Microsoft is my wingman.
Gamers know that, in the future, mega corporations will be Bad with a capital B. Recoil, Tachyon: The Fringe, Syndicate Wars, G-Police, the Resident Evil series, the Descent games, and Shogo: Mobile Armor Division (to name a few) have featured the now-ubiquitous nasty corporation as the bad guy in the epic struggle of good vs. evil. It's one of the most oft-used clichés out there and, as we are all well aware, oft-used clichés are prophecies from heaven to which we should give much credence.
So it is with some trepidation that you have to approach Allegiance, the online-only space combat/strategy game from that most despicable of mega corporations, Microsoft. However, once you get past the fact that the propaganda quotient is high and mighty, there is a fairly remarkable game to be found. The basic premise is that in the future, after the destruction of Earth at the hands of a large Asteroid (Bruce Willis failed us!), mankind has been fractured into factions that are fighting for dominance in the Galaxy and control of the valuable Helium3, the 'tiberium' of Allegiance.
The game plays out entirely online. There are two sides to every fight, two teams that vie for control of the map, which is broken down into sectors connected to each other by wormhole like "Alephs."
Although the game takes place in space, and although starship combat is a good portion of the game, not everyone is a pilot. Players can choose turret gunning, commanding the entire team, or dolling out the cash...though space jockeys can take out a variety of purpose-based craft and try to make Mark Hamill proud.
The Commander, who also handles resource mining and construction, assigns tasks to pilots. Since everyone is a human (and not merely AI), acceptance of an order is not guaranteed, nor is completing an assigned mission. So, money is made the incentive.
Although a pilot can use basic, standard types of craft without needing money, purchasing more exotic ships requires cash, which is handed out to you at the whim of your superiors. So if you are the type who never follows your commands, you aren't likely to get anywhere.
You also aren't likely to get anywhere if you approach Allegiance selfishly. One craft alone cannot do very much. Even the devastating capital ships need escorts if they are to reach their targets, destroy them, and survive. Larger ships need players to man the all-important defense turrets. Attacking enemy targets requires coordination, skill, and numbers.
Like all real-time strategy games, losing a building that produces a special type of ship means you can't have that ship anymore. Therefore, attacking stations is not just a simple matter of taking control of a sector; it is both a financial and technological blow to your opponent, which is also a reason to pick objectives carefully. Allow your opponent to retain the ability to produce capital ships and you very well may have a crisis on your hands.
The gameplay complexity in Allegiance is tremendous. There are more keyboard commands and options than in any other space-combat game out there. Even the flight model involves more depth than most other games. Loadout affects the handling and stealth (very important for reconnaissance and surprise) characteristics of a ship. Turning and maneuvering is a more involved affair due to angle of attack and momentum effects.
The depth of the flight model does lead to one of the main problems with Allegiance: the combat itself it pretty underwhelming. Your guns fire too fast and shield hit and damage effects are hard to see, making it difficult to tell if you are hitting your target. Due to low turn rates, most maneuvering in combat is done through quad-directional strafing, which removes much of the Top Gun feel from combat. This leaves the action feeling esoteric, unpredictable, and generally watered down.
Graphically, Allegiance is decent. The visuals, which resemble a simplified, sterilized version of StarLancer, are consistent enough to suspend your disbelief and carry the game. They are especially good, however, when you consider the online nature of Allegiance.
This is helped by the consistently good connection rates on all the servers. Connection to servers is handled through Microsoft's The Zone, which is hidden nicely by the Allegiance shell. Although Allegiance really isn't a 'massively' multiplayer game, Microsoft makes you pay $10 per month (the first being free) to access anything but the free servers. That $10 per month gains you access to ranking, squads, better players, and more intense games, but considering that Allegiance is not going to cost Microsoft much to maintain, it's morally questionable. You might even call it a rip-off.
There are a few other concerns. After being shot to pieces, you eject into a life-pod. Although you can call for rescue, it's more likely that you will have to fly to the nearest station and get a new craft. While realistic, this can take a very long time and is very boring. The manual could also have been better in explaining the important minutia of gameplay instead of leaving it to an in-game tutorial that isn't quite up to snuff.
But still, there is quite a bit to like about Allegiance. It's complex, involving, and rewarding. It offers a wealth of different play styles to fit the tastes of space jockeys and strategy grognards alike. More than anything, it's just very cool to play a part in a massive, real time strategy epic in which everything, save for the miners and constructors, is piloted by real people. If you've got the money for the indefensible monthly charge, and if you have a passion for propaganda, then propel yourself to the place of purchasing and purchase this product.