Allegiance is super space combat

Been looking for something more challenging than Space Combat against a predictable artificial intelligence? Enjoy the thrill of mining for resources and then using those resources to fuel your war efforts? Like the thought of team play against up to six other teams at once? Then perhaps Microsoft’s new multiplayer online space extravaganza – Allegiance deserves a look!

Microsoft’s new entry into the multiplayer Internet gaming community, Allegiance has elements of Starcraft and Civilization (the finding and mining of minerals and a technology tree for technology advancement), Tribes (with multiplayer only team situations) and any of a host of 3 Dimensional space combat games. These all meld quite nicely into Microsoft’s new space combat game, Allegiance.

The graphics are good – VERY GOOD. The various ships are depicted with their own identifiable on screen images that are detailed and smoothly run. The targeting and assistance systems are extraordinary in their detail and can even serve to overwhelm the unwary would-be space pilot. The manual is sketchy to say the least, yet that is made up for in the series of tutorials that one should really get good at before venturing online with other players, who have all mastered the interface and controls.

Even with the tutorials, you will find yourself asking your teammates many questions during your first few missions online. You will definitely feel that you are seated at the controls of a spacecraft with objects and other ships flying around you. You will also learn to avoid objects as your craft will take damage if you blunder into an asteroid or miss the landing bay on your mother ship and slam into it the hull instead. You will either learn to destroy the enemy ships, or you will be out of the conflict quickly! I can’t stress enough the need to master the tutorials before going online to play.

The game is only playable on line, either with a private TCPIP connection (limited to 32 people in a game and orchestrated via the Allegiance Server software) or the Microsoft Gaming Zone (for the full 100 person mega games). The Gaming Zone costs $10.00 a month for access, but when you break that out into a per-hour charge for the game, you quickly find that this is REALLY cheep entertainment! You will be playing a lot!

The game is team based and the key to success is getting a talented commander that can watch the gathering of minerals from asteroids, while keeping an eye out for encroaching enemy vessels at the same time. Coordination and cooperation are a MUST if your team is to come out victorious on the net!

This is where the crunch comes, in my mind. The ability to find the good teams to play with is more important almost than individual skill. If you have a group of friends that have Internet access and this game, then you are a leg up on those of us whose real life friends look at them funny when we talk about our online gaming exploits.

Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to fully explore the online gaming part of this release as the CD code that came on my CD did not work and Microsoft technical support never answered my e-mails for help. I was able to play online (or else how would I do justice to this game in a review) as a friend had it installed with a valid CD code and I played several sessions from his computer (not ALL my real life friends are game illiterate *grin*)

I am NOT a big fan of space combat and do not have a joystick attached to my computer (that went away several upgrades ago when it became apparent that the games I was interested in were all mouse controlled). So I am left with trying to fly a space craft with the arrow keys and for the life of me can not get used to pushing the up arrow to go down and the down arrow to go up. It’s just a quirk of mine.

But even I was able to find a niche in this game. I was put in charge of the escorts for my teams’ mining vessels. It seems that the enemy teams send their least experienced pilots to deal with the other teams mining expeditions and I ended up being on par, skill wise, with these folk. It was actually fun to be able to shoot down people trying to blast my defenseless miners! I actually had a better percentage against real live players than I did against the computer-controlled escorts and fighters in the tutorials.

The major limitation with this game, and it is quickly becoming a major limitation to all games with an online component to it, is the need for a fast connection. My friend whose computer I played from, had a cable modem connection so I experienced little problems there. But the commanders turned down a lot of players due to their poor connections. I felt sorry for the 56k players, but I could not really fault the commanders as a single person with a bad connection affects all the other players in the game.

All in all, this is a good game for those with the proper machine, a good Internet connection and a joystick. I was able to play it with the keyboard, but would not recommend that to even my worst enemy. A solid 4 GiN Gems are given to this release from Microsoft!

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