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by Microsoft

Surprisingly complex and thoroughly engaging, great graphics, innovative roles for players

Downs:  A serious commitment needs to be made to play the game; a good connection-preferably faster than 56K

System Reqs: P200 w/ 3D card, 32MB RAM, 270 MB HD space, 4X CD-ROM, 28.8 KBps modem

My initial expectations of Allegiance were of a fairly straight-forward, if somewhat simple, online space combat game. What I was happily surprised by is that it’s really none of these things, except for the combat, of course. Allegiance is one of the most complex online games I’ve come across; if it is not the only fully realized online-only space sim yet developed, it is certainly the most multifaceted. It packs elements of real time strategy, economic exploitation and planning, and technological development into one slick, polished package. And, if you can initially get over the very steep learning curve you will likely find, as I have, Allegiance to be one of the best online titles out there.

Unlike the stack of other space combat sims recently released little time is wasted on narrative development in Allegiance; it’s all about gameplay here. Only the flight orientations are available off-line, and I highly recommend taking advantage of them a couple of times before jumping into the fray. Once you’re ready you want to go find a game. Doing this is a snap through the Allegiance Zone. For once, someone made an interface that lets the player join a game only a couple clicks in. This is just about the only simple aspect of the game.

Now all this complexity that I’ve been hinting at has to surface in the interface somewhere, and it does in the form of a veritable rat’s nest of keyboard controls, heads-up display clutter and the long and treacherous search for a comfortable place to put your elbow so that all of the keyboard is readily accessible for quick decisions. Be sure and get familiar with the “Hell yeah!” response--that's ~, R, and Y--‘cuz if you dig this game as much as I do you’ll be using that one often. The HUD clutter--once you’re oriented--is actually well organized and illustrates the most amount of relevant information without terminally blocking your view of the action. Some of it could be done without, but it’s not so bad that it hinders the experience.

The flight model also takes a little getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes rather intuitive. Ship movement is as it should be in the near-vacuum of space, the ships are capable of true three-dimensional movement, and inertia can either be fought or used to your advantage. There are several types of ships for you to choose from: scouts, fighters, interceptors, stealth fighters, bombers and capital ships. The later can host turret gunners for added defense. Players can hop on when the ship is docked and rack up the kills without the added stresses of piloting your own craft.

The command role is one of the most unique innovations found in Allegiance. Games tend to be decided with each team’s ability to work cooperatively towards a common goal, and the commander is able to back away from the battle and make informed strategic decisions and direct resources to engage threats over the entire field of play. As well as the commander role there is the investor roll. Your team must gather resources in order to advance along the technology tree and gain new territory. The investor, if needed, directs the team’s course along the technology tree and makes decisions about where to mine resources.

Allegiance strikes a perfect balance between simple aesthetics and graphics that are likely to drag your framerates down. What I mean is that you’re not left for want, and you don’t want any more. Lag is not too much of a problem because of this. Ships and other objects are readily identifiable by their unique shapes, unlike the many uninspired designs in some recent games, and the backgrounds are sufficiently beautiful without being distracting.

Though there are other modes of play with the game including deathmatch and capture the flag, you would be missing the point entirely if you didn’t find a game taking advantage of the strategy aspects of Allegiance. Hosts and players can also define the conditions of a game by deleting or adding different features to customize and streamline for the type and speed of play desired. With the game you get a month free at the Allegiance Zone, and after that for about ten beans a month you can get all the play and stats you want.

What’s so impressive with Allegiance is the extremely high level of competence that the developers show within the product. There’s little to complain about other than the steep learning curve, which can be easily rectified within a few hours of play. However, if you want something that requires a little less commitment you’ll have to wait a while until someone makes another online-only space combat sim and see what they come up with.

--Thomas Hoff