I can often be found admiring the talents and the tactical prowess of veteran strategy gamers from afar – mostly via Mixer, Twitch and YouTube – however it’s a rare occasion that you’ll ever actually see me dive into one myself. That’s not because I don’t enjoy them or even want to get involved, but because besides the odd time when I’m playing through an online Conquest in the Battlefield series or I’m hunting down targets in Hitman, my tactical thinking and strategic skills are pretty much non-existent. No matter whether you put me in front of the latest XCOM title, or a game of chess, you’ll still find the same puzzled look on my face as I desperately try to figure out where, or what, to move first.
If I’m going to start somewhere though, then what better place than a follow-up to one of the most iconic and revered titles of the 1990s, Jagged Alliance, with the latest entry in the series, Jagged Alliance: Rage.
If you’ve not yet heard of the series, you’re not alone. Despite being an avid gamer in the late 1990s, the turn-based combat of Jagged Alliance was never something I found myself dipping into. After several hours of experiencing the punishing combat within the latest entry however, I quickly began to understand what all the fuss was about. I knew I was looking at a game that I was determined to conquer, no matter how many hours I had to sink into it, or how many times I gave away my teams position, and in-turn the mission, by jumping the gun with my outnumbered squad of mercenaries.
During my time with Jagged Alliance: Rage I learnt many things, but the first thing that became clear was to take each and every mission as they come and put the campaign story to the back of my mind. You see, Rage is a long and testing experience and if you play the game the way it’s meant to be taken in, then chances are you’re going to forget most of the story anyway, slugging away for hours in the heat of combat with patience and perseverance.
At the start of each mission, players begin with their squad of mercenaries and a brand new location. Each of the missions are filled with an overbearing and villainous enemy presence, and should you head into each mission waving your guns around, forgetting to stick to the bushes, then you’ll immediately find your underprepared squad being gunned down.
That’s because with Jagged Alliance: Rage being a turn-based strategy game, every action you make in the heat of battle can lead to a negative consequence; although equally it could also be the key change to winning the battle. To ensure the best chance of success though, you’ll need to make the most of the mercenaries within your team.
Each of the mercs that you’ll be playing with feel unique and come with their own personal traits, favourite weapon types and distinct strengths and weaknesses to take note of. For example my personal favourite – Ivan Dolvich – is the odd member of the team due his inescapable size and gung-ho nature. However, he is a great character for causing a distraction thanks to the fact he can take on, and deal out, a shed load of damage – provided you’ve got him stocked up on alcohol – meaning he can often be utilised as bait whilst you get the rest of your team in position. Equally though, should you simply throw him out into combat and forget about him, you’ll find yourself running through bandages more than the entire team run through water, or worse still he’ll wind up dead.
That may sound like a simple thing to manage, but it is just one of the many countless things you’ll need to manage and maintain during each mission, all while eliminating each and every enemy along the way.
Besides who to move and where to move them to being a big part of how you play Jagged Alliance: Rage, you’ll also need to become the fount of all knowledge when it comes to your inventory – managing it meticulously during each mission is a must. For me this was the biggest part of Rage that I struggled to find enjoyment from, simply due to the fact that so much time is spent in the inventory that it feels like more of a key feature of the game rather than the mission at hand.
The reason for this is the looting. Done at the end of every mission after you’ve wiped out the enemy, this is possibly one of the most meticulous and drawn out processes of all as there is no quick way to do it. If you wish to rid the enemies of their valuable resources, players must track down every single enemy killed throughout a mission and head back to loot the pockets of each one individually. Whilst that may not sound bad at first, it only takes a few missions of trying to remember where every last enemy was to realise this is quite the laborious task. Drop in a highly limited inventory space to play with, and picking which items to take with you can be a nightmare when you’re in desperate need.
What makes this worse still is should you miss any of the felled enemies for any particular reason, then chances are you’ll find yourself struggling later down the line as each and every resource you collect is likely to be needed at some point. This is due to everything requiring maintenance, from weapons and armour being repaired to ammunition, first aid kits and bandages being stocked up, and even fresh drinking water being available for your squad as you traverse through the jungle with the tropical heat beating down. Of course carrying a bottle of dirty water is a way and a means of getting by in a moment of desperation, but with it comes the risk of infection, which can carry even bigger risks should you fail to manage it.
Item management is something you’ll spend a vast amount of time doing throughout Jagged Alliance: Rage, however the combat itself is as equally unforgiving. Being a turn-based title, combat is essentially like a game of chess – which probably explains why I’m not too good at it.
Each mission will see players enter the map undetected and given a fair crack at the enemy, but one wrong move can see the entire enemy presence alerted to your position before closing in en masse. As you can probably guess by now, success in Jagged Alliance: Rage on Xbox One boils down to player patience and an uncanny ability to maintain a perfect run of stealth. In essence, the entire game is a puzzle and should you spend the time working out the various enemy patrol routes and how to take them out silently to move on, you’ll stand a good chance of getting through each of the many missions on offer. Do anything else though and you’ll find yourself struggling time and time again, with luck often having a small part to play in the outcome too.
Instead of focusing on the campaign as a story, it’s probably more sensible to centralise on each mission as they arrive, as it’s not rare to see missions taking more than an hour to action, just because of how well you have to have planned each movement to be successful. For many this will be a negative point, but for others it’ll be something to enjoy, especially as each battle feels meaningful and success truly rewarding.
Because of this, it’s fair to say that if you enjoy games such as XCOM, or other turn-based tactical combat games, then Jagged Alliance: Rage is going to appeal to you. It doesn’t quite match the quality of its gameplay in terms of the visuals, and the sound design certainly isn’t going to win any awards, but if you’re after a game you can really sink your teeth into for hours on end – and still come out with a real sense of accomplishment at the end – then this is a game you should be adding to your collection. It’s rewarding, provides much engagement and is certainly one that can be recommended to any fan of the genre.