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.
There are plenty of places where the success of the previous titles could have lent the financial security necessary for this version to feel some polish, but there's none. And the price! If this was a $4.99 Excalibur title, I suppose I could forgive them, and just shrug it off. But it's a full-price title! Every moment I was chained to this game was misery, and I wouldn't play it again if they paid me the money instead of the other way around.
It's such a missed opportunity. The setting and locations are fun, interesting and entirely within the scope of pulp adventure literature. Some of the puzzles (most of which revolve around stepping on some tiles and not on others, or avoiding otherwise Indiana Jones-style set pieces) are fun in a way, and the clever addition of your great-grandfather's notebook as an in-game item that shows you absent-minded sketches of some of the tricks and traps offers a sort of hint system that preserves the suspension of disbelief in an appropriate way. And, I suppose the game is easy enough to rarely become frustrating (except during one particular boss fight where you can be shot and killed through walls). It's not frustration that'll get you, though. It'll be the sheer ennui that sets in when you contemplate the pointlessness of continuing to play this lackluster, lazy and horribly overpriced mess.
I mean, it's not actually painful to play. It's a little broken here and there, with one of those perma-map-scrolling bugs that seem to plague RTSes, and a couple of other small niggling technical issues. But what really stands out is the lack of anything interesting or novel. In the rush to market for the accolade of 'First game to utilise DirectX 12' or whatever, they've presumably cut everything out of the game that would have made it stand out from anything else. I guess there is a system of supply lines that can be cut which plays far more of a part in multiplayer games than it does in the single player campaign, but ultimately it's too little to make a difference. This is how we are to be introduced to DirectX 12 - not with a bang, but with a whimper.
I've been underwhelmed by inXile's previous nod to nostalgia, Wasteland 2, and everyone else in the universe seemed to adore it, so maybe it's me. Your mileage, as always, may vary. But if you're looking for a rock-solid, incredibly challenging nuts-and-bolts RPG with all of the quirky flair of the original trilogy, this isn't quite it.
So we come to the fun payload. It's sort of lacking. We've played games like this before, many of them really excellent and with depth and character. Oriental Empires certainly looks nice and has a classical Chinese feel that helps it along its way, but once you're through the surface, it's a lacklustre 4X without a great deal to set it apart from the pack. Much of the time, Oriental Empires feels like playing a game of Total War where you auto-conclude all of the battles, but with a penchant for very slightly unfair and unavoidable disasters.
The stronger Scenarios can't rescue Urban Empire from being disappointingly average however. A few quality of life tweaks here and there could have achieved a great deal in making Urban Empire a more engaging experience. With little noticeable cause and effect you're stuck prodding buttons until you hopefully stumble on solution, which sadly flies in the face of strategy as we know it.