Reinstall: Jagged Alliance 2

Evan Lahti at

All that detail is by design: building an ambidextrous lady-assassin feels like it was my idea, not the developer’s. And those choices feel honored by the game when you’re in a gunfight with sim-like—but unintimidating—nuance to its combat system.

Moving my mercenaries around the country map, I encounter a random enemy patrol in Omerta. I bunker up in a withered shack at the center of the village, delicately arranging my mercs to cover windows and doorways on opposite walls, giving a clear view of the perimeter. My plan: pick off an enemy or two that wanders too close, and wait for the sound of gunfire to draw the rest to my easily-defended position. But suddenly, an enemy skullshots my scout, Marty McFly. He’s critically wounded and bleeding out, but I need to deal with the tank-topped jerk that shot him before I can help him.

I drop Marty to a prone position at the windowsill, and turn my sniper, Sheila “Scope” Sterling, to fire over Marty’s shoulder. Her weapon jams—and because Sheila’s mechanical skill is so low, it’ll likely take several turns to fix. My medic is busy bandaging Marty. What are my options?

I try the stupidest tactic possible: I sprint my explosives guru, Fidel, out the backdoor and through the grass toward the enemy sniper. A hail of bullets catch him, but he retains enough HP to reach the edge of the house the enemy’s firing from. I place his C1 explosive at the perimeter, then run him away on the next turn and detonate the bomb from a safe range, breaking the wall and obliterating the shooter behind it.

Like other excellent TRPGs (Fallout, Dragon Age) JA2 isn’t afraid to make freedom (including the freedom to fail) a key trait of its combat system. Almost all the fighting you’ll do is unscripted. Heroics arise from planning, improvisation and a little luck. The fact that an automatic weapon can accidentally fire more rounds than you intended—as an interaction between the gun and your character—is such a sweet, surprising nuance.

The other side of that coin, of course, are the grueling, random situations you stumble into: turning a blind corner can reveal an SMG-wielding enemy ready to instantly send your top commando.But that fear of lost characters feels meaningfully frustrating to me. When my recon guy, Marty McFly, died in a swamp, I had a 10-minute debate with myself over whether to revert to my last save game. If a game’s goal is to stimulate emotion, JA2 succeeds.

Jagged Alliance 2 is available for $9.99 at GOG.