22 Jun 2009

Jagged Alliance 2: Isometric Masterpiece - The Setup


The most important thing for me to do before firing up the old girl was to give the game a quick injection of life from the community-made 1.13 patch. This is important because, unless your computer hardware hasn't received an update since the late nineties, you'll be working at a resolution much higher than the game's native 640x480 humongo-pixel res. Of course, graphics aren't everything, but it's nice to make use of an available visual upgrade and the wider perspective means much less scrolling when it comes to commanding troops on the battlefield.

Both the mod and its subsequent update are available from the game's wiki here and if you're having any problems getting it installed it's probably worth popping over to The Bear's Pit Forums - a Jagged Alliance community that is very much alive and kicking - for a bit of friendly advice.

Adjustable resolutions aren't the only improvements with this mod, but the hundreds of actual tweaks and add-ins are far too numerous to summarise here. In short, the AI has been improved, the inventory system has had an overhaul, a bazillion new weapons and items have been added and several experience-altering settings have been changed. Ah, yes. As I found out to my detriment, it's best not to play 1.13 straight out of the box as it were. several significant changes have been made that could result in you getting your arse handed to you and your game ruined very early on, no matter what difficulty setting you play on.

For info on what changes you might like to make, head to the mod folder on your hard-drive and open the .ini file for comprehensive instructions on which setting does what bad thing. For me, because I'd like to use varied tactics rather than put my back to the wall and shoot eighty grunts as they sidle through a doorway, I'm basically reverting to the vanilla style of play, but with the extra variety. Sure, I may get criticised for being ball-less, but at least I'll have fun. After all, this is a story-telling exercise, not a test of nerd-skillz.


The first thing you'll notice when starting the game proper is that Jagged Alliance 2 uses a mock-up of a laptop as your main control centre. It's an excellent narrative device that solidifies your role as the contractor tasked with organising and overseeing the entire operation. From this screen you're able to search the internet for guns or mercenaries, check your emails and keep track of your financial situation. It also provides a wealth of information on your mission and updates as you explore the game world, displaying tidbits of information about places or people and offering up several plot details that you may not pick up from simply observing cutscenes or having conversations with NPCs in the game. Most of all, it's always a giggle to work on a virtual computer within a virtual world. Even the in-game web pages take long enough to load for you to realise that JA2 was released several years before the word 'broadband' came into common usage.

And so, from this screen, I check through all my emails. There's a list of ones already opened from Enrico Chivaldori - my employer - that outline the proceedings so far, but the one I'm really interested in is the unread mail at the bottom. It's from I.M.P., the Institute for Mercenary Profiling. Using the activation code contained within I'm able to get onto their website and into what most people will recognise as a standard RPG character creator. Before patch 1.13 you were required to endure a ludicrously macho quiz that would supposedly tailor your merc's attributes to the answers you gave, but it was so woefully obtuse that it seems to have been thrown out of the window in favour of common sense by the current mod - thankfully.

From here I'm able to personalize a guy or gal to lead my soon-to-be bunch of hopefuls. Name, face, voice, stats and special skills are mine for the choosing. Anyway, here's what I came up with after a few minutes of tinkering:

NAME: Cassandra "Flinch" Morley

STRENGTHS: Shooting, mainly.

INFO: I'm not sure why I decided that the nickname 'Flinch' would be appropriate for a hardened killer, but I'd like to think that deep down inside it's due to an aversion that she has to loud noises such as, say, gunfire. Regardless of this possible flaw that I just made up, she certainly has enough strength and agility to lug herself across miles of rough terrain and rather fancies herself in camouflage make-up.

So there she is, my Boadicea, my woman of war. Leader of men and killer of, er... other men. At the moment I'll admit she's lacking in certain areas, but after offing a decent proportion of the military populace of Arulco I'm pretty sure she'll scrub up nicely. Anyway, she'll have the support of her team at hand, which brings me on to the next bit...


So this is the point at which I consider planning a well-rounded team with which to carry out my courageous liberation of the aforementioned third-world state. My method of accessing such files is the handily bookmarked A.I.M. recruitment website. Within this system is a selection of forty mercenaries that you can pick and choose, depending on ability and price and so on...

Playing the game on experienced skill allows me a starting fund of $35,000. This is about enough to bag me a five-man team of low-to-averagely skilled mercs. Usually I'd make a point of picking a medic, a sharpshooter, an explosives expert, etc., but from experience I know that the initial battles can be long and frustrating if you lack anyone who's able to hit the side of a barn from three feet. Therefore my focus here is on firepower and strength. I spent some extra cash that restricted me to only three more mercs, but I think you'll agree is was worth it:
NAME: Bobby 'Steroid' Gontalski

STRENGTHS: Er, strength. This man could break a crowbar in half with his forehead. He's a decent shooter and mechanic to boot. Also, his excellent one-liners could kill a man dead.

INFO: An ex-firefighter, Steroid is used to getting hot and sweaty. He practically channels Arnie through his words, brute force and numb-headedness.
NAME: Louisa 'Buzz' Garneau

STRENGTHS: Buzz is a sharpshooter through and through and her inherent wisdom means she'll be quick to learn in the few areas that she lacks skill.

INFO: Not only is Buzz brash and ballsy but she's also a militant feminist. She hates men to a point that makes me worried she won't think twice about backstabbing the two males in the group if they fall out of line. Meh. I'll take that chance.
NAME: J.P. 'La Malice' Viau

STRENGTHS: The ability to offend the entire French nation.

INFO: I couldn't not pick La Malice after he's seemingly gained his entire knowledge of the French language from watching re-runs of 'Allo 'Allo!. I'm not entirely sure what his skills are, but my faith lies in the possibility that his absurd racial stereotyping may win the hearts and minds of any foe he encounters. Seriously, he pronounces the word 'oui', 'ooo-aye' . Sold.


So, the squad is picked, the scene is set and the game has just begun. Soon enough I'll see how these mercs fare on the battlefield...

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