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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: Jagged Alliance 3

Infinitron

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Tags: Haemimont Games; Jagged Alliance 3; THQ Nordic

In retrospect, it's pretty wild that the long-awaited third installments of two different beloved roleplaying series from the 1990s were released within the span of three weeks this year. Haemimont Games' Jagged Alliance 3 has now been completely overshadowed by that other game, but given the franchise's track record over the past two decades, their achievement is no less impressive. A Jagged Alliance sequel received with near-unanimous positivity on our forums (give or take an ArchAngel). Such a feat could not go unrecognized, and so we present our extensive review, written by talented community member Strange Fellow. He finds that despite certain questionable combat mechanics, occasionally overly campy writing, and an overabundance of loot containers, Haemimont's game is a Jagged Alliance title worthy of the name. Here's an excerpt:

You’ll spend a lot of time juggling operations in the strategic view, but the real meat of the game takes place in the tactical view, where you control each individual mercenary in turn-based combat. This is where Jagged Alliance made a name for itself, and where any sequel absolutely needs to deliver.

And what do you know – it does. The game once again copies a number of its systems from Jagged Alliance 2, and since that is probably the pinnacle of the genre, as you’d expect it all works very nicely. The control you have over your mercenaries is very granular, and you can specify everything from whether they should be running, crouching or lying down, to exactly how many action points they should spend zeroing in on an enemy, as well as what part of the body to aim for. Unconventionally (though not for the franchise), chance to hit is not displayed, and you will have to eyeball each shot, while mercs provide helpful comments whenever they think a shot is likely to succeed or fail. It’s a great system, which strikes a good balance between uncertainty and feedback, and it’s nice to see it make its return.

There are other such nuances to the combat as well, which are not new to the series but are rarely seen elsewhere, especially these days. With the option to target body parts comes location-specific damage; so a shot to the leg will decrease movement, a shot to the arms will decrease accuracy, and so on. Guns fire bullets with real trajectories and real penetration, which means that a missed shot might hit something else, or a shot with a high-penetration weapon might travel right through the target and hit something else behind him. Cover can be destroyed, visual contact can be broken with smoke, characters can be suppressed by gunfire and flashbangs, and combatants can get panicked and lose their turn entirely.

Energy and morale are also in, although the energy and morale metres of the previous game have been replaced by a ladder of cumulative status effects. If forced to operate for a long time without a break, mercs will gain the “Tired” status, reducing their maximum action points by 1. If forced to keep going, they will eventually become “Exhausted”, losing another action point. On top of that, exhausted characters are liable to fall unconscious if they’re hit with more energy-draining attacks. Likewise with morale: it can drop to low or very low, decreasing AP, if mercs take significant damage or if someone dies, and rise when mercs score good kills, complete quests or progress in the campaign. Overall, the effect works out to be about the same as in the previous game, if presented in a slightly more cumbersome way.

One aspect of combat that deserves particular praise is the level of environmental destruction the game supports. You can break a lot of scenery in Jagged Alliance 3. Certain things you will not be able to blow up, such as the skeletons of larger buildings as well as bridges and other things essential to the traversability of the map. Still, the level of damage that you can do to most structures is impressive and a delight to play with. Level the second floor of a building with a rocket launcher, and have enemies rain down from above into the waiting arms of your knife-wielding melee specialist on the first floor. Blow the roof off a building with a grenade, then chuck a second one through the hole into the cluster of enemies huddled inside. It is simply great fun, and makes explosives specialists very valuable additions to your team, quite apart from their direct damage potential. There are plenty of sector designs that provide good opportunities to make use of their potential, too. It doesn’t reach the level of mayhem that you can cause in X-COM: Apocalypse or Silent Storm – the kings of the genre if all you want to do is raze the entire map – but it’s miles above most of the competition.

[...] There are other issues as well, and the most serious ones all have to do with how combat is initiated. Firstly, there’s the matter of stealth mode, and more broadly, enemy awareness in general. Enemies in this game are deaf, dumb and blind to a ridiculous degree. The vision range of your own mercs is more than twice as long as that of the enemies, which ensures that you'll always spot them before they spot you. Even in broad daylight you can freely run around in the open without having to be particularly careful. Engage stealth mode as well, which at the cost of movement speed makes your mercs even harder to detect, and you can run rings around enemies without them noticing. Now add the detection system, where enemies have detection bars that need to fill up before they’re considered to have spotted you, and the result is that the only time you won’t get to initiate combat yourself is if a patrol happens to walk right into one of your mercs while you’re busy controlling someone else.

And that’s not all. Alongside the stealth system there is a stealth kill system. Essentially, there is a percentage chance of an attack made from stealth to result in an instant kill. There are mercs who via perks and high stats have a higher chance of achieving stealth kills, and with these you are all but guaranteed that the first attack you make results in a fatality. Did I mention that you can re-enter stealth in the middle of combat? And that silenced weapons are so easy to come by that you can have several after the very first tutorial sector? It is an absurd system, and fundamentally warps balance in favour of long-range weapons – sniper rifles, in other words. The tragedy is that the balance in the utility of different weapon types is quite good otherwise, and every weapon type has its niche. It is a shame that by far the best strategy in terms of preserving the safety of your mercs is to ignore them. Perhaps bring along a single machine gun when things get hairy, but otherwise stick to silenced rifles and pick enemies off from stealth. The game doesn’t have to be played this way, but any other approach is far, far more likely to land your mercs in trouble.

The developers obviously realised that setting up devastating stealth ambushes was inordinately powerful, so they came up with a solution. Unfortunately their solution is, once again, terrible. What they did was allow the enemies a small quasi-turn at the beginning of combat to reposition themselves. In other words, whenever you start combat by shooting a bad guy, all his friends are allowed a moment to scurry for cover without there being anything you can do about it. This destroys any potential of a well-executed ambush – or it would, if you could not set up overwatch over every enemy and watch them get shot as they do their little scramble. In any case, it takes away your control of the situation. It would seem to be a natural thing, in a game about tactical operations with a small squad of elite soldiers who are vastly outnumbered, to reward the player for setting up a good ambush. Clearly, though, in Jagged Alliance 3 this is so absurdly easy to do that the player can’t be allowed to do it, so control must be taken away from him in however arbitrary a fashion. This is a textbook example of how bad design begets bad design.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Jagged Alliance 3
 

Roguey

Codex Staff
Staff Member
Sawyerite
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Messages
35,500
The review comes to the conclusion that it isn't better than JA2, so Lilura would find it not worth playing. On the upside, at least it isn't a "Reddit Social Sim" like the other game.
 

Tyranicon

A Memory of Eternity
Developer
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Oct 7, 2019
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Good review, and it lines up with the general consensus here.

The scramble turn nearly killed this game in the cradle, at least for people who really like JA gameplay. It was such an obvious gameplay design choice to try and balance ambushing/stealth.
 

Beowulf

Arcane
Joined
Mar 2, 2015
Messages
1,957
Good review and I share similar sentiment towards the game.
Just a couple of nitpicks:
- "Exhausted" is -3 AP, not one more than "Tired"
-
more advanced enemies with appreciably better AI show up
Well, from what I gleaned from the modding threads so far is that there is no real difference between the AI for troops. They have the same scripts and follow the same conditions for their actions regardless if they are the Legion, the Army, or the late game PMC forces. The late game enemies may give this apparition of having better AI mostly because they have better stats, so e.g. while a Legion scout will just rush towards your troops and shoot a 2 bursts tops that barely scratch your mercs, a PMC scout, with his bigger AP pool and more modern and modified SMG, will actually be able to flank you, shoot once and activate the run and gun perk shooting another 3 bursts and mostly hitting due to his high MRK and DEX stats.
There is a mod that tries to alter their behaviors though, but I haven't personally use it.
 

Alter Sack

Magister
Joined
Dec 22, 2019
Messages
2,198
Time for our 'talented community member' to show up to receive his well earned brofists.

Can't decide if it is meant as a compliment or if our talented newsman Infinitron wants to underhandedly imply that he's shit. :lol:
 

Iluvcheezcake

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Nice review.

Also worth mentioning is that enviromental stuff to click is tied to the lvl of wisdom and mechanical. So if your wis and mech are low, you wont find much stuff to click (except ofc mines when you step on them).
 

Zed Duke of Banville

Dungeon Master
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The review comes to the conclusion that it isn't better than JA2, so Lilura would find it not worth playing. On the upside, at least it isn't a "Reddit Social Sim" like the other game.
Lilura may not find Jagged Alliance 3 worthwhile, but Jagged Alliance 3 finds Lilura worthwhile:

buns2nwim0.png


bunsliluraepcvg.png
 
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grimace

Arcane
Joined
Jan 17, 2015
Messages
1,922
If there is one activity Jagged Alliance 3 loves to make you do, it is to click on things.

Clicking was my primary concern. Jagged Alliance 2 was a pain on my wrist. JA3 has more required mouse movement and clicking?


Put simply, if you choose not to engage in the soul-crushing clicking, you will be putting yourself at a significant disadvantage. It is extremely frustrating.


Would playing on a steam deck reduce the wrist strain of mouse movement and clicking?
 

GloomFrost

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Dec 9, 2014
Messages
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Location
Northern wastes
Another 3d abomination!
We went from gorgeous 2d graphics in ja2:
https://cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com/...12f991baf9519a2a7907.600x338.jpg?t=1502453641

to this vomit inducing 3d shit today
And codexers are fapping to this 3d rotatable atrocity! What a joke this site has become!
But JA 2 unlike IE titles or ToEE or Desperados never actually had "gorgeous 2d graphics". That's why Icewind Dale or Planescape looked phenomenally better then NWN or even NWN 2 and still look awesome nowadays but that is not the case with JA2. If anything JA 3 does look pretty picturesque every now and then. (UI design is another matter though).
 

MrBuzzKill

Arcane
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Aug 31, 2013
Messages
647
Another 3d abomination!
We went from gorgeous 2d graphics in ja2:
https://cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com/...12f991baf9519a2a7907.600x338.jpg?t=1502453641

to this vomit inducing 3d shit today
And codexers are fapping to this 3d rotatable atrocity! What a joke this site has become!
But JA 2 unlike IE titles or ToEE or Desperados never actually had "gorgeous 2d graphics". That's why Icewind Dale or Planescape looked phenomenally better then NWN or even NWN 2 and still look awesome nowadays but that is not the case with JA2. If anything JA 3 does look pretty picturesque every now and then. (UI design is another matter though).
Actually agreed, from an artistic perspective even JA1 was more pleasing to me.
 

spectre

Arcane
Joined
Oct 26, 2008
Messages
5,357
Another 3d abomination!
We went from gorgeous 2d graphics in ja2 to this vomit inducing 3d shit today
And codexers are fapping to this 3d rotatable atrocity! What a joke this site has become!
76IB6jnKQ4vI6cMd.jpg


While the review feels a tad too glowing, perhaps doesn't sufficiently hammer the point about the "boardgamization" and "EXCUM-ization" of this installment.
I'll accept its conclusion that it feels like an honest effort, perhaps even a "good enough" entry... especially if one has been around to witness the earlier attempts to put the number three on JA.
Mods'll fix it out of / :5/5::5/5:.
 
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raeven

Educated
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Aug 29, 2020
Messages
231
Great review! Glad you waited till the big patch dropped and reflected those changes in your review and conclusion.

I find myself agreeing with most of it. I was surprised to hear you rank JA1 above this one though, I find the first entry to be quite rough around the edges - regardless of technological limitation aspects.

I hope Haemimont sticks with the series and improves upon their take on the formula in a future entry, similar to how wasteland 3 vastly improved upon wasteland 2 thanks to inexile getting some experience under their belt.
 

Strange Fellow

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Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
Well, from what I gleaned from the modding threads so far is that there is no real difference between the AI for troops. They have the same scripts and follow the same conditions for their actions regardless if they are the Legion, the Army, or the late game PMC forces. The late game enemies may give this apparition of having better AI mostly because they have better stats, so e.g. while a Legion scout will just rush towards your troops and shoot a 2 bursts tops that barely scratch your mercs, a PMC scout, with his bigger AP pool and more modern and modified SMG, will actually be able to flank you, shoot once and activate the run and gun perk shooting another 3 bursts and mostly hitting due to his high MRK and DEX stats.
There is a mod that tries to alter their behaviors though, but I haven't personally use it.
Got a link to these discussions? I'd be very surprised if that's the case. Then again, it might be the case that the AI is better when controlling better characters, as you say. I did notice on my most recent playthrough that e.g. the Good Place guards appeared more competent than the beginner machete rape squads.

How would you feel if you didn't gather every single herb you saw?
Constantly out of meds :negative:

If there is one activity Jagged Alliance 3 loves to make you do, it is to click on things.
Clicking was my primary concern. Jagged Alliance 2 was a pain on my wrist. JA3 has more required mouse movement and clicking?
Put simply, if you choose not to engage in the soul-crushing clicking, you will be putting yourself at a significant disadvantage. It is extremely frustrating.
Would playing on a steam deck reduce the wrist strain of mouse movement and clicking?
I'm not sure if there's more clicking altogether, given that both are long, primarily mouse-driven games, but there's certainly a lot more annoying clicking. Dunno about the steam deck. Probably, given that as far as I know it's some kind of controller?

Glad you waited till the big patch dropped and reflected those changes in your review and conclusion.
The review originally had some raging at the absence of a pause button. :M

I was surprised to hear you rank JA1 above this one though
The things JA3 does wrong chafe too much. If I had to pick two games from the series to replay forever I'd rather have 2 and 3 than 1 and 2, since 1 is almost completely eclipsed by 2 IMO whereas 3 does its own thing to a much greater extent. Maybe that means I do rank them 2>3>1. Depends on how you look at it.

I hope Haemimont sticks with the series and improves upon their take on the formula in a future entry, similar to how wasteland 3 vastly improved upon wasteland 2 thanks to inexile getting some experience under their belt.
This made me realise that we might see DLC for this game. Maybe even new mercs? The thought of that actually excites me, what the fuck

tldr: good for what it is
can you modify the vulvas? you didn't touch on that subject
this isn't a fantasy game, it doesn't have made up shit like vulvas
 
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Zed Duke of Banville

Dungeon Master
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Oct 3, 2015
Messages
11,609
"One example of where the writing falls flat is Thor Kaufman, a mercenary first appearing in Jagged Alliance 2. In that game, Thor was a vegetarian, and had a bit of a New Age vibe about him, but like most A.I.M. members, he was first and foremost a professional mercenary. In Jagged Alliance 3, however, hardly a single line of Thor’s dialogue is exempt from mentions of chakras, meditation and spiritual energy, to the point that his role as a hired killer feels entirely incidental."

ja3tkvnebi.png
 

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