Guest Author - James Shea
A turn-based strategy game similar to X-Com or other games of that sort, "Jagged Alliance 2 Gold" (re-released 2004) puts the player in control of a band of mercenaries to liberate an island nation from its oppressive queen. More than just a tactics game, JA2 requires you to be a manager of finances, a leader of soldiers, and a beacon of hope to the downtrodden.
You, the player, are hired by the former king and husband to the queen, who married him and then executed a coup to get his power. You must go to the island and help the local resistance overthrow the queen, a plot with many stages; you must build up money to support them by capturing and using the local mines, you must train and equip a militia from the local citizens, and finally you must engage in actual combat with the Queen's soldiers.
Most of the game occurs on the tactical map. This is the battlefield, which is actually the entire island (separated, grid-like, into different zones). When not in combat, characters move in real time. The player can only see what his mercenaries see, essentially making a "fog of war" even though the entire area - save for the insides of buildings - is visible. When combat occurs, the game switches to a turn-based mode, and all actions cost "action points" - everything from moving to shooting to reloading to changing stance or direction. Tactical things like range, stance (crouching, standing, or prone), number of bullets, and which way the enemy is facing all come into play, especially on harder difficulties. Enemies will take advantage of this by taking up proper defensive stances when engaged, though they can be outmaneuvered. The gameplay is fun once you understand it, and though there is a built-in tutorial some of the commands aren't quite as simple to pull off. There is a bit of a learning curve as well that may stymie those unfamiliar with the genre. But once you get going, it's easy to find out what to do.
The mercenaries' personalities is one of the best parts of this game. Characters interact with each other depending on who they are with, and may perform better or worse when grouped with certain partners. For example, two mercenaries were once married and then divorced, and as such they don't work well together. Another pair is made up of old friends, and they have complementary skills. There are numerous quips made by each character for a variety of situations, and all the mercenaries are fairly well fleshed-out.
The graphics have held up pretty well, and despite some details that are lacking (for one thing, there's only one model for male and female mercenaries, with color being the only difference, and only occasionally at that) they still do the job. Sound is decent, with a wide variety of voices for the characters and some all-right background music.
This game is great, tactically, and has held up pretty well technically. It's definitely worth a try for any strategy-game fan. JA2: Gold also includes the expansion campaign (a shorter, more direct, less involved game) and a campaign editor. These add life to the game and some extra game time as well.
NOTE: Jagged Alliance 2 is now available via GameTap.