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Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Interplay
Developer: Sirtech
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Don't expect to be blown away by the graphics in Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business. The sprite-based characters move around on an isometric 3D map, standing or crouching or crawling. There's quite a bit of animation, in terms of character movement, but don't expect any of that new-fangled 3D stuff in JA2:UB. That's not to say it's an ugly game. I can't imagine playing this game in a 3D environment, to be honest -- there's just too much information to keep track of. But neither is it gorgeous. The interface is clean and well-done, however, which is good, as it's something you'll be looking at a whole lot as you play.

The sound in JA2:UB, on the other hand, is absolutely top-notch. Every character has voice-acting, most of it quite humourous, and oftentimes condescending as well. I imagine this is what a merc squad would sound like with the radio chatter -- if the squad talked at all, that is. It really adds flavour to the game when each character has their own little quips that they use as they run around the map, trying to get a good bead on a bad guy. And the weapons sound very nice, with each gun distinctive in its utterances. After playing for a while, you'll know when someone has a certain type of gun, and can change your strategy according to that knowledge. Good stuff.


And the core mechanics of Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business are 'good stuff' as well. There's nothing like a good squad-based strategy game to get my juices flowing (emphasis on good), and JA2:UB delivers heartily on that. There are a few issues, mainly the psychotic difficulty level, but for those who persevere, JA2:UB can be an extremely fulfilling experience.

Once again, you'll find yourself in a nonexistent small country helping someone with their 'problems'. These problems are of a paramilitary nature, of course, so in come the mercenaries. You get to pick your squad at the beginning of the game, which is quite cool, as you can choose the types of people who will work well together, and get a wide range of skills and abilities. And you can create a merc for yourself.

JA2: UB is decidedly more linear than the original JA2, consisting mostly of a series of battles and encounters, without the economic micromanagement that was in JA2. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it, but it's still plenty fun without all the 'tweakie' stuff. People also have single prices now, instead of regular salaries, and they come with weaponry, which is nice. Even if the weapons suck.

Most of the game takes place in tactical mode, which has your mercenaries running around a large map, trying to get good shots off at the bad guy. This tactical mode is extremely robust. You can take cover behind trees, rocks, and just about anything else you can think of. You can stand, kneel, or crawl, each one giving a different profile and accuracy of aiming. Each person has a certain number of AP, which work much like they did back in X-Com: UFO Defense. Certain actions always take a certain amount of time, whereas others cost certain numbers of AP. Getting used to the various costs of the game is integral to doing good, as oftentimes you'll need to squeeze every possible AP out of your turns.

The combat system is similarly robust. With tons of guns (and grenades and explosives and . . .), a targeting system that is highly configurable, and realistic aiming issues, it makes for a solid experience. After playing for a while, you can feel the tension in the air as your team trades shots with the bad guys by peeking up over the rocks, firing a few shots, and ducking back down. It's really a great feeling.

Unfortunately, many people may not be able to experience much of the great gameplay in JA2:UB due to the high difficulty level. More will be said later, but I doubt most could get through the first firefight without losing at least one merc. It's frightening how much stronger and better the other side is, and when you see battles with more than twice as many of them as you, you'll know the meaning of hell.

Good thing it's damned fun.


Hard, verging on impossible. Even on the easier settings, you'll find yourself scrambling for life. Anything higher and you'd better be prepared to creep-and-save like a crazy person if you want to get out of any firefight alive. The enemy outnumbers you, outguns you, and out-everything-elses you. The game is an exercise in attrition, and chances are it's one you're going to lose, over and over. It's difficult to the point of detracting from the game, which is sad. You can import characters from the first JA2, but the game ramps the difficulty level up when you do that to keep it . . . impossible.

Game Mechanics:

Controlling the game is simple, although there are a lot of keyboard shortcuts to remember (and some commands that can ONLY be done with the keyboard). Take the time to read the online help system, and read the excellent instruction book two or three times to really understand what's going on. The delete key's showing of safeties is usually the difference between life and death, for example, and someone who just jumps into the game and plays will not know how to do such things. The guns act realistically (I suppose; I've never fired most of the heavy artillery in this game), and the characters certainly do things that 'real mercs' would do. Not that I'd know, mind you. The menus are clear and easy to understand, and the interface gets good marks for putting the information that you need where you need it. You occasionally get characters too far off the top of the map to make it easy to move them, but a simple selection command can get them back and visible.

Despite its absurd difficulty curve, Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business is a great experience. Hard-core gamers need not apply -- it's a test of wills to get anywhere in this game -- but those willing to slug it out against insurmountable odds will have an excellent time with all your friends (and some new ones) from the Jagged Alliance universe. Just be prepared for much ranting at the monitor when you see some of the opposition put against you.

Then again, who said war was fair?

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x, P133, 32MB RAM, 280MB HD SPace, 12x CD-ROM, DirectX-compatible sound and video cards

Test System:

AMD K6-III 450 running Windows 98, 256 MB RAM, 6x/24x DVD-ROM, Sound Blaster Live!, Creative Labs TNT2 Ultra w/ 32 MB RAM

Windows Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter Windows Kingdom Under Fire

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated