Review: Jagged Alliance: Rage!28 Dec 2018 1
Review: Jagged Alliance: Rage!
Released 06 Dec 2018
Much like XCOM of yore, Jagged Alliance 2 raised the bar so high that no imitator managed to top it... or even reach it. However, no official title after JA2 could even hold a candle to the predecessor either. Jagged Alliance: Rage! however, comes close.
Maybe it helps that you're not trying to take over Arulco all over again. This time, your mercs are rescuing a friend who crashed on some tropical island. However, there's only enough money to hire two mercenaries. But it's OK; these guys are the ones that you know from your adventures in Arulco. They're battered and beaten down by life, plagued by loss and hounded by substance abuse, but there's still fight in them. Also, there might be rage zombies!
Rage! takes a much more casual approach to the campaign system. You don't have to worry about silver mines, paying your mercs or tracking travel time. You have a map of nodes to travel between – most of them are just resting spots, but some contain missions. You need to stop for rest to restore your health points, fix your various conditions (like pulling out shrapnel or treating illnesses) and maintain your gear. However, the enemy doesn't sleep and will send out patrols to hunt you!
Unfortunately, when it comes to tactical maps, everything is turn based. This wouldn't seem like such a big complaint, but Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has also released recently. That game made exploration real time, with play switching to turn based-action once you went loud. Rage! is similar to MYZ with the priority that it gives to stealth, but it’s funny how easily it can seem outdated now that we’ve seen another way.
Your mercs can snap necks of enemies that haven't been alerted yet. They can switch between running and sneaking so as not to alert sentries with the sound of their footsteps. Some mercs have different abilities (replacing the ability and stat-based system of JA2) that allow them to carry out stealth kills even better. You can pick up and carry corpses out of sight of patrolling foes. Basically every map encourages you to be the wolf and cull the outliers of the herd before pouncing for slaughter.
Raising alarm is not just about poking the beehive. Many times, going loud will result in additional complications. Sometimes, it's as simple as reinforcements arriving on the map. Other times, the effects will be tied more closely to the scenario: for example, the enemy will try to poison the water reservoirs that your mercs are trying to take. In any case, it really pays off to go in slow and be careful with your approach.
Of course, once you get the crossbow, it starts to feel a little like cheating.
Unlike many tactical games of the day, Rage! does not embrace the two-actions approach of the new XCOM games. It still holds love for action points, with each character (or enemy) generally having enough for two shots or some combination of other actions. And yes, spending APs to aim is still in the game. Curiously – or maybe realistically enough – when enemies take cover (just like in XCOM), it mostly affects your chances to hit their legs and body. This means that you are often tempted with those sweet, sweet, headshots. Heads no longer burst like melons as they used to do in JA2, but it's still very satisfying.
Aside from action points, your characters will accumulate adrenalin, which will then be transformed into rage points. They can increase damage resistance, but also be spent on powering the “super” abilities of each character. For example, Dr. Q can use it for either chi channeling (which gives him more AP) or Chi Healing (which works like Lay On Hands). Grunty, on the other hand, can spend rage to rally his comrades (giving them AP) or to fire a full auto burst at an area. Also, he has to be careful with his rage levels, as his weak heart might give out.
Every merc has their own sad story to tell – Shadow is even more of a stealthy killer now, but also a paranoid wreck; Ivan has become a functioning alcoholic after the death of his nephew Igor – and a combination of powers and draw backs. Q has spent so much time on martial arts that his aim suffers. Ivan is so massive that he can only get concealment (for stealth purposes) when prone. Every combination of mercenaries plays differently, though I'd argue that Q and Grunty make for one very easy combo, especially due to former having a magical, never ending TCM surgery kit.
On the more technical side, the game looks... passable from the visual side. It's not a looker, not by a long shot, but it doesn't overwhelm you with ugliness. As long as you don't have chat windows giving you an uncomfortably close look at the faces of the models, you're good. Unfortunately, the voice acting part suffers, partially from terrible acting, partially from repetition. You can only hear your mercs' canned reaction to drinking water or finding alcohol so many times before it becomes really grating.
Jagged Alliance: Rage! Is the closest thing we have to the greatness of Jagged Alliance 2. It's a very trimmed game, delivering the experience rather than a carbon copy of the series. You still have to care for your mercs' health and gear, as well as carrying capacity, but at a much less grognardy level. I dunno if 1.13 mod fanatics will be pleased, but for the others, it's a good introduction to what Jagged Alliance used to represent.