“Fans of the series may enjoy the game on a nostalgic and common-theme basis. New players, however, will likely find the experience lacking…”
When I started reviewing video games 7 years ago in November 2011, Jagged Alliance: Back in Action was the first title to come across my desk. An interesting strategy game featuring 80’s action hero-style military characters each using their specialist skills to complete black-ops missions, Back in Action was a game which reminded me of now age-old titles like Star Trek Away Team. Like its space-based style-sake, Jagged Alliance: Back in Action was a great representation of its style and genre. Now, Jagged Alliance: Rage! is the latest in the old-school action strategy series, developed by Cliffhanger Productions and published by HandyGames, which this time features key changes to the traditional gameplay mechanics.
Jagged Alliance: Rage! is a turn-based strategy game. It maintains the military theme and stereotypes for its characters and presents them in something of an XCOM-like fashion. The story follows on from previous Jagged Alliance games, taking place 20 years after the original game, with some returning characters forming an ageing cast. Whilst their special talents endure, they each hold painful flaws alongside them, making your choice of team members for every job a critical decision making process. “Shadow”, for example, is a character whose stealth skills are remarkable, but whose physical health leaves him susceptible to bleeding and infection if injured. Another character, on the other hand, is a specialist in engineering, but her claustrophobia gives her a distinct disadvantage to combat in enclosed spaces. These dynamics add some personality and thought into what can be, at times, an otherwise generic turn-based style of play…
Gameplay feels rudimentary but effective in Jagged Alliance: Rage!. You control your characters’ movements, stances, actions, inventory and combat, balancing these elements with the environment and their individuals perks and pitfalls. The actions which you can utilise in a turn are based on action points, expended relatively depending on the action you hope to perform. Running is loud, but allows a greater movement distance using the same number of action points as a sneaking movement would. Aiming more accurately takes more action points, and changing your stance from standing to prone will also require a sacrifice. This does make you think about each one of your moves carefully and strategically, but it is no different to the systems of other turn-based strategy games which have come before it.
The only truly unique feature of the game’s action phases is the Rage system. A character can earn Rage points in a number of ways; being injured or being drugged being a couple of key examples. There are, naturally, distinct negative effects in these instances; a character of mine used a drug and began frantically attacking everyone, including his teammate. The positives of the Rage system, however, are profound and exceedingly useful. Each character has a different Rage ability based on their personality and talents; representing the equivalent of a special move. These can often give you the edge when combat or manoeuvres go south and you need that special something to re-gain control of the situation. Rage is an intelligent and fun feature of the game which sets this game aside from similar titles, if only in a small way.
Finally, it is worth noting a few things about the look of the game. The lighting and colours used in Jagged Alliance: Rage! are delightful and fitting for the theme. Unfortunately, these are undercut by the decision to aim for a retro look, which instead looks dated in reality. Equally, the audio of the game is well produced, but combined together like a game of days past, rather than an updated title for a modern audience. These elements, too, play into the fact that this game is evidently for the fans, more than it is aimed at series newcomers. A strange choice, perhaps, given the adapted gameplay model, but perhaps an intentional one from the producers.
Jagged Alliance: Rage! is not bad, but it is not special either. Fans of the series may enjoy the game on a nostalgic and common-theme basis. New players, however, will likely find the experience lacking compared to other turn-based games on the market. The gameplay is easy to pick up, although partially on the basis of being simplistic in nature. The story and its key players are stereotypical, but by design. The characters and their unique traits, encompassing both the Rage system and their individual personalities, are the greatest feature of the game, and are the elements which do, in fact, set it aside from similar genre titles. Perhaps the most disappointing feature, however, are the visuals of the game. The colours and lighting are impressive but let down by an art style which was presumably designed to look retro. Instead, these sadly come across somewhat outdated. On balance, if you love Jagged Alliance as a series, this game may well be for you. Otherwise, I would recommend waiting for a sale before you give this game a try.
Jagged Alliance: Rage is Developed by Cliffhanger Productions, published by HandyGames and is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows