The year is 2150 and an instant transportation system for moving between solar systems has been discovered making it easier for the warring factions to move from system to system. With your teammates you try to defeat your enemies and fight for dominance.
Allegiance is an online game found at The Zone, with both free and for-fee game areas. In the free games, which is what I played for this review, there are three powerful factions: the Iron Coalition, the Bios, and the Gigacorp. You must choose which faction to join and then you must defend and expand your territory against the other factions. Each faction has its own strengths and weaknesses. Although there are several similar games on the market, Allegiance puts the best of them together. You have the flying of Descent, the challenge of a flight simulator, the action of real-time strategy and the group cooperation Asheron’s Call.
Teamwork is the name of the game: it is up to your group of online players to work together as a team and defeat the other factions before they get you. Lone wolves need not apply. Patience is a virtue: my first time playing I was still in the single-player frame of mind and I wanted to get in a fighter and attack right off the bat, which was the wrong thing to do because I did not have the training necessary to survive a battle. It takes a while to develop the proper dog-fighting skills (see Gameplay). One of the best things you can do early in learning the game is to get into a turret and be a gunner. You get the fun of targeting and shooting and you do not have to do the flying. The bigger ships like bombers always need gunners since they move slow. There are many different types of games: Capture the Flag, Death Match, Conquest, and so on. I have spent most of my time playing Conquest; to me it is one of the most challenging since the group has to wipe out all of the enemy’s bases to win.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Learning the controls took me some time. I found myself alternating between using the keyboard, mouse, and joystick all at the same time; This presents a problem since there are three things to use and I only have two hands. During dog-fighting the joystick is the primary controller but I found I could not do it without keyboard commands. There are lots of tricks that I still do not know but the advantage of playing this game online is being able to see others use the tricks you want to learn.
When your commander gives an order you have two choices, you can press the Insert key to accept the order and your ship will go directly into autopilot to the objective. Or you can press the Delete key, which allows you to reject his order -- a true team player will not want to do this very often. Your team leader has a command view and knows what your team needs you to do.
Oftentimes you will find yourself up against a faster or stronger opponent. Faster opponents usually have fewer defenses and can be taken out by a direct collision when all else fails. If your opponent is stronger it is also usually slower and you can run away. When your shields run out, your hull starts taking damage; if it gets to zero you end up on a long, slow flight in an escape pod back to a base before you can get back into the action. If you can disengage from the battle your shields will recharge, after which you can reengage and return to play. When you run out of ammunition you have to return to a base to get loaded up again.
At first, I found the interface to be a bit overwhelming. You will discover that paying attention to the items on your heads-up display will be key in helping you find your way through space. I introduced a friend to the game and he had the same reaction I had at first: "This is too much." You may have a similar reaction -- granted, there is a lot to do, but you will get used to it. The complexity of the interface lends itself to more involved gameplay, giving you the ability to do so many different things .
The graphics display is also a bit overwhelming. At first, the sensory overload made it difficult for me to focus on the job at hand. After a bit I got used to it and learned to put into the background the less important things until they are needed. The heads-up display puts so much in front of you that you can get distracted; however, the information there is vital to your survival. There is plenty of hi-tech stuff to keep you eyes entertained.
For those of you who can’t get enough eye candy, you can also add small overlay screens such as maps, equipment lists, etc. You can also remove them if you just can’t take it all in at once. The screenshots speak for themselves. There is great use of color and depth of field. As you target an opponent you will see a ship icon and a distance meter under it indicating how far away or how quickly he is closing on you. Keep these numbers in mind. Sometimes you do not see the close one on your tail taking your shields down to nothing. You will get better at identifying the closest target with practice. If you do not see enough to keep your eyes busy, I want to know what games you have been playing!
Great Audio! There are a large number of canned voice commands and taunts to choose from. As expected there are plenty of shooting, exploding, and movement sounds -- doors opening, docking sounds -- all the usual filler that would be missed if they were not there, but these sounds blend into the background and give richness to the audio. There is also a very good command voice for the commander your group, in addition to the words printed on the screen you will also hear the command. This will help you to follow your commander even if the heat of battle distracts you. The background music stays in the background like it should. The taunts are fun and seem to be used a lot in the games that I have played -- they've been adopted quite quickly into the normal play of the game. You also get to choose who will hear and see your messages by selecting all, your team only, or a selected player. This is done on the fly and can be changed whenever you need to taunt the other team or just pump up yours.
Multimedia PC with Pentium 200 MHz with 3D accelerator card or Pentium II 266 without a 3D accelerator card (Pentium II 300 MHz with 3D accelerator card, recommended), Microsoft Windows 95 or 98 operating system with DirectX 7.0 API, 32 MB of RAM (64 MB recommended), Browsers Internet Explorer version 4.0 or Netscape version 4.0 or later, Minimum 270 MB of hard disk space, Quad-speed CD-ROM drive, SVGA (800x600) monitor, SVGA (800x600) video card supporting 16-bit color, Mouse or compatible pointing device, DirectX-compatible joystick recommended, DirectX-compatible sound card, 28.8-KBps modem (56-KBps recommended), and Internet access.
The printed documentation is weak. I, myself, like a good printed reference manual. The most informative part is the "Survival Guide," a four-page fold-out card. This is more like a quick reference card that is missing a few things. The "Handbook" that is provided is more like a pamphlet. Other than installing the game and getting connected to The Zone there is not much in it. Online help is the best place to go to get your questions answered; however, I wanted to play immediately when I got into the game and reading online help was low on my priority list. The problem is that the game has enough complexity that you really need to do the tutorials to survive with the basics; if you really want to learn, you will need to read the help, ask questions of more experience players, and play, play, play.
As a rule, I hate exclusively online games! I am vehemently opposed to paying $40+ for the software and then having to pay $10 a month to play online. Allegiance, however, is the exception. You can play on the free sites or opt to pay the $10 a month to get some nifty extras. Although the extra things are nice, my wallet (and my wife) will be much happier with me playing on the free sites -- the free level is challenging enough. It may take some time to master and feel comfortable with the controls and movement, but the combination of genres (real-time strategy, space flight simulation, group cooperation, etc) makes it worth the effort. For this reason I have given the game a 91 out of 100. It remains to be seen how the game servers will handle the expected hundreds of players at a time. Right now is the time to get on and play; I have yet to see any slow-downs and there is a lot of open space in the games.