Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
With their steep learning curves, constant updates and inherent costs, online games are something you either embrace wholeheartedly or shy away from. There is no middle ground. Once an online game has got you, going back to a single-player game can be an empty and soulless experience - albeit usually a cheaper one.
There is another problem with online gaming, however. Choice. If you get your kicks dressing up in chain mail armour, you are well catered for. Similarly, if you take delight from shooting fellow humans in the face. If however, you prefer flying among the stars, firing lasers and forming squadrons, the range of online games catering directly for you are a little thin. Admittedly, you can fly online in FreeSpace 2, StarLancer, or X-Wing Alliance, but, aside from deathmatches or rudimentary co-operative play, there isn't all that much there. Or at least there wasn't until now.
To get some idea of what Allegiance is all about, imagine yourself playing Homeworld, perhaps last year's most innovative 3D real-time strategy game. Now imagine yourself sitting in the commander's chair in the relative safety of your home station, heading a fleet of hundreds of ships each, manned by real people and Americans. I'll say that again, real people.
Against you is another commander, again with a similar fleet under his command and, as well as directing scouts, fighters, bombers and cruisers to destroy the enemy through dozens of sectors linked by wormholes, you both must seek out resources and spend them wisely to research new ships and weapons. Playing as tactical commander or investor (he who controls the purse strings) is probably the hardest job in the games industry - save doing PR for Daikatana - and, as such, good commanders are a rare commodity. Learning the trade is a thankless task; make too many bad decisions and not only will you be inundated with abuse, you will run the risk of being booted out of office. Thankfully, being in charge is made easier with a simple interface that becomes second nature. The simple fact is though that, if your side loses, very rarely will your pilots take the blame. As with real life, the best way to the top is through the ranks.
In At The Deep End
Whether you join a game halfway through or right at the start, your first choice of ship is usually limited to either Scout or Fighter. However, if you are new to the game, the best way to get started is to join a bomber pilot and man one of the turrets, if only to get used to what all the cluttered icons and symbols mean. Once you've mastered them (which I've yet to accomplish after more than three months playing the game) then it's onto the next big hurdle - the flight dynamics.
Flying in Allegiance takes some getting used to. Those who prefer the arcade style of FreeSpace 2 will find themselves swerving off in all directions, countering thrust by stabbing the keyboard with clenched fists and four-letter abuse. However, once mastered, the control system affords more strategic dogfights than you at first realise. With two similarly skilled pilots side-thrusting to manoeuvre into a firing position, one-on-one scraps can be tense affairs.
The ships themselves, around 25 in total, each require different tactics. Scouts are the most manoeuvrable, being able to thrust in all directions, while capital ship pilots are advised to stick to more direct routes, relying instead on the skills of their gunners to thwart fighter attacks. The point is, all the ships, no matter which of the three sides (four if you subscribe to the Allegiance Zone) you eventually align yourself with, all handle differently, and, even though the HUD is identical no matter what you are flying, a quick tug on the joystick will soon tell you what ship you are in. As your team progresses, more ships become available, some at a huge cost in resources. Parallel to this, extra weapons, better shields and special equipment also come into play and if your superior, in his leather-bound command chair, is doing his job properly, your side will always stay ahead in the arms race. If the ships under him all follow orders, victory should be assured. Yeah, right.
Online games are a bitch to review. They can be anything from terribly dull to incredibly frantic. You could be playing against a bunch of selfish Yanks gunning for their own glory. Or you might find yourself playing with the nicest chaps in Christendom. Another factor is that, with some single-player games, what was a stinking pile of crap could be deodorised with the aid of a patch. And as the people who play them will know, online games are updated on almost a daily basis. Leave Ultima Online for a couple of months say, and you could be looking at the biggest download since Pamela Anderson's home-video was leaked on to the Internet.
Thankfully, Allegiance has already been through months of testing and your modem shouldn't have much to worry about in the next few months, apart from a few changes in game balancing.
In the game itself there is very little lag which, considering you can have dozens of ships in any one sector, I find frankly amazing. In terms of graphics, Allegiance is up there with the best of them. The ships are well designed and distinct and the effects far outshine any other online game to date. Whether it's worth buying is down to a number of factors. If you're a fan of space combat and prepared to put the time in Allegiance will reward you with months of online play and, as a team-based game, Allegiance is in a league of its own - the more people playing, the better it will be. Your space fleet needs you. Join today.
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