Preview - Jagged Alliance (DOS, 1995)

Ready for a really sappy story? No, I'm not kidding. The entire plot of Sir Tech's Jagged Alliance revolves around the vital fluid of a tree. This tree only grows on the island of Metavira, a former nuclear testing site. All that radiation has long since died away, but at the time it created an amazing mutation of the local flora. One particular kind of tree now has a toxic sap which can be refined into a "wonder drug" that can cure a degenerative children's disease. Miracles can only go so far, however. This is the last generation of those trees, since the same radiation that transformed their sap has rendered them seedless.

So Metavira became host to a scientific research station devoted to finding the most efficient way to take advantage of this sap while it's still around. The bulk of the research is performed by the beautiful Brenda Richards and her father Jack, in the hopes of making the world a healthier place. But another researcher, Lucas Santino, sees things from a very different perspective. This one-of-a-kind substance would obviously be very valuable to whoever controlled it. It's that whole Dune/Spice thing. So, calling in a few favors, Santino hires a small army of mercenaries and takes over the majority of the island.

The Richards have managed to cling to one small portion of the land, and, in desperation, seek out your services. You have connections with the Association of International Mercenaries (AIM). Though violence is not to their taste, the Richards have given you the resources to enlist a force of up to eight mercenaries to take back the island for the good of sick children everywhere (I told you it was sappy).

If the story seems a tad melodramatic, rest assured that it's only the tip of the iceberg. It's not the story, but the remarkable design details that will make Jagged Alliance stand out as a game. While much of the gameplay involves strategy, there are strong role-playing elements as well. Your small troop of mercenaries is chosen from a pool of sixty AIM members. Every one of these characters has his or her own specialties of operation. That's not terribly unusual, but they also have very distinct personalities that affect how they operate, even under your "expert" leadership. Some folks have cowardly tendencies, while others may fly into a bloodlusting frenzy in combat. These attitudes are also displayed through some excellent voice acting. In fact, the digitized speech is one of the most remarkable aspects of this game.

These personalities also mean that you won't necessarily be able to hire everyone you want right off the bat. An experienced specialist would certainly be helpful in a mission as complicated as this, but he probably won't want to waste his time with someone as inexperienced as you are. Eventually, you will score enough victories to calm their apprehensions. And don't worry about letting them know. If you catch their attention, they'll be in touch.

While your ultimate goal is regaining control of the island, there are any number of steps along the way to achieving it. In fact, the non-linear structure of Jagged Alliance means that you may be able to skip some steps if you do well enough on a task. The circumstances may change drastically depending on your strategy. This variable is also affected by the skills and techniques of your party members. So, while there is only one overall mission, there should be tremendous replay value, with every game being very different from the last.

With a volatile situation like this one, you just know there's going to be some blood spilled. Combat in Jagged Alliance is mostly handled in real time, but there are obviously too many characters involved for you to handle all at once. You can either set your team so that they ask you for instructions when they encounter the enemy, you can have them automatically shoot to kill on sight, or you can opt for a step or two in between. When a party member asks for orders, time is frozen until you respond, then you're back to real time.

The game is enhanced by a strong cinematic element. The cut scenes capture the atmosphere of a Rambo film. You get to see your helicopter swoop in toward the island, dramatic close-ups of the villain, and lots more.

Jagged Alliance will definitely not just be another "dry" strategy game. Between the strong character personalities and voices, the non-linear design, and the combination of real-time and phased combat, you may never have to rent a Stallone movie again.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser