Kill the Voraptoid Guano Bastards!
I love a good space opera. There's something about that sense of adventure, of facing the unknown, of fighting in a glorious battle that sets the stage for a great story. A recurring theme of the space opera is that of humanity engaged in a desperate struggle against the evil aliens. Forced Alliance chooses to draw upon this common story to serve as the backdrop for its combat. This time, it's the evil Voraptoids threatening peace and harmony in the universe. Fortunately, the plot manages to develop beyond the basic 'save the human race' deal. The gimmick in Forced Alliance is that the player has the ability to influence the plot as the game goes on; which allows the game to become a little more interesting.
Choose your own adventure!
The plot of Forced Alliance does start out in a very unoriginal way. You are a cadet in the Earth navy and are in training at a military base. There is also (big surprise) an abusive drill sergeant to whip you into shape. Maybe the game designers figured that this game would seem out of place if the sergeant didn't tell you what a sorry excuse for a pilot you are (or maybe you really do suck).
After you graduate from the academy, you begin the regular missions. Eventually, you rise through the ranks, which is where Forced Alliance begins to get interesting. Unlike most flight sims, where rank is little more than a word next to your score, rank in Forced Alliance means power. From time to time, you will be presented with decisions which alter the plot line. The higher your rank, the more frequent and more important these decisions become. I found this system to be something of a relief from the linear or unordered missions many games of this genre utilize.
In need of a tune-up...
The ultimate focus of a space combat sim is, of course, combat. It is in this area that Forced Alliance comes up way short. In combat, the graphics looked fairly dated for an action game. Most objects in space looked chunky and fairly ugly, even on the highest detail setting. Unfortunately, nothing is Gouraud shaded, which makes spacecraft look like boxes with unrealistic lighting.
It was also fairly difficult to control the ship properly, both with a joystick and with the keyboard. Despite four different options for joystick sensitivity, I found it very difficult to make small changes in direction. These control problems, along with the poor graphics, made me feel like I was flying a broken down bus.
Once back aboard the station, you may notice other problems. The first problem is the color depth. In a number of the scenes, the graphics are quite noticeably dithered, which makes things look blotchy, instead of sleek and high tech. Another problem is the interaction with other characters. While the dialog helps make the game more complete, the acting leaves much to be desired. Instead of using actual video, the game's designers opted to go with computer animated people. Unfortunately, none of the characters' lips match the words of the bad actors doing the voice-overs. Unless you're a big fan of martial arts movies, this might drive you a little buggy after awhile.
All in all, I'd have to say that Forced Alliance is a mixed bag. If you are very serious about graphic quality, you will want to stay away from this one. Advanced space sim players will be annoyed by the jerky controls and limited selection of ships. On the other hand, the branching plot line of Forced Alliance makes it more interesting to those who value story over action. Although Forced Alliance does not have multiplayer, the branching missions help to increase its replay value. If you demand the highest in graphics and flight control, you might want to consider either X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter or Privateer 2 instead. But if the plot and ability to influence it is important to you, then you will probably like Forced Alliance.