Jagged Alliance 3 review: Pretty dang smooth, actually

Haemimont Games and THQ Nordic went all out to give Jagged Alliance a proper new chapter, but is this guerrilla warfare RPG a cause worth fighting for?

Image via Haemimont Games

I have been intrigued by the idea of Jagged Alliance 3 ever since THQ Nordic first showed it to us in 2021. I didn’t know what to think of developer Haemimont Games leading this project. I’m fond of their efforts on the Tropico franchise, but I wondered what they could do for Jagged Alliance, which was more of a tactical RPG with global resource management built in, not unlike XCOM before XCOM-likes were ever a thing. We’ve also been burned by bad entries in the series in the past. However, I was wrong to doubt. Not only is Jagged Alliance 3 both a solid return to form and excellent upgrade for this franchise, but it’s also easily my favorite strategy game I’ve played in years.

Welcome to Grand Chien

Jagged Alliance 3 takes players to the region of Grand Chien, which is a fictional country set in what seems to be African trappings. The country becomes de-stabilized when a ruthless military leader known only as The Major kidnaps the nation’s President and holds him hostage, intending to take control of the region with the help of his army known as The Legion. The President’s daughter manages to escape and reaches out to a mercenary organization with every bit of money she has left to help rescue her father, subdue The Major, drive out The Legion, and bring peace back to Grand Chien. That’s where you come in: Are you a bad enough dude to save the President?

That might be a little old-school and cringy, but so is Jagged Alliance 3, unabashedly so. At the very beginning, the game makes a point to let you know that it lampoons various elements of micro and macro politics, mercenaries, machismo, revolution, and guerrilla warfare, just as much as it works to make these things functional and fun in its gameplay. It’s a dire situation to be sure, but Haemimont handles the dark nuances of warfare in what I would say is a similar tempo to Wasteland 3, which is to say competently, but also with a dark and sometimes goofy sense of humor.

Don’t let the off-color nature of the game fool you, though. Jagged Alliance 3 is freaking beautiful. Whether your mercs are crawling through a jungle on your way to a war bunker repurposed as an enemy camp or wandering through a coastal town keeping the peace, nearly every map in Grand Chien is well designed and gorgeous to boot, with weather effects that not only add to the atmosphere, but the gameplay as well.

Jagged Alliance 3 choices gameplay

Source: Haemimont Games

It’s also an incredibly well-designed, choice-driven game. There are any number of actions you can take, from the mercenaries you hire, to the decisions you make with them, to who lives, who dies, and who gets away with delicious or devastating consequences to show for it. I’d dare say that it’s possible the way your campaign plays out in Jagged Alliance 3 has a strong chance of not being anything like the way I played it, which is great news for return trips and multiple runs through the game.

I think one of the more surprising aspects of Jagged Alliance 3 is just how decent the music is in exploration and combat. There’s a solid charm and jovialness when you’re taking your mercenaries through the less heated areas of the game, and it picks up and gets intense with the orchestra when it’s time to sling bullets and bombs. These days, it’s not often I can say that a strategy game’s music drew me in and kept my blood pumping as I plotted my next decision, but here we are and I love it.

Battle-hardened or bullet-riddled

I think gameplay is really going to be the great divider on Jagged Alliance 3. If you want to play the game as it was intended to be played, it’s a tough nut to crack, and almost relishes in the difficulty. Normal is the lowest difficulty you get and there are more unforgiving difficulties beyond it for the stalwart of heart. Don’t get me wrong, Haemimont seems to understand that not everyone wants to get their merc team pulverized in every engagement, so the developers added things like Forgiving Mode to ease the pain for those who just want to have a good time. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Jagged Alliance 3 plays out very similar to what players were doing in Jagged Alliance 1 and 2. You are a commander who contracts various mercenaries to build a team and move on Grand Chien. The game is split between two major interactive elements. First, there’s an “SAT View” map where you can see the situation with your enemies and the neutral locals and plan your team’s next move. You can also carry out operations like healing your team with a doctor, fixing your equipment with a mechanic, and training a local militia so small towns you’ve cut loose from Legion control can defend themselves from small attacks.

Tactical View in Jagged Alliance 3
Source: Haemimont Games

There’s also a “Tactical View” where you go down into an isometric overhead view of your actual mercenaries and the environment around them. This is where your battles and intimate interactions with enemies, friendlies, and neutral factions will take place. When exploring, you can do things like discover supplies, loot caches and bodies, discover side stories and situations, and engage in combat if you aren’t in a fight already. When combat takes place, the game shifts to a turn-based tactical RPG combat style. You’ll direct your mercs in and out of cover in the environment to use their weapons and abilities until they’re out of ability points (AP) and then pass the turn to the enemy forces to do the same.

What really made Jagged Alliance 3 stand out for me was just how much you can do inside and outside of combat, and part of that is in the variety of mercenaries you can hire. You can offer contracts to mercs ranging from newbies and recruits up to legendary soldiers of fortune. They range between specializations in firearm use, sharpshooting, strength, dexterity, explosive training, leadership, mechanical skill, medical proficiency, and more. However, each of them also has unique bits about them. For instance, Igor can pop a bit of booze in battle to increase his melee proficiency and survivability at the cost of firearm accuracy. Meanwhile, Grizzly is a heavy weapons expert and can fire a machine gun without having to set it up first.

These mercs also have personalities and recognition of one-another. I started my team with Kalyna as my sniper and she quickly amassed kill after kill to the point that Igor became enamored with her. At the same time, Mercs can come to hate each other. For instance, Fox and Steroid have no interest in working together and will vehemently ditch you if you hire one or the other. Learning the specialties, ins, outs, and temperaments of the mercs as I went through the game was a blast.

A snipe in Jagged Alliance 3
Source: Haemimont Games

Keeping them alive is a whole other beast. Jagged Alliance 3 can be quite cruel in ways that will make you go for your last save in a jiffy. There was a spot where I needed to disarm a mine to save a guy who had the unfortunate luck of standing on it. He was also surrounded by further mines I didn’t see until they crippled my team. That’s how I learned I should really have hired an explosives expert. Shots in combat can be terribly unfortunate as well. I can’t tell you how many times I took a shot from point blank range with a submachine gun only for the hail of bullets to miss my target entirely, and then the opponent blasted my merc to bits. That said, you can also twist the odds in your favor by using AP to increase your merc's aim. I loved that option and made tactical use of it frequently to secure a kill.

Even the small mistakes will punish you, too. Every time one of your mercs takes damage, they have a chance of being wounded. That reduces their max health and can’t be removed until a doctor does a Treat Wounds operation. That takes time you could be using to fight an enemy squad on its way to a village you saved or secure crucial income for your mercs. As mentioned, Jagged Alliance 3 does have some options to alleviate this. Forgiving Mode reduces the time it takes to heal your squad and repair their equipment. You can also change some other factors to make it all the easier. That said, it is, by default, an unforgiving game and you will likely have to lose a merc or a village along the way to a bittersweet victory.

Gear up and roll out

Disarming a mine field in Jagged Alliance 3
Source: Haemimont Games

I had my doubts about if Jagged Alliance 3 could really tap the joy I felt in commanding mercenaries back in Jagged Alliance 2. This is a series that predates most tactical strategy we know, but it’s had some bumps along the road. Jagged Alliance 3 can’t be counted among those bumps. It’s a proficient and beautiful return to form for this franchise with a wealth of options inside and outside combat. It’s also a tough game to overcome, but with all of the options at your disposal, finding your path through the breathtaking landscapes of Grand Chien should be an exciting and varied blast every time. I’ll have a hard time putting anything else in the strategy category above this when the year ends.

This review is based on a digital PC copy supplied by the publisher. Jagged Alliance 3 comes out on PC on July 14, 2023.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Review for
Jagged Alliance 3
  • Grand Chien is breathtakingly gorgeous
  • Wide variety of unique mercs
  • Vast options in and out of combat
  • Solid strategy between Tactical & Sat View
  • Aim function increasing hit chance is a godsend
  • Unabashedly difficult
  • The massive amount of options can be daunting
  • Missing shots at point blank is a gut punch
From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 13, 2023 6:00 AM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, Jagged Alliance 3 review: Pretty dang smooth, actually

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 6:02 AM

      Smooth…or double plus go0d?

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 6:02 AM


    • reply
      July 13, 2023 6:16 AM

      hell yeah!
      online coop as well

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 8:24 AM

      "not unlike X-Com before X-Com ever existed." Xcom came out in 94 and JA in 95. It's not a clone by any means, but there was influence.

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 8:56 AM

      Any word on Steam Deck support?

      • reply
        July 13, 2023 9:53 AM

        I wasn't able to test this because I don't have the hardware. Unfortunately not Steam Deck Verified on its page yet either. I'd check it again after launch tomorrow (July 14).

      • reply
        July 13, 2023 5:43 PM

        I feel like text on Steamdeck would be too hard to read and I'm not a fan of how the Steamdeck's shortcut to use the magnifier works. Too awkward.

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 9:20 AM

      I'm hyped! Between aliens and this and soon BG3 then shadow gambit it's a good time for isometric strategy

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 9:39 AM

      20% discount at Greenmangaming

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 10:05 AM

      How is the gamepad support??

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        July 13, 2023 12:19 PM

        I played a bit on an Xbox controller just to see and it felt good to me. I don't think it's my preference because there are so many commands and things you can do in this game, but I think it handles well enough and lets you do what you want to do for the most part if that's how you want to play.

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          July 13, 2023 4:00 PM

          Go0d to hear. Time to add this to my game flood hit list.

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 11:33 AM

      I'm kind of surprised by the "no blacks on the team" and "only one of six people in poster art are black" for a game set in Africa.
      I guess you get to murder a lot of black people though.

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        July 13, 2023 11:53 AM

        Ice Williams better be in there

        • reply
          July 13, 2023 12:13 PM

          He is. There are quite a few other black mercs as well, including some you can recruit directly from the campaign as opposed to the online merc catalogue. Only shame is there isn't one among the recruits, but it's still a pretty good spread of nationalities.

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      July 13, 2023 11:50 AM

      Whoah, didn't expect this one to turn out so good. What a pleasant surprise! Does the game show you the "percent chance to hit" on each shot? I recall an early RPS preview bemoaning that it wasn't shown, and that made the game unnecessarily frustrating.

      • reply
        July 13, 2023 12:15 PM

        It doesn't spell out the chance to hit with a number, but there is a bar underneath the crosshairs when you choose a target that signifies your odds of hitting. The characters will also tell you how they feel about their odds of a successful shot and there are tooltips that tell you when a body part is covered by armor and obstacles, or if their armor is broken. I felt I had enough info to make good decisions, even if they turned out bad.

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      July 13, 2023 12:31 PM

      Awesome, my body is ready!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am all pre - ordered and ready to roll once it unlocks on Steam!!!!!!!!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck :)

      I think it is cool they added a Forgiving Mode that should help out anyone that doesn't want to get their nipples squeezed LOL :)

      Tonight is going to own: 17 hours to go!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Thanks for the write up TJ , \m/ :) \m/ [ high five ]

    • reply
      July 13, 2023 5:45 PM

      JA2 is among my top greatest games of all time. Very replayable with how diverse the dialogue interactions worked. Hope they managed to replicate that here even just half of it.

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        July 13, 2023 5:52 PM

        They definitely brought back the unique dialogue between mercs. I'd love to play this game enough that I could chart out who has all the conversations. I was able to discover a handful in my time with the game.

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