Fragile Allegiance Preview
If you can't kill 'em then try diplomacy. Gremlin shows off a new take on star-faring strategy
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Without jumping the gun, I'd like to say that space empire-builder games tend to be yawners - unmanageable swamps of niggly production improvements, eco-industrial whatzits, and who-cares technologies presented in the driest possible fashion. After two hours of wading hip-deep through such thundering micro-management tasks as designating the office chairs and toilet paper used in your fuel depots, it's easy to lose track of, and interest in, the overall strategic situation. Some of us really dig this kind of thing, and the computer-game world is our Benihana banquet. Many of us, however, would just as soon slip across the road for a cheeseburger - faster, less formal, and just as filling.
Fragile Allegiance may just be that cheeseburger. Seems the Tetracorp group has opened up a new sector of space to free-for-all planetoid colonization (perhaps they need the money to come up with a company name that doesn't sound like a brand of fish food). Also seems that some aliens invited themselves to the immediate sector and, uh, you can guess most of the rest. Nothing astoundingly new here, but for an empire-builder, Fragile Allegiance is very slick, with a clean, button-based interface. It's a joy to behold: Displays are tight and feature integrated control panels instead of the standard mushrooming mass of overlapping windows; individual colonies are displayed as clusters of buildings usually grouped together in the depression of a crater, rather than the usual iconic representations of industrial strength, military presence, etc. Up to four networked players (competing with each other as well as six NPC alien races) may customize the level of resource manipulation required, diving headfirst into serious micro-/macro-management or simply delegating to the AI routines (or "supervisors") anything heavier than building buildings and moving ships.
For some, handling just those basic duties may be enough; there's a nasty urgency to this game, more in the tone than anything else. Perhaps it's in the scale of the game---individual planetoids, where each individual structure is distinct and visible, rather than whole planets or star systems. Combat, real-time but non-arcade in nature, is conducted between preassigned fleets (with the option to override and run if the military situation seems to be going soggy), in fleet-to-ground actions, or in ballistic missile attacks from one planetoid to another. Fragile Allegiance also offers the player the extra-special nastiness of watching in real time as the Bad Old Aliens (or, more likely, networked opponents) rain stasis rockets and cluster bombs and nukes and even worse things on the (presumably) peace-loving populace of your beautifully-presented outposts. Again, nothing astoundingly new, but Interplay has a short history of imparting something like elegance to a game even if it's not the first of its type; if the customizable levels of management available here don't result in strange play imbalances between hard-core gamers and the just-let-me-move-and-shoot types, Fragile Allegiance will be worth checking out.