth and firepower or avoiding them altogether that may give you some kicks.
Reduce your visibility by crouching or even going prone, and you’ll find the action points you’re afforded on each turn not getting you very far, but you’re much less likely to be detected by enemies. Run around like a maniac, and things are going to get messy very fast. Stealth isn’t the best option for all the mercenaries on offer, though; depending on who you choose to be in your team, you might find your options limited.
That itself could be seen as one of Jagged Alliance: Rage!‘s positives. Replaying the game with an alternative set of mercenaries is likely to present quite a different experience. So too does the fact that you do, at times, have options as to where to take your adventure next. Considering Jagged Alliance: Rage! feels woefully bare-boned in some regards, it’s nice that it throws a smattering of choices your way.
Your continued survival from one mission to the next is also something that struck me as at odds with its otherwise simple nature. You’re not automatically healed at the end of each map, forcing you to decide whether to rest and recuperate or push on regardless. Taking a time out to tend to your wounds is generally a good idea, but it gives the enemy a chance to make a move. And did I mention that you need to keep a check on your characters’ hydration levels, too?
Starting out with absolutely nothing, your continued survival in Jagged Alliance: Rage! relies on you looting absolutely anything that you might find useful. Downed soldiers are a great source of weapons and ammo, medikits will provide you with bandages to halt nasty bleeds and health kits to get characters back into shape quickly, and who knows what might be lying in the many structures you’ll come across on your travels.
When you’re in hostile territory, you’ll need to actually be at the side of a body/storage container/item you want to loot in order to do so. Once all enemies have been eradicated though, you’re free to loot remotely. Either way, looting can become a bit of a chore. Most characters have very limited inventory space, meaning you’ll be moving items back and forth very often.
Even more problematic is the fact that you’ll quickly find yourself struggling with the game if you don’t loot like your life depends on it, because it does. Become dehydrated and your maximum health will be reduced. Run out of ammo and that’s it, you’re pretty much a sitting duck. So, while you can rush to an exit point using stealth if you want, down the line, you might find that it puts you at a severe disadvantage when you do have to fight and you’re low on supplies.
Ultimately, it’s Jagged Alliance: Rage!‘s Rage system that proves to be the most fresh and innovative aspect of the game. Characters gain Rage as they dish out and receive damage, though it does deplete over time. Gain enough Rage and some characters gain access to special abilities that could turn the tide of a battle when caught in a tight spot. You might not want to use them though, as simply possessing Rage also has benefits.
Characters with one or more bars of Rage will find they can move further and take more punishment, improving their chances of reaching the end of a map with their lives. The dual benefits of Rage forces players to make a hard choices, as well as consider their actions if they want to maintain their Rage levels. It adds another level of strategy that is sorely needed.
Eventually though, Jagged Alliance: Rage!‘s stripped-down nature is likely to result in a loss of interest. Without any character development options, the game struggles to provide a long-term hook that it desperately needs. It also becomes overly repetitive and unrewarding. It becomes a chore.
This is on top of a problem that’s clear from the outset; Jagged Alliance: Rage! isn’t very pretty. Nor is its voice acting all that good. Sure, it’s a budget game when all’s said and done, but does the PC version really need to have such limited graphical options available? Thankfully it means that the game runs rather well, but that’s just stretching for a silver lining, isn’t it?
You can have fun with Jagged Alliance: Rage!, but just don’t expect it to last that long unless the experience really clicks with you. It almost feels as though it was made for the mobile market in a way, with its small but plentiful maps and cut down features. Perhaps enjoyed like a mobile game – played little but often – you’ll get more out of it. If you’re looking for your next meaty turn-based strategy to sink your teeth into, though, this isn’t it.