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SummaryAn outstanding update of the original
The GoodJagged Alliance 2 takes the original Jagged Alliance and updates it with improved graphics, AI, bells and whistles, and everything else. If you're a fan of the original game, you'll feel right at home with the sequel (once you get used to the new interface, that is).
The gameplay is the same as the original: You guide a squad of mercenaries through a series of turn-based tactical combat missions. The updated game engine, however, provides exponentially more depth and variety than the original.
One of the interesting new developments is that you don't have the artificial time limit of playing only during the day. In the original game, your mercs hit the field at 5:00am and had to be finished by 5:00pm. In JA:2, you can play around the clock (assuming you have mercs available), and indeed some missions are particularly suited for night ops, using one or two stealthy mercs armed with knives and silenced pistols.
Your mercs also may have enhanced abilities with certain weapons or with non-combat skills. In the original Jagged Alliance, a skilled marksman was equally good with a pistol, a shotgun or an assault rifle. In JA:2, some of your mercs may be particularly adept with heavy weapons, or hand-to-hand combat, or night ops, etc. And they'll gain a bonus to their skill when the circumstances are appropriate. (Mercs with the Night Ops specialty, for example, see better in the dark than other mercs, and will therefore be more accurate with firearms.)
In addition to the combat aspects of the game, the non-combat "role playing" aspect has also been enhanced. The Jagged Alliance games have always touted themselves as "Role-playing Strategy" games. In the first game, the roleplaying was pretty limited, and mainly centered around the different personalities of your mercs. In JA:2, roleplaying has been enhanced by (A) the addition of a fully customizable merc that will join your squad for free; and (B) the ability to interact with NPCs, who can give you clues, quests, directions, misinformation, or simply background color.
In short, Jagged Alliance 2 is what a sequel should be: a game that captures the feel of the original game, but improves on the original to make a new, better game.
The BadMy only complaints about JA:2 center around the absence of some non-critical features of the first game. For example, the original Jagged Alliance had voiceovers for the item descriptions, done in this smooth, mellow DJ announcer voice (don't know how else to describe it). It added nothing whatsoever to the gameplay, but it was fun to click on items and hear the guy say "A 10-bullet box of .357 ammo." or "A medical kit. It's almost half empty!" This feature is sadly lacking from Jagged Alliance 2.
Also, it's obvious that the sequel decided to get Serious(tm). In the original Jagged Alliance, you had a lot of competent, no-nonsense mercs, but you also had a lot of mercs that were clearly placed there for humor value. Pops and Moses were old geezers, Raffi was the "doctor" with no medical ability whatsoever, Reuben was the psycho who killed his whole family with an electric hedge trimmer, Tex was the Japanese guy who wanted to be a cowboy, etc. (And some of these humorous mercs actually turned out to be useful. Tex, for example, wasn't too bad of a merc for the start of the game, and if you used him heavily, his skills improved along with his level, allowing him to keep pace with the increasingly more challenging missions.)
Alas, in JA:2, you find that the humorous mercs have all left the A.I.M. roster. No more Raffi. No more Sparky. No more Vinny. No more Tex. They've either left A.I.M. for greener pastures, or retired, or resigned, or gotten killed, or were forced out for conduct violations. Their replacements are all serious, no-nonsense mercs who emphasize competence at the expense of humor. Again, this isn't something that affects gameplay (in fact, it probably improves it some since you don't have to worry about being saddled with flakes like Reuben and Raffi), but it's still something I miss.