Discussing said mercs, these meat and potatoes main course of the players are the game’s biggest asset and downfall. One major change – I say for the better – is that mercs are now permanently hired. Once flown into Arulco, they remain on your side till they breathe their last. This is a bit of a blow for those who’ve previously played Jagged Alliance. See, in the past, troops had a regular, recurring upkeep cost. Fielding the best agents mean you had to have some serious cash flow from capturing (and somehow holding) most of the map already. It wasn’t impossible to hire the best, but it made playing them seem like a miracle goal, an almost-Godlike mercenary who would come in and show your current squad what a real man could do. With the day’s deed done and a city or fortress overthrown, these guys got paid and then went home, because you couldn’t afford to keep them on the roster. Now, such living legends will blithely follow till the anarchy is complete.
Why would I argue this is better? Mostly because of permanent death. Mercenaries in Jagged Alliance have just one life, and if they bite it, they bite it for good. Forgot to stock up on medkits to treat wounds? Dead man. One time, I failed to observe where the trajectory of a grenade was going. It rebounded off the wall and into my agents faces. Those guys are dead too. Have a merc fail a stealth check while trying to creep up on machine-gun toting baddies? We’ll send your ashes home to your family, son.
This is a startling concept for the current generation, hand-fed on regenerating health, grow-a-man vats and other such conveniences. Plenty of players, myself included while re-learning the ropes, are likely to charge headfirst with their mercs while learning the game. All that results are dead troops, an empty wallet, and a quick return to the main menu. A permanent roster makes the game more difficult, in a good way. As a player, one is far less likely to think kicking down the door and taking all comers is the only answer – and if it still is the answer several hours later for you then you’ve got a better sense of mouse clicking and blind luck than I do – and more likely to ponder and plan how best to lay out attacks. When mistakes happen and someone inevitably bites it, all the time spent training that soldier comes back to haunt right before hitting the quick-load button. It helps, then, that each merc is wonderfully cast.
Hiring new mercs is done in a realistically funny “Mercenary Internet” system players log on to, complete with biography’s and extra notes. Not all of the notes are exactly useful, but they certainly add flavour and character. A quasi-retro, blocky-textured head pops up when cold-calling to sign them up, but when they arrive, their in-game characters and portraits are top-notch. Heavy customizability even reflects on each character, useful in later levels when scouting out the enemy. Remember my mention on camouflage earlier? That’s part of the customization options available, with some crazy amounts of junk available to do just that. Fancy some cowboy boots? What about Adidas sneakers? Or sunglasses, for that one poor agent with poor eyesight? Put them on and watch both the in-game and portrait update appropriately. It helps that this works with enemies too, making it easy to spot how ugly firefights can possibly get.