20 Years Later, ‘Jagged Alliance 2’ Remains an Irreplaceable Tactics Game

It’s been 20 years since Sir-Tech’s Jagged Alliance 2 came out and you would think, in all that time, someone would have copied its formula successfully. But despite the renaissance in great tactics games over the past several years, almost none of them have even attempted to mimic its tough, player-directed dynamic campaign. Lately I’ve started to wonder whether this is about a tough design challenge, or a deeper discomfort with making a game about the kind of guerilla insurgency that Jagged Alliance 2 captured so well.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mb88wa/20-years-later-jagged-alliance-2-remains-an-irreplaceable-tactics-game
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Called it

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This just reminds me that what I really want from XCOM 3 is a richer strategic layer that captures some of the elements touched on here. Somebody on BGG actually started drafting an XCOM/COIN variant which is extremely my jam… but I seem to be in the minority, as most fans really want a superhero RPG and not an asymmetric wargame.

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I wanna take another crack at this game. I installed the 1.13 mod, which was an awesome addition to the game, but I still found it incredibly hard for me.

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My first experience with this game was also with the 1.13 mod installed, which I think was what entirely ruined it for me. I thought it was just a sort of unofficial update such as a lot of old games have, but it turns out that the whole thing was geared towards people who’ve been playing this for 20 years and need it spiced up. I was pretty irritated to find that the path that the original developers intended, where you go towards that town with an airport first, is by default punished by a multi-stage battle that my little team was in no respect ready to fight. There’s a giant options menu where you can configure the kind of experience you want and turn that kind of thing off, I think, but as someone who had never played the game before I had very little frame of reference for what any of these options even meant.

The Drassen counter-attack is actually in the OG code, it was just disabled, presumably because it is super hard to survive. 1.13 will let you turn it off, and I’d highly recommend that.

Honestly I wouldn’t play 1.13 until you’ve beaten the release version at least once

Ah, okay. I did eventually get through it after a lot of save scumming, but it didn’t feel very good and I wasn’t really inclined to continue after that.

Now reinstalling sans 1.13.

The cover art is also amazing.

image

If I wanted to pick up Jagged Alliance 2 on Steam, which version should I get? Jagged Alliance 2 Gold suspiciously has no reviews…

JA2 Gold is the original + the original expansion pack (Unfinished Business) and it’s the one you should get. Jagged Alliance 2: Wildfire is a much later expansion pack that you don’t need.

Weirdly, it looks like it might be cheaper to buy Wildfire and then you can get basic JA2 as a “dlc” for wildfire, but I haven’t tried that. Shit gets weird twenty years on, I guess. (don’t do this, see below)

I have JA2 Gold on Steam and it works fine. No idea why there aren’t any reviews. I had to buy it because my disc is scratched up. That’s right, I’m old enough that I have it on disc.

Regarding 1.13: 1.13 is absolutely a fanpatch made for people who have played the original, and while it adds or fixes a lot of things that were not in the release, it also makes an already extremely fiddly '90s game even fiddlier. If that’s your thing, maybe try it, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessary. If you’re coming at JA2 from NuXCOM or something, the basic JA2 experience is going to be super fiddly for you as it is. You don’t need to remember to drop your backpack when you get into combat and spend time comparing even more kinds of guns.

General advice for New People playing JA2: Your mercenaries will grow and become more skilled as they do things, so don’t worry that you can’t afford the really expensive guys at the start. You will want to have someone with a Mechanical skill, and ideally a doctor, and maybe someone with good Leadership for training militia. You will be given a Medic on like the second map of the game, but she’s not great and it doesn’t hurt to have two medics.

It can be worthwhile to bring in one of the REALLY high-end mercenaries on a 1-day contract at the beginning of the game because you will get to keep their gear (as long as you pay them for it when you hire them), and weirdly the first part of JA2 can be harder than the midgame because it is An Endless Quest To Find Rifles.

Sniping is very powerful in this game

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JA2 Gold doesn’t have any Steam reviews because the publisher screwed up something to do with the store page and it’s impossible to leave a review. If I try Steam just says I’ve played it for 0 of the 5 required minutes, which isn’t true.

I’d say avoid the version of JA2 published by TopWare as DLC for Wildfire, even though it’s cheaper. It appears to lack the Unfinished Business expansion, and at one point they apparently distributed an “HD” DLC (for free, to be clear) that was just the 1.13 mod without the permission of the mod’s creators, which is rude as heck. Also TopWare is sleazy in general, with stories of fake reviews and cheating the developers of games they published. No reason to give them money when there’s an easy alternative from a different publisher. (Though I have no idea what’s going on with the dual publishing from an IP perspective.)

Finally: if you’re on Windows 10, JA2 will probably freeze on a black screen when you launch it. Just open the folder where it’s installed, find a file called “Intro.slf” in the Data folder, and rename it to something else. That’ll remove the opening logos but bypass the freeze. Aside from that it should work OK.

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