In Fragile Allegiance you play a new recruit to a mining corporation named Tetra Corp. The object of the game, as in most games of this type -- , -- is to conquer your sector of the galaxy. Instead of conquering planets for the sake of dominating the universe and finding new homes for your growing race, the main motivating factor in Fragile Allegiance is money. Instead of planets, you colonize and mine asteroids rich with various types of ore. Every so often a Federal Transport comes by, giving you the opportunity to sell what you have extracted. You then use the money to build more structures, build defenses, hire supervisors or agents, and barter with the black market traders. There are some funny twists as far as what you can trade -- organic corn on the cob, and pearls dissolved in brandy, for example. Because an asteroid only has so much ore, you will soon send your own transporter out to colonize and mine other asteroids. Obviously, you are not alone. In time you will interact with other races that are out to do the same. Eventually you will sign treaties, make allegiances, hire secret agents, and ultimately go to war.
The gameplay in Fragile Allegiance is nothing new to those who have played this type of game before. There are basically three main gameplay screens that you work with. There is a close-up view of the asteroid you are currently working on, various screens displaying information and actions you can take for any selected item, and a map view of your sector displaying asteroids, their relative path of motion, and their owners. You start off with one asteroid, one transporter, and one CPU (Colony Preservation Unit). The first thing you want to do is build life support structures such as radiation filters, air, food, and power generating structures, a "Resiblock" to house your colonists, and a Command Center. Next are the mines, followed by defense structures including a weapons factory, space dock, ship factory, shields, and various turrets. Finally you'll need security centers and even pleasure domes to keep your workers happy and controlled.
One nice twist in Fragile Allegiance is its real-time gameplay. It added a touch of SimCity-style micromanagement to the maintenance of your colonies that is missing in other games of this type. You can adjust the time between slow, medium, and fast. This added to the game by making you feel that you were controlling something dynamically growing and changing in real time. It also made things get really tense at times. Be aware that although the game flows in real time, it is not real time in the sense of Command and Conquer or . This is strictly a conquer the galaxy/micromanagement type of strategy game. The best way to describe Fragile Allegiance would be to call it a good mix between SimCity and Ascendancy. You spend most of your time micromanaging your colonies, making sure they are well-kept while making as much money as you can. In time you will have to engage in diplomacy with the other races, and ultimately go to battle with your enemies. Battle consists of sending your fleets and various missiles out to enemy asteroids. It can be extremely satisfying sending a nuclear missile off to an enemy and watching their structures blow away, especially when that enemy is your friend in a multiplayer session. As in most games of this sort, you can choose how many other races you compete with, the size of the playing field, and the hostility level, or you can chose from a list of campaign games. The stupid thing regarding the campaign games is that there is no true campaign. There is no storyline; it simply consists of a list of games set at various difficulty levels, each with a thin background scenario. Makes you wonder why they even bothered.
The graphics in Fragile Allegiance are extremely crisp and detailed Super VGA. You can tell that Gremlin (the game developers) put a lot of work into the details. When you launch a missile, ship or satellite to view enemy asteroids, you actually see them take off from their respective hangars. As tiny ships scout about the asteroid, you can see the tiny detailed missiles coming in to wreak their havoc. The only gripe I have with the graphics is the lack of variety. Although everything is detailed and crisp, everything looks too much alike. I found it extremely frustrating trying to pick out my ore teleporters from the rest of the structures, in a mad scramble to teleport my ore to the asteroid with the Federal Transporter before it left. Asteroids vary from different shades of brown and grey, and that's about it. It would have been nice to have more variety as in games like Ascendancy and MOO II.
The audio in Fragile Allegiance is decent, but average. You have the basic airy synth floating in the background and decent sound effects for all else. The music adds to the mood and is good enough to keep on, but again, there isn't much variety. The voice-overs are all well done.
Minimum: 8 MB RAM, a 486/66 DX2, and 36 MB of hard drive space (100 MB minimum if you want to hear music in the game).
You can run the game in a DOS box in Windows 95 if you have 16 MB of RAM or more; otherwise it is recommended you run Fragile Allegiance in DOS. I tested the game on a P90 with 40 MB of RAM in Windows 95 and found it flawless. One good note about Fragile Allegiance is that it installed smoothly, and is as bug-free and solid as they come. I did not have one problem whatsoever. It took me a while to accept the fact that I did not have to save the game every five minutes to play it safely, which is unfortunately a common occurrence with most games out there.
The documentation is pretty adequate, describing the many aspects of the game, but there was definitely room for improvement. Most functions are described with the appropriate icon pictured, but for some bizarre reason some weren't. It took me an annoying half hour trying to figure out how to get to the Agents screen (same place as the colony supervisor screen), and even longer to figure out how to build a damn space station. Instead of building it from somewhere obvious like the ship factory or hangar, you had to bring up the Command Center. This information was written between the lines and was next-to-impossible to find. I had to start reading the manual all over again to finally find it on page 23. Although the in-game tutorial is well-done and useful to beginners, it also did not cover building a space station. One more annoyance is the fact that if you select the minimum installation, which is common for a game like this, you will not be able to play any music. This information wasn't even in the installation procedure. After spending way too much time trying to figure out why my SoundBlaster 16 wouldn't play any music, I resorted to the readme file and found that in order to hear the music in the game you have to select at least the medium install of 100 MB. I'm sorry, but that is way too much space for a game like this.
Fragile Allegiance supports network, modem and serial play. Network play supports up to eight players. Another annoyance about the game is that in single- and multiplayer gaming you can only play as humans. If eight people play, there will only be humans.
Fragile Allegiance is a decent addition to the conquer-the-galaxy genre; unfortunately, there are too many other good games competing with this title. I particularly enjoyed the real-time factor of the game. It was neat watching your colony grow as time progressed rather than clicking on a button to instantly get to the next point. Although the graphics are crisp, it would have been nice to have more variety to keep the senses refreshed. Ditto for the music. I do recommend this to anyone who wants the twist of real-time strategy added to the genre, and to those with multiplayer capability. This is a good bridge between micromanagement games like SimCity and conquer-the-galaxy games like Ascendancy and MOO II. There will be people who love this game, and people who quickly tire of it, especially considering the lack of a storyline to follow in campaign mode. People into micromanagement will love this game. My recommendation is to try the demo before you buy.