Jagged Alliance has a storied history. It was an ambitious game back in the wild west of game design, where people didn't know what they couldn't do and so anything and everything was fair game. Some things worked well, others crashed and burned. And then there was stuff like Jagged Alliance: a little from column A, a little from column B.
On the surface, it's a pretty straightforward turn-based tactical shooter. We've seen a glut of them recently, from across the quality spectrum. Back when Jagged Alliance first reared its head there wasn't the surfeit of squad games that we have today. Sure, there were the well-received X-Com games in a similar vein, but that was about it. At its heart, the game wasn't really about individual combats so much as starting with nothing and slowly building up a functioning nation in rebellion against the enemy, getting supplies through a closely-guarded airfield and capturing useful assets from the enemy even as they increase the resources they chuck back at you. Combat was sometimes wonky, and micromanagement was very much the order of the day, but there was a certain magic to it that was ahead of its time.
Jagged Alliance: Rage takes this storied history and, by and large, ignores it. Sure, you have a couple of mercenaries and you have a world map, and a few patrols to fight, but beyond that, there's not much to really link the games. The map consists of featureless nodes and a few scattered missions.
Between the actual tactical play you get to move your team around as small squads of enemies close in on you. Once they reach you, you'll fight them on the same small uninteresting map. Occasionally, you'll find actual missions to do. Some of these maps are a little more interesting but the firefights themselves are crippled by some of the most bewilderingly bad AI I've ever played against. On one early mission, enemies in watchtowers studiously kept their backs to the action, gazing out in the jungle while I slowly shot them to death, one small caliber round in the back at a time. Later, I cleared around twenty enemies from a facility by using a sniper on a ledge, popping them one at a time with a high-powered scoped rifle. The enemies just kind of milled around like the proverbial fish in a barrel. Admittedly it was a pretty good vantage point. It was also about six feet from where I entered the level.
So tactical combat's a bust. Sure. But there was the other side of Jagged Alliance. The side where you took advantage of the buildings and locations you'd managed to liberate, amassing a stockpile of useful gear and contacts. That side of things has been brought low as well, with much of the game spent trying to fend off negative effects rather than play with new and cool toys. Wounds can get infected and weapons malfunction, and you will need to struggle through with the things you find in the tactical battles to help with this. Once you've left a map, you don't come back. So that cache of cool stuff is lost for good if you can't carry it at the exact moment you find it.
Speaking of inventory, once all of the enemies on a map are dead, you can 'remote loot' bodies from anywhere on the map - so long as you can see them. So you still need to move around (obeying the rules of the tactical battle system) to get close enough to find the stuff. The only reason why they'd use such a cumbersome system, as far as I can tell, is because it was already coded and available, and putting in a more user-friendly system would have delayed the game.
The music, splash screens, characters and weapons are dull and lifeless. Still, as soon as it starts, you get a pretty good idea of what's on offer. There's not much in the way of polish - Rage feels like a game that has access to a beloved name and rushes to market to make quick money off the Jagged Alliance name with the least amount of work.
I'm really struggling to find anything good to say about Jagged Alliance: Rage, other than that its name is appropriate. I suppose the stealth mechanic sort of works, although even there occasionally your sneaky work can be ruined by a patrolling soldier somehow glitching and eternally clambering on and off a rock instead of completing his route. Each playable character has a background trait that is supposed to play out as a weakness but that you rarely notice in play. The characters you choose to play seem irritated by one another, and by everything going on around them all the time. I've got to say, I think it's pretty understandable.