Jagged Alliance: Rage! Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Jagged Alliance: Rage! has an appropriate subtitle, given the rage most Jagged Alliance fans must be feelings towards the franchise at this point. It’s been rebooted countless times, and never to the success or popularity of the first two games. Now it’s been passed to THQ Nordic, and developers Cliffhanger Productions, to do the best they can.
Jagged Alliance: Rage is a squad-based turn based strategy game, following a team of mercenaries as they visit a remote island to retrieve a lost friend. It’s very similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, both in terms of gameplay and what it represents for the franchise - both are streamlined from their predecessors. While Jagged Alliance: Rage! certainly lacks the polish or scope of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it’s still an interesting and fairly gripping game.
Jagged Alliance: Rage!’s gameplay is a fair mix of stealth and typical turn-based tactics combat. The balance works well - stealth is wonderfully unpredictable but preferable to combat which’ll drain your resources and health quickly (as opposed to most games, where combat is an easy choice for people fed up of sneaking). There are a few particular mechanics which Enemy Unknown missed - enemies can surrender if they’re too far outgunned, and shooters who miss their target can hit enemies behind them, and these add to the strategic options available to players, so there’s always a variety of options.
The mechanics are admittedly a step down in complexity from the original Jagged Alliance games, however there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this and it translates to fairly engaging gameplay. It finds the right balance of difficulty, with tactical choices being supremely important in the early game (as opposed to Enemy Unknown, where “tactics” consists of “being in cover”). This does lead to an overreliance on saving and loading after every poor decision - but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case.
Tying the levels together is an island map and soldier management options - a character’s gear consists of loot gained from each level, and constant water, ammunition and medication must be scavenged to continue. If characters are wounded in a battle, or have their equipment damaged, they must camp to recover - but this means patrols of soldiers can stumble across them and mitigate any potential gains. Similarly multiple missions can be pursued at once, and the particular order can influence the way the game plays out.
The overarching forces at work, in balancing whether to camp and recover a soldier’s health so they might survive the next firefight, or continue to avoid patrols in order to save ammunition, creates a good amount of tension in the early game, where supplies are limited. However as the game progresses, and the player becomes more adept at the tactics needed to survive (and finds more powerful guns) constantly camping and healing becomes unnecessary, and these elements lost their edge.
There is a story between the action pieces, but it’s a fair mix of cliches from modern gaming and 80s action films. You must aid a budding revolution lead by a woman devoid of any character, you stomp through jungles murdering people living in shacks like an endless Vietnam recreation, there’s a mad scientist antagonist, and the characters are all rugged action stars. The dialogue is just as uninspired - and often laden with strange typos.
Most of the characters are returning from previous Jagged Alliance games, and while their characterisations of “washed-up version of previous character” is certainly interesting as an idea, it isn’t really touched upon enough in game. At the start of the campaign only two characters can be chosen, and the exact combination is quite important in dictating the style of tactics employed for the early missions. When more characters (and stronger gear) is unlocked, tactics fall to the wayside somewhat.
The cel-shaded art style is rather pretty to look at and perfectly complements the cartoonish 80s-style premise, and the wide mise-en-scene really helps give a sense of the scale of each battle. However there are some problems with it - it can be hard to see opponents when you’re choosing movement as they’re only indicated when shooting. In addition the HUD is sometimes camouflaged to aspects of the level, and it can be infuriating when the movement cursor or boundary is obscured.
On the topic of infuriating: there are several major bugs. Often characters refuse to move when ordered, and sometimes the AI turn never ends leading to a necessary game restart. There are few bugs overall, but the ones that exist are hugely inconvenient.
Jagged Alliance: Rage! may be a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s good enough. The first act of the game is a truly enjoyable experience: the deteriorating supplies and condition of soldiers creates a nail-biting experience, where thoughtful decisions are rewarded and rewarding in return. The game never really elevates itself as the game continues, however, with a lack of variety in levels and the slow redundancy of the looting gameplay loop making it become a little dull later on.