After having played and finished Forced Alliance, I am once again reassured that reviewing video games for a living isn't quite the living hell many believe it to be. Oh, sure, it's great fun getting paid to play Jedi Knight or Hexen II, but there are more times than not where I'm forced to trudge through such mind-numbing time wasters as Yoda Stories or Battlecruiser 3000 A.D.
So it's with no small amount of trepidation that I take an assignment for a game that I've heard virtually nothing about. After all, the aforementioned stinkers were heavily hyped by their respective companies and ended up being true mail bombs, so how much worse are those games that have received almost no publicity, fanfare, or even a shameless little press junket? Considering how much ink was being spilled by nearly everyone over publisher Ripcord Game's other title, Postal, why was it that I never heard of this game? But considering my prognosticating track record in predicting that the Spice Girls would never hit it big or the sheer inanity of the Tamagotchi, I have been known to be wrong, and for those keeping score, chalk up another forecast gone awry. Far from being a cheap Wing Commander knockoff, Forced Alliance is a solid, if not terribly revolutionary, gaming experience.
This is indeed a space combat sim, but it's one with more of an emphasis on character-driven plot devices than on hopping in the closest battleship and popping those ubiquitous evil aliens from the solar ether.
While every game on the planet tries to brag of truly adapting the storyline to the decisions you make, Forced Alliance is one of the few to actually do so. Instead of simple mission upon mission of "kill-all-the-bad-guys," you have true "consequence of rank" and "consequence of action" as the game describes it. This means that instead of merely awarding you a new, shiny medal each time you complete a set amount of missions, the consequences of your moves through the ranks will be reflected in the gameplay as you are given more responsibilities. You'll also encounter consequences to your actions throughout the game. For example if you go in and just blow every alien out of the sky, it's going to change the outcome of your next mission and perhaps the entire game. But if you go in and try to be diplomatic with the three alien races, you'll find that the storyline will take a decidedly different turn.
Another interesting facet to the game is what is called the Roshambo Combat Strategy. Instead of one supremo ship, which allows you to pretty much obliterate everything in your path - aliens, starships, planets - you have more of a rock/paper/scissors approach wherein no one ship can beat everybody and they can't all beat you; you must strategize accordingly.
But now for the bad news: Those who've come to expect multimillion dollar budgets and fading sci-fi stars in their space combat sims will be woefully disappointed. While generally aesthetically pleasing, the actual adventure gaming aspect of this character-driven game is a bit low-key in the graphics department. Your character interaction is fairly limited, but at least the voice acting isn't too bad. Graphically, it doesn't get tremendously better during the actual space combat missions either, despite taking advantage of MMX and 3D accelerators across its three discs.
Still, for fans of the genre, this is a solid gaming effort. What could have been a hackneyed variation of its more popular, space-faring relatives is instead an entertaining game that is far better than the lack of hype would seem to imply.