Reviewed on PC
Jagged Alliance is a well-known series for those who are deeply in love with the turn-based tactics genre. It’s a franchise, like many, that peaked in the late 90s and has seen its fair share of turmoil ever since. Even the 2010 remake of the fan favourite Jagged Alliance 2, dubbed Jagged Alliance: Back in Action, struggled to get more than a passable response. Jagged Alliance: Rage is the latest attempt at reviving the series and aims to bring a tired franchise back to its former glory. Unfortunately, though, I can’t say it succeeds.
At its core, Rage is a dumbed down experience in comparison to its predecessors. The maps are far smaller than prior games in the series and you only get to pick from six playable characters with direct control over two of them. Playing a tactics game but only having to manage two people leads to one of two outcomes most of the time. Even the options are simplified with no rebindable controls to be found in a 2018 game release -that’s poor.
Rage can’t even muster up the courage to introduce some variety in its level design. Either, the stage is set up in such a way that just stealthing your way through it is very easy or the enemies are very clustered, and it becomes an RNG shoot off against twenty enemy soldiers. The stealth side of the game can be pretty fun once it puts the focus of positioning sense and scouting. The moment I had to actually use a gun though I just felt I was getting less of an experience. As you progress through the game and get better weapons is does feel a little more satisfying but still falls well short of its stealth counterpart.
Jagged Alliance: Rage offers a nice challenge whilst not feeling unfair most of the time. Early stages are very boring but later on, your method of approach and resource management becomes essential for success. Ammo, in particular, is difficult to come by and I found myself often swapping weapons out between every kill. It evokes a feeling of genuine danger as you need to put a lot of thought into each and every move.
Outside of resource management, the in-between combat segments are boring. Rage sticks with its turn-based system even when not engaged which results in a clunky movement system of clicking where you want to go and then waiting for the turn to end over and over. When trying to reposition or scout, this is very frustrating. On some maps, the enemy will have set movement patterns for every turn and you just have to wait for them to stop walking around before you get to play again. It completely ruins the flow and feels entirely unnecessary. Rage would have benefited a lot from having a fluid live movement system coupled with the existing turn-based combat.
The new rage abilities are not a feature I am overly fond of. The principle behind taking damage, building up adrenaline and then getting a tasty power up to help you turn the tides sounds okay on paper. However, when playing stealthy, arguably the most efficient way to play, these abilities are never charged. The few times I did get to use them I was left very disappointed too. For Raven, the sniper focused character, it’s pretty much just a generic buff to accuracy. Some others like Shadowwalk that effectively grant you invisibility can be more interesting but none of them redefine the overall experience. They are just things you get occasionally that make a select mission a little easier. I’d have liked to have seen a little more ambition for what the power-ups did as well as make it more viable for stealthy play styles to earn them regularly.
Not to focus too heavily on just the negatives, Rage has a fair bit going for it too. Fanservice is plentiful with a tonne of classic Jagged Alliance characters returning. The voice acting is great with interactions between characters being a real focal point of the story. It does take a little too long for the story to get going but once it does it’s a damn good narrative to get sucked into. I won’t spoil it here but just know that Cliffhanger Productions have the right to be proud of this. Many have critiqued the visuals as cartoony, but I actually found them to be charming and unique. It gives the series a staple appearance which the originals never really had.
At the end of the day, Rage is a relatively well functioning tactics game albeit an overly simple one. There’s likely value in it being an introductory title for the tactics genre as its so easy to get in to. It falls well short of other competitors on Steam such as XCOM, Total War and Disgaea but still offers a good enough experience to recommend on a sale. If it can receive modding support anywhere near the level of the original Jagged Alliance games, Rage should have a promising future ahead of it. Right now though for its full retail price? I’m going to say give it a pass.