One of the most addictive games ever made in any genre, Jagged Alliance is a great strategy game that successfully combines the outstanding squad-level gameplay of X-COM with an unprecedented level of personalities and RPG elements that make it even more addictive than MicroProse' classic.
You know the game is something special when it starts off with a great plot: the island of Metavira contains valuable tree sap, which is harvested and sold to pharmaceutical companies. The island facilities were operated by Jack, his daughter Brenda, and Lucas. Lucas took over the island by hiring a bunch of thugs to capture the sap trees. You are then hired by Jack and Brenda to recapture the island. The catch here is that you don't have unlimited funds at your disposal: you are paid based on the amount of sap that is harvested by your workers. Funds are used to hire mercenaries on a daily basis to recapture the island from Lucas.
Gameplay evolves over a complete day during which you try to perform your mission, which starts in any sector you choose. You move each of the team members in real time on a tactical map, until combat starts, at which point the game switches to a highly effective turn-based mode which allows you to plan moves for each merc. X-COM fans will be right at home with tactical battles in Jagged Alliance: in each turn, every merc has a limited number of "action points" that are used for everything from moving to firing a weapon. Leaving a few action points remaining at the end of your turn will allow a merc to respond when he/she spots an enemy during the enemy's turn.
Instead of faceless soldiers of X-COM, however, Jagged Alliance mercenaries come to life with characteristic snides, complaints, cheers, and even bickering among themselves. Each merc has his/her own personality which does affect gameplay: coward mercs will tend to whine and run away from combat quicker than others, while bloodthirsty mercs will unload all their ammo on a hapless enemy, and will refuse your command to change target or lower their arms. Relationships between mercs are also important: many mercs will refuse to work with their rival mercs, while some may agree to work for you only if their buddies are in the team. The merc's personalities are so well-written and distinctive that you will soon grow fond of some mercs and wary of others.
There are numerous other innovations that Jagged Alliance brought to the genre that will take pages to list. In addition to tactical battles, there are many strategic options: you can hire guards to defend conquered sectors against enemy re-invasion in case your mercs are somewhere else. The enemy AI is also excellent. They run for cover, try to out flank you, respond to to gun shots, and appear to have different skill levels. There are also a lot of special items, some of which are hidden, that can be used to help you with your missions, as well as optional missions. In true RPG fashion, your mercs' statistics improve with more experience and practice, and the plot is integrated seamlessly into the actual gameplay. The missions themselves are the typical Find Something, Rescue Someone, Capture something, etc that RPGers have come to love.
Landmines, traps, team interaction, and the general RPG feel are but some examples of a long list of strengths that give Jagged Alliance a lot of depth and addictiveness rarely seen in this type of game. If you ever wondered how X-COM can be made better, look no further.
Note: The version here is only CD-rip, which lacks great voice acting that truly gives the mercs their own personalities. Therefore, hunt for the real thing if you can. Better yet, be sure to buy Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games, which Interplay is selling as part of the Ultimate Strategy Archives pack, as well as Jagged Alliance 2, a much-improved sequel that makes a great game even better.