Jagged Alliance 3


Review by · August 1, 2023

I’d only played the first Jagged Alliance before 2023, though I knew the second game was reputedly one of the great tactical games, especially for the PC. So, I figured I should give it a spin. Even for a game from 1999 that looks its age, the high level of quality is apparent. I was excited to dig deep into that world of espionage and intrigue. The characters’ personalities are as explosive as the grenades on their belt. The expansive open world puts modern games to shame with the level of freedom and detail. There’s much to live up to for a sequel coming 24 years later. Jagged Alliance 3 gets the gang back together, but does it still have what it takes to get the job done, or is it time to hang ’em up?

Thankfully, it’s still got it. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves rescuing the president of Grand Chien, a fictional African country, who’s been abducted by someone known only as The Major. His daughter contacts and contracts you to take on that mission, and you must employ crews of mercenaries through the AIM organization’s website to do your dirty work for you. There’s an entire nation between your team and the prez, so who knows what you’ll encounter during your journey? Jagged Alliance 3 is a highly detailed tactical RPG that provides plenty of freedom, giving you a specific quest to complete but letting you roam freely as you work toward your ultimate goal. Your choices begin with your first hires from the dozens of mercs available. I got my first taste of the wildness of Jagged Alliance 3 when I was flatly turned down by elite operative Ron “Raider” Higgins because I had already contracted Frank “Hitman” Hennessy, who, in Raider’s words, is a “scumbag.” That’s just one small example of how reactive the game is and how the many elements of Jagged Alliance 3 interact.

Combat takes place in Jagged Alliance 3, with the scout option selected.
Where should you shoot them? You have options.

Jagged Alliance 3 features a colorful and diverse cast of characters, many of whom return from Jagged Alliance 2, covering all the archetypes of spy and action story heroes. From their bio blurbs to the tremendous voice acting and hilarious interactions between them, the sheer amount of personality can barely be contained in one game. Whether you follow the story of wide-eyed Dr. Michael “MD” Dawson, who just wants to pay his school bills, or the elusive “retired” veteran Gus Tarballs with his bad knee, it’s easy to want to hire all of them to see what they’re all about. They’re all so endearing that I was concerned about possibly getting them killed, or worse, that I’d upset them so much that I’d essentially be dead to them, both of which can and did happen to me.

A ton of effort went into making Grand Chien and the people in and around it convincingly real. Jagged Alliance 3’s mercs have all been around and know each other, and this comes out in conversation when they’re together in a squad. If you manage to get Raider, his wife Charlene “Raven” Higgins, and Hitman onto the same team, you’ll gain insight into why Raider refers to Hitman as “scumbag.” Each merc also has unique responses in conversations with NPCs, making them stand out even more as individuals. Some events, sometimes world-changing, pop up regardless of what you’re doing at the time. As this is a modern RPG, you need to make narrative choices occasionally, which can shake up your situation significantly.

A portion of these choices are in conversations, and your decisions often mean life or death for somebody. Other situations come up on the overworld map where you must be in a specific sector within a deadline or risk a situation deteriorating or even a potential recruit dying. There’s an overall feeling that this is a living world that keeps going whether or not you take part in it, which is rare for even the best of open-world games. As lively as the mercs are, NPCs are just as fascinating and full of life. Every corner of this world is richly inviting and ripe for exploration. This is a mercs’ world, and though outside forces are vying for the soul of Grand Chien, the ones doing the work on the ground tend to be mercs. It’s just a matter of who’s paying them and what the right price is. Money’s the root of all evil and all that.

Then, there’s the combat, which also largely excels. If you’ve played a modern tactical shooter since XCOM: Enemy Unknown from 2012, you have a firm grasp of Jagged Alliance 3’s turn-based battles and cover system, though this game packs much more detail than its peers. The action points system offers a nice level of freedom in spending your turns. Being able to target various enemy body parts, which comes with advantages and drawbacks, provides an extra layer of strategy. You’re shown factors that affect your attacks, but that’s never expressed as a simple percentage, so you must use common sense to decide whether it’s a good idea.

The explosive ordnance can cause wonderful mayhem, like blowing away parts of buildings or setting off flammable elements in the area. The wide variety of guns and explosives all behave differently, with different ranges, types of ammo, and propensity to jam, so there’s plenty to test out. The spaces you fight in are nicely varied, as you’ll be fighting in a crowded town one day and a nasty swamp with hostile crocodiles the next. Trying to find shelter moving between buildings or around a dilapidated old military base presents unique challenges. Enemies’ AI is generally savvy, as they’re pretty good at trapping you in open spaces and taking away chances for cover, so they’ll put up a good fight. However, NPC allies often behave recklessly, accidentally shooting each other or getting stuck climbing up and down ladders repeatedly, making them as good as dead as soon as they appear.

A character speaks in Jagged Alliance 3.
Deedee, a delightful child who loves planting landmines all over the place, is just one of Grand Chien’s colorful residents.

The overworld portion of Jagged Alliance 3 is effective in the right ways. The Grand Chien map is divided into square sectors you travel through as you make your way across the country. Each sector could contain lurking enemies or an endless stream of optional diversions. Attractions include densely populated towns or old bunkers filled with treasures (and more enemies). Even sectors that appear empty are typically hiding valuables. The populated areas are packed full of characters with jobs or information on tap. Most places are drenched in stories that can send you rushing to the other side of the country and back to complete them.

While you must manage your team’s funds, you don’t need an MBA to understand finances in Jagged Alliance 3: simply spend less than you’re taking in. But securing income is up to you, and as you start with none apart from a modest startup chest, it quickly becomes imperative for you to make money. I found the management aspect enjoyable, especially deciding which mercs were the right fit for my current situation, but simple enough that the focus rightly stays on the story and action. I felt like James Bond’s M when I would get into a time crunch and pull from all of my resources to hire all the mercs I could afford in a desperate attempt to complete an unlikely operation… and then pull it off. So, the overall strategy layer is still meaty enough to be satisfying.

Jagged Alliance 3‘s environments are vast, gorgeous, and varied. Town areas are populated with buildings and a hive of civilians walking in every direction, whom you must avoid shooting by accident. Unpopulated areas, like swamps, jungles, or deserts, look appropriately uncomfortable. There’s so much detail packed into every space, like tables covered in fish at the harbor areas, sniper towers at bases, and water that looks beautiful at the beach or fetid in a swamp. It’s affirming to watch a crowd of civilians slowly trickle back into a town that you’ve liberated. Individual characters are a step down visually. In the field, they’re recognizable from their beautifully detailed portraits but don’t carry the same detail from the camera’s bird’s-eye view. Some of the enemies look almost plastic at times.

A map is shown in Jagged Alliance 3, with a small section of the coast and the "Taking Down The Major" objective highlighted.
There’s a lot of ground to cover; you’d best get a move on.

Jagged Alliance 3’s audio is a treat. The voice acting for every character matches their massive personalities, and even the quieter characters are equally intriguing. The soundtrack is similarly excellent. The selection of African-inspired music that typically plays after you rid a town of enemies is a gorgeous display of the continent’s wonderful diversity not commonly found in Western media. The sounds include heavily percussive polyrhythmic tracks, sweeping vocal melodies, and acapella harmonies, each style native to different countries, though my only expertise in this area comes from Wikipedia.

On the other hand, I can’t gush about the controls. You wouldn’t think a game played almost entirely via mouse would have so many issues. It’s too easy to accidentally place your mercs horribly out of position when you’re trying to do something else like take a shot, instead leaving them vulnerable to being decimated by enemies. Save scumming will likely ensue for many.

Overall, Jagged Alliance 3 is an impressive and endlessly entertaining production that not only revives an old series but does it justice in a more modern style. The story and characters make for another compelling entry in the series. Grand Chien is wholly believable as a vibrant nation, even though it’s non-existent. Combat is expertly converted to a 3-D environment, and there are so many strategic layers that it’s good to the last drop for the 50-ish hours it should take to complete. It’s easy to see how players could return time and again to check out all of the mercs and challenge themselves to level up the weaker ones. Haemimont Games wrung all the fun they could out of this system and served it up on a diamond-crusted platter. Jagged Alliance 3 gets the job done and even throws in a little extra. I love it when a plan comes together.


Characters bursting with personality, sense of a living world, myriad of combat options, richly detailed overall strategy.


Inexplicably problematic mouse controls, NPC allies' artificial unintelligence.

Bottom Line

A legendary, ancient series is back and better than ever with more firepower and personality than Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Daniel Craig rolled into one.

Overall Score 94
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Abraham Kobylanski

Abraham Kobylanski

Abe's love for RPGs began when picked up Earthbound for the SNES in 1995, and it hasn't gone out since. He grew up with the classic 16-bit RPGs, like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasies, though he's gravitated more toward Western and Strategy RPGs lately. His passion for the genre was especially reinvigorated in the past few years with amazing games like FFVII:R, Persona 5 and Yakuza: LAD. He's always on the hunt for cool, smaller obscure games as well.