The Vault of Regret is a very large place, which houses dusty old game CDs and boxes, untouched digital libraries, and the metaphysical concepts of remorse and embarrassment. Here we write about all the games we should have played but haven’t, or that we have played but didn’t enjoy, among other things.

We live in strange and uncertain times. Consigned to our homes, the prevailing opinion seems to be that the current lockdown will lead to an abundance of free time that urgently needs to be filled with quarantine-friendly activities: hobbies, goals or #content. Each person’s feelings on the matter are likely to depend on their own circumstances, but personally, boredom is not one of the main emotions I am feeling at the moment.

Still, even the idea of having an extended period of free time to fill does make the mind turn to previously abandoned gaming projects, optimism undimmed by the hard realities of past experience (for example, my last review here marks the completion of a series of in-progress write-ups I thought might possibly be done by the end of 2019). And there’s plenty of unplayed stuff here already in the Vault of Regret (ah, here’s one now: *blows off dust* “Transfer from Cupboard of Shame – Box #1 of 20”). But at times like this, I do start to wonder: is it time to play Jagged Alliance 2 again? And finish it this time?

We could argue all day about whether you have to finish a game to review it (please, let’s not, though) but I do feel reasonably okay about what I wrote about the game here, and I was up front about where I got up to, and my own shortcomings. A lot of hours went into getting to where I got to, and I definitely enjoyed it up to that point, but ultimately I chickened out of the last 30% or so of the game.

It’s quite hard, you see. Although the game does a good job of helping the player negotiate a fairly detailed setup, even early battles can be tough encounters. As you make progress in liberating the island of Arulco from evil Queen Deidrianna’s forces, your enemy starts to fight back, attempting to retake previously conquered sectors and putting your mercenary-trained local militia to the test. Meanwhile, your offensive campaign gets much harder, and when it came to facing off against tanks, I started to feel like I wasn’t up to the challenge.

I suspect I should probably have made use of some of the more expensive and skilful mercenaries from the huge roster available, but I’d sort of developed an attachment to the motley bunch I’d started with. Even now, some of their individual utterances remain with me: just the other day, I found myself exclaiming “STUPID FOOLS PUSH ME TOO FAR!” (a favourite of Bobby ‘Steroid’ Gontarski) at an ire-inducing work e-mail.

And on that point, Jagged Alliance 2 has likely remained so popular with fans because it’s a game with personality. Although the merc sprites themselves have little to distinguish them, they do otherwise feel like individuals, and you have a sense that the game would be different with a completely new set of heroes. (And in that respect it reminds me of Midwinter, an older favourite of mine based around similar themes).

There’s definitely also a cheesy low-budget aspect to proceedings that even in 1999 was slightly at odds with the general direction of travel when it came to how video games were presenting themselves. The manual, for example, conveyed a rather ramshackle enthusiasm about the experience ahead that sort of convinced you that the game was going to be good, and included some fairly detailed tips for starting out, in lieu of any kind of tutorial or gentle introduction within the game itself.

This was also reflected in the early fan sites I remember, too: less-than-slick Web 1.0 Geocities affairs that were nevertheless chock-full of enthusiasm for the game and detailed information and tips, particularly about negotiating any bugs or glitches. (Although over the years that fandom has escalated somewhat to the kind of situation where hardcore forum-dwellers insist the game is best played with an unofficial mod that allows the player to customise their experience in potentially overwhelming detail).

Having had two previous stabs at the campaign: once when I bought it, then again when I reviewed it, I then spent some considerable time more recently with the generally-loathed 3D real-time remake Back in Action (which I thought was okay, actually), enjoying all the previous bits of the game I’d remembered and revisited, before again getting bogged down when things got tough.

I think, perhaps, it’s not meant to be. So until I finally feel ready to go through the early stages all over again, endlessly defend my towns and mines against counter-attacks, and shell out on the big hard-nut mercs that can wrestle a tank into submission, it’s time to consign this game, and my feelings towards it, to the dusty old vault.