Jagged Alliance 3 – The Real Expendables

REVIEW – In 1995, I triumphed in an extremely tough and long campaign in Jagged Alliance, but the challenges of 27 years ago didn’t prepare me for the failure that has now befallen me. A combination of bad luck, hubris, expiring mercenary contracts and enemy mortar fire ended a 25-hour campaign with little chance of recovery. I’m not even angry – it was a spectacular last stand. I know what I did wrong. I’ll start again, I’ll hire a new team. This time it will be different.



While XCOM has become synonymous with squad tactics, I’ve always loved Madlabs Studio’s 1995 gem Jagged Alliance, but never cared for UFOs, leaving that to Attila Pataki. A heady mix of tactical shooting, strategic mercenary management and RPG dialogue, side missions and looting. It was also hard as hell, but frustration was minimized by the learnable depth of combat and a loose, fun style halfway between A-Team and Commando, reminiscent of action movies of the era.

So far, no one has been able to recapture that spark, somehow, none of the sequels have for me. Fortunately for Tropico developers Haemimont Games, they’ve now got me back in my commando chinos and picking up the good old AK 47 – virtually, of course. While team tactics may not be their usual territory, I’m pleased to say that Jagged Alliance 3 modernizes and simplifies the game while still capturing the spirit of the original. Picking up a few years after the 90s original, JA3 takes place in the former fictional French African colony of Grand Chien (Big Dog in English), rich in diamond mines and opportunists. A local warlord has kidnapped Grand Chien’s president, and his daughter wants you to lead a ragtag team of commandos from all over the place to free him, and perhaps the country. Unfortunately, with only $40,000 in your pocket, you’ll need to recruit some real pros, but most of them are real suckers.



These are the real expendables


Most of JA2’s mercenaries return here, along with a handful of newcomers, giving you a multi-ethnic team to choose from. While the jokey tone and scene-setting performances may put some off, I found it an integral part of the experience and laughed a lot. Unlike your average tactical game, each mercenary is a fully fleshed out character, with around 36 available to hire and a few more to pick up in the field. Some are professionals, some are idiots, and almost all are likeable.

While the new voice actors have impressively nailed the recurring characters, I also liked the newcomers. Especially Leili ‘Livewire’ Idrisi, the cheerful young Pakistani engineer. She’s good at repairing equipment, offering people snacks on long journeys and even hacking devices with her unique PDA, so she’s a real treasure to have on the team.

Each character has a lot of dialogue, both in and out of combat, often interrupting conversations with NPCs. Some of them have friends and rivals to joke and argue with, and with 4-6 of them in a squad, there are enough of them to play through the campaign over and over again with completely different squads.



Inglorious Basterds – with different abilities


Combat in JA3 brings back both the more complex approach of its great predecessor and the more transparent battlefields and systems of modern XCOM. Movement is now Action Point based, influenced by agility stats, morale, rest levels and other factors, but visually intuitive. The movement grid shows a ‘blue’ movement radius from which you have enough AP to fire. If you’ve played a modern tactical game, it’s easy to get into and understand, but it’s still far from certain that you’ll hit and take out the bad guys.

Just like in the real world, each projectile is a physical object that leaves the barrel of the gun and travels towards a target. If it hits something along the way (a rock, a wall, a passerby), it does damage. There are no hit percentages, just a crosshair on the target, and the hit is based on equipment and stats. Spending extra action points on aiming tightens it up (a flashing yellow thread cross means you’re almost certain to hit), which gives the combat a naturally intuitive feel.

Cover will stop bullets unless it breaks, but dangling limbs can still be hit by a stray bullet, or you can target them one at a time. Head shots are deadly, arm shots reduce accuracy, and leg shots slow you down. A stray bullet can cause a lot of trouble, so move carefully and make sure everyone is behind cover. Armour helps, but it also wears out, forcing you to spend valuable time between battles assigning competent mercenaries to repair jobs.

Each mercenary now has a unique set of skills – some passive (Hungarian engineer Barry Unger makes custom-shaped bombs), some active (Russian Yuri Omryn’s 360-degree defensive ability) – giving each party different combat options. Each type of weapon also has an advantage. SMGs scatter bullets defensively on the move, machine guns dig in for precise defence, and so on. There’s less micromanagement in combat and more tactical options, which gives JA3 its own unique feel.



Explore Grand Chien!


What really sets Jagged Alliance 3 apart from its predecessors are the different levels of strategy and RPG play. Grand Chien is an explorable open world with towns full of mostly French-accented NPCs, many with side missions. There are diamond mines to conquer for revenue, fortresses to jump troops into to reclaim territory, ports for faster water transport and other strategic concerns. On the map, mercenaries can spend time healing each other, training local militias (adding allied soldiers to areas to defend), making ammunition, repairing equipment and modifying weapons with parts from dismantling surplus weapons.

It’s hard to know what to do at first, and you can only really learn once you get the hang of it. Although the campaign is long and non-linear, enemy aggression gradually increases over time, story events can force you into battles you weren’t expecting, and the amount of things to do can leave you short on cash and ammo. While it’s relatively easy to replace lost mercenaries, too many setbacks can lead to a deadly spiral. It’s potentially frustrating, but every time I play the game I learn a little more, so the depth of the game is first rate.

One area where JA3 stands out from its predecessors is the world map. Each square of the map is a customised battleground, often with underground areas and loot to be found. There are plenty of interesting location hearts, and the maps are full of notes from scouting or intelligence gathering, marking out vantage points or patrol routes. This gives Grand Chien the feel of a country rather than the abstract fictional battlefield of previous episodes. In addition, the game’s graphics are very fair, even if they won’t sweat modern graphics cards or new generation consoles. The battlefields are detailed and beautifully lit, the weather and time of day look great and have a statistical effect on combat.



Difficulty and problematic gameplay elements


Even on normal difficulty, Jagged Alliance 3 is complex and challenging, and overconfidence and underfunding can stifle progress. The enemies aren’t particularly clever (they’re just ordinary, stupid criminals, after all), but a single sniper or explosion can be fatal to a mercenary, and they’re almost always outnumbered. For the more masochistic, there’s a toggle to turn on Ironman mode, and mercenaries will simply drop dead at zero health instead of being healed.

Serious difficulty or not, there are a few areas where JA3 falls short of its predecessor. The retro Internet that you could browse in the first game has been greatly simplified here, with cutesy elements like life insurance purchase, the mercenary obituary page, and other bits and pieces sadly gone. The Institute For Mercenary Profiling (IMP) site is still up and running, and if you complete the quirky personality quiz you can create a (completely optional) custom character.

Another issue is the interface in general. I often found the tooltips and stat blocks in combat to be obtrusively cluttered, making me wish they were half as big. The same goes for the inventory screens, where you have to scroll through your mercenary’s extremely detailed backpacks and hideouts, with no automatic sorting or tidying options. It’s unnecessarily overcomplicated and makes it difficult to keep track of your entire squad’s gear.

While the battlefields are beautiful, and each mercenary has a separate armor model (unaffected by the armor worn), there are a few areas where it’s clear that this is not a AAA production. The character animations are a bit stiff (especially the animations you see during rifle wounds and explosions), and the blood effects look a bit cheap, the blood looking more like someone painted the wounded characters bright red. It’s a small thing, but other recent games have done this better.

These flaws take some of the shine off this otherwise excellent strategy RPG, but only enough to downgrade it to a strong recommendation for veterans of the genre. Haemimont promised extensive mod support shortly after release, allowing players to create new maps, characters, equipment, and even new storylines. By the time I finish this campaign, I’ll have even more battles to fight – I can’t wait.



+ The combat system is deep but easy to learn and supports a variety of playstyles
+ Mercenaries have unique personalities and abilities, and many return from previous installments.
+ The strategic layer is challenging and gives you many opportunities to equip, train and occupy territory


– The game is sometimes a bit too complex and too difficult
– The graphics are not the most modern and some locations can look boring
– The user interface could be better

Publisher: THQ Nordic

Developer: Haemimont Gamesp

Style: Fantasy Tactical RPG

Release: July 14, 2023.

Jagged Alliance 3

Gameplay - 8.2
Graphics - 7.2
Story - 8.4
Music/Audio - 8.5
Ambiance - 8.8



Jagged Alliance 3 is a tactical role-playing game in which you control an international group of mercenaries who must liberate an African country from the clutches of an evil warlord. We fight exciting battles in a turn-based mode as we develop our team and expand our influence. The style of the game is reminiscent of 90's action movies, spiced with humor and nostalgia.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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