Allegiance is an impressive online game that fuses space combat simulation with elements of strategic military planning and command. It's exclusively playable online, and while it has an interesting premise, there's no real context to the actual battles you'll participate in. If anything, its lack of a single-player campaign merely clarifies the distinction between Allegiance and all other space combat sims - its real-time strategy elements and its focus on cooperative piloting tactics are so central to its gameplay that Allegiance can be very challenging to learn, but it's well worth the effort.
Allegiance's depth and complexity are veiled by its clean, effective graphics. At most times during play, you'll be looking at your ship's first-person heads-up display, which depicts all pertinent information regarding your ship and your surroundings. Like many aspects of Allegiance's interface, the various readouts on your HUD aren't particularly intuitive - it'll take some time to be able to distinguish all the onscreen indicators. However, after you spend some time flying around in the game, you'll find that the initially overwhelming amount of information on the HUD is actually presented very well. Allegiance's minimal HUD graphics leave plenty of room for all the dozens of different indicators you might see onscreen at any given time, which point to all friendly and enemy ships, as well as miscellaneous space objects, missiles, stations, and more. There's a small space left up top for communications between players, and a floating minimap, which you can toggle off, that shows you where you are relative to the rest of the battle. It's a lot to take in, but Allegiance's graphics do a great job of presenting all the relevant information you need without actually cluttering the screen, which leaves you with a perfect view of the game's impressive 3D space combat.
Allegiance's 3D engine is surprisingly good. The various ship designs are attractive and original, and Allegiance's version of outer space is filled with bright-colored gasses, plenty of stars in the distance, lens-flare-casting suns, gigantic tumbling asteroids, and more. The ships are highly detailed and have pulsing warning lights on their wingtips. They leave long, colored contrails in their wake, which provide a useful visual cue in the heat of battle. They burst into big, bright explosions but don't leave a lot of debris behind. In fact there's very little visual excess in Allegiance - the game's weapon effects look fairly simple, while the game's special effects for wormholes and such are attractive but never gaudy. Allegiance can sometimes look a little sterile as a result, especially since all the ships look similar from the inside. But it's all worthwhile when you get dozens of ships flying around all at once with a smooth frame rate and typically without much lag.
The game's no-nonsense graphics are complemented by its clear but generally forgettable audio, which provides spoken cues for important events on the battlefield. You're able to issue preset verbal cues yourself with just a couple of keystrokes so that you can quickly request assistance, give orders, or even taunt your opponents. Some of the sound bites are pretty funny and thus inconsistent with the game's generally serious tone, but you can toggle off the speech if it bothers you. In contrast, the game's symphony-and-techno musical score is suitably intense and dramatic.
Although Allegiance looks about as good as the latest space combat sims, it doesn't look better, and it really doesn't look all that different. However, the game does have a distinguishing mark: It isn't so much that Allegiance is an online-only simulation of space combat, but rather that it's also a fully realized simulation of strategic space combat. The strategic elements of Allegiance are every bit as complex as those in the latest popular real-time strategy games - your team needs to gather resources in order to expand its territory and improve its technology. You'll need to defend your mining ships as they harvest resources from special asteroids, and you'll need to deploy probes to detect enemy incursion. You'll have scouts to gather reconnaissance, fighters to gain space superiority, interceptors to defend your installations, and bombers to destroy the enemy's base. What's more, the action takes place in a number of large, interconnected sections of space that you can jump between using swirling wormhole-like portals, referred to in-game as alephs. You also have a fairly extensive technology tree that you can research, and it has several viable branching paths that will make all the difference in the long run. You'll need to become familiar with all the game's technology in order to understand how best to breach your enemies' defenses and how to counter his attacks. You can play Allegiance as a plain deathmatch game, but hardly anyone ever does, because the strategic elements lend so many different options to you and so much variety to the game. You can assume any role in an Allegiance battle. Ultimately, someone will need to coordinate the war effort and play commander. The commander sees the action take place on a top-down tactical map, which is actually generated using the game's 3D engine. He can zoom in on individual ships or jump into the fray at any time, but his essential role as commander is to oversee the battle, to issue orders to his pilots, and to make strategic decisions. The commander can easily order ships to defend miners and stations, to mount an attack against an enemy installation, and more; meanwhile, the pilots in those ships need only push a button to toggle the autopilot that takes them to the allocated destination. Pilots can opt to ignore orders, but their teammates probably won't appreciate a loose cannon; at the same time, if the commander's doing a bad job, he can easily be ignored and promptly replaced. For the player in the commander's position, Allegiance plays out much like other real-time strategy games, only with the very notable difference that all his units are being controlled by other human players. As such, a good pilot will do a lot of good for your team, but your chances of actually winning an Allegiance match are slim without a capable commander calling the shots.
While one player can choose to become the commander, another player can opt to become the team's investor and to oversee resource allocation for new weapons and technology. But most often, you'll inevitably end up piloting the various combat spacecraft in Allegiance, from lithe scouts all the way up to lumbering capital ships. As if the game's underlying strategic elements weren't sophisticated enough on their own, Allegiance also features a fairly unconventional spaceflight physics model. The game simulates deep space inertia, so any change to your velocity will be more or less gradual, depending on your ship. It feels like you're sliding on ice, but as you get more accustomed to the game, you'll be able to use the inertia to your benefit and learn key strafing maneuvers and evasive tactics. It isn't easy to get used to Allegiance's flight model, and the game's long-winded, semi-interactive tutorials are at least as intimidating as they are beneficial, but you'll gain all the experience and teaching you need out in space flying alongside veteran pilots who'll be happy to lend you a hand. Allegiance is a complicated game that's attractive for its sophistication as well as for its action, which means you'll likely find yourself playing in games with more of an upper-crust kind of crowd than you might be used to in online action games or online role-playing games. On the other hand, you won't find as many people playing Allegiance overall.
If you host the game, you can customize an Allegiance match however you choose. You can opt to play with just a few or many dozens of players simultaneously, set the maximum number of lives for participating pilots, set the number of teams, and also restrict the game to players of a particular skill level. You can play Allegiance as a strategic space combat game, but you can also opt for capture-the-flag rules, pure deathmatch, and other variants that encourage you to gather more resources or find more artifacts. The game rules are highly flexible, and there's a lot of variety within each game, from all the different ships you can fly to the different miscellaneous roles you can assume. Allegiance lets you play over a network or the Microsoft Gaming Zone and also lets you join the Allegiance Zone for a nominal monthly fee, which keeps a record of your stats and offers unique game types and scenarios and more. It's an evolving service that's well suited for hard-core Allegiance players but not necessary for all of them. In general, you can jump into an Allegiance game with just a couple of clicks, whether the game has just started or is already in progress.
Allegiance is at the forefront of an increasingly popular type of online game that encourages cooperative competitive play. Although the game features all of the excitement of a first-rate space combat sim, thanks to its great graphics and its variety of spacecraft, what really sets the game apart is how it meshes real-time strategy elements and various support roles together with the dogfighting to create an original experience. It takes a while to get the hang of Allegiance, but the payoff for mastering all its nuances and applying those time-honed skills alongside a contingent of likewise seasoned pilots and strategists is suitably rewarding.