Windows – 1997
Description of Forced Alliance: The Glarious Mandate
Not unknown Ripcord Games have been quite the target of media abuse recently, and it’s doubtful any gamer who spends at least an average amount of time keeping up with the scene will not have heard of these guys, publishers of Running With Scissors’controversially violent Postal. Whatever their incentive, they certainly managed to get their name broadcast a good many more times than your average game company, which can only help sales of other releases they have planned; Forced Alliance: The Glarious Mandate is one such title. But let’s forget about any hype concerning the company or their games – what is Forced Alliance really like, as that’s what matters most, right? Based in the future, this sci-fi cockpit action title, which also sets itself apart by offering other gameplay elements like managing flight squadrons and making diplomatic decisions, depicts the tale of humanity at war with a vicious species known as the “Voraptoids”, and constantly being aggravated by pirates called “Marauders”. How’s it play? At first, Forced Alliance comes across as a very obvious Wing Commander clone. While this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, as there is a severe lack in the market for good space flight action titles, a new game with an original storyline, implemented in similar quality to Wing Commander would certainly be welcomed by the likes of action gamers, no doubt. However, right from the start, Forced Alliance fails to impress – technically, visually or otherwise. The FMV that carries the story along is strangely lacking in clarity and color (it looks like they used a very low color depth palette), making it appear rather dated. In-flight graphics, too, although enhanced for 3Dfx, are also very unattractive, and would probably bear most resemblance to a game released in the period between Wing Commander 2 and 3 (although I think the blocky bitmaps in WC2 were better looking!). Your first missions see you as a sparkling new cadet, stereotypically brave and confident, eager to do your part for the war, naïve as to the dangers of real combat. Your commander, who guides you through the training missions, is particularly detestable, and I don’t think he actually offers you a sentence that doesn’t insult you on some personal level; this usually ranges from “you stink as a pilot” to “I hope you get wasted out there, you pathetic weed”. This obviously gets tiresome (reminds me of the militaristic tone of the recent Starship Troopers movie), but you had better get used to it, because most of the characters throughout interact on this very one-dimensional level. After four very straightforward training missions, and then one particularly hard one at the end, you’re assigned to the “Leningrad” on its current tour of duty in an area hot with both Voraptoid and Marauder activity. Something that confused me was the constant implications from the crew that Voraptoids, although our primary enemy, are actually rather stupid and therefore a much less dangerous threat than the Marauders, human pirates who have stolen and modified both sides’ ships to their advantage. But if the Voraptoids are so dumb, why have we been locked in a war with them for over a decade and are now resorting to constricting teenagers for the increasing effort to victory? After a few more missions, and a promotion to flight leader, your first actual in-flight decision becomes apparent – some laser fire has been detected, and you’re ordered to investigate and make your own decisions as to how to proceed. Turns out the disturbance is a Voraptoid cargo ship under attack by Marauders – it’s up to you to decide if you want to help the Voraptoid ship out, or let it get destroyed. The storyline threads off depending on what you do in this mission – in fact, if you save the ship and then respond that you’re “ready to assist them further”, your wingman accuses you of treason and returns home. You then continue the game serving under the Voraptoid in their ships for a while, being ordered around by an alien commander whose personality bears many similarities to your training officer at the beginning of the game (in that all he tends to do is insult and wish death upon you)! The ability to adjust the game’s progress so drastically like this is probably Forced Alliance’s most endearing feature, and also adds an extra dimension that Wing Commander failed to do (as aside from being able to choose the odd conversation thread in the WC series, directing how your next missions play out was limited). Falls flat The problem with this added depth to the gameplay is that Forced Alliance is still primarily a space-flight action game, and in that particular field, the game is terribly poor. I found it to be such incredibly tedious and uninspiring gameplay that pushing further into the story became a somewhat torturous chore. How exactly does it fail to entice you to play, or invoke any ‘fun factor’ feeling? It’s difficult to describe exactly, as it’s very much a combination of many things being rather unimpressive. The visuals, as mentioned, are very lacking. The feel of the movement in flight just doesn’t capture as well as Wing Commander or TIE Fighter the premise that you’re really cruising a small fighter around in space. Your weapons, when fired, are often very quiet and produce thin, unimpressive laser beams that look like the only damage they can do is to project light off a wall. And indeed, when your firepower lands on an enemy vessel, no shields spark, or noise of powerful energy pounding on the hull fill the speakers – instead, the ship hit is denoted by it blinking white momentarily. When it’s destroyed, there’s a small explosion, and again, no sound. The flight engine itself is somewhat simple and dated. There’s no map feature, no ability to scroll through waypoints or bring up mission objectives, and when you press ‘T’ to scroll through targets, you can’t press another key to scroll back one – very annoying in the heat of battle. Communication is identical to Wing Commander (hit ‘C’ for list of ships to broadcast to, then you’re brought up with dialogue options), but there’s no option for subtitles, so understanding what everyone’s saying can be a problem sometimes. The worst thing is that battle as a whole becomes a mess of light and noise when there’s a few ships involved, and you really don’t know what’s happening, mainly due to the ships all appearing very colorless and hard to distinguish from space, let alone each other. Another thing I wasn’t happy with was the documentation included in the packaging. You get one thin manual, that offers virtually nothing on any of the ships specifications, weapons, your enemy etc. The background story is readable, but not even about the character you play in the game, it’s just meant to be a glimpse at the life of one victim of the war. Origin are experts at creating cultures, civilizations, worlds – all of the Wing Commander titles came with big booklets, often themed as some sort of literature of the period you were fighting in. All of this attention goes miles for atmosphere, but you get nothing so entertaining or immersing with this game. Conclusion Forced Alliance could be a really fantastic space adventure, with a solid plot of humanity at war, and a level of interactivity between the player and how the story unfolds that hasn’t been reached before. But none of that matters because the presentation of the game, in terms of graphics and sound is only average at best, and the space flight itself – the very core of what the game is meant to be, as a space flight action title – is far too often an unenjoyable experience. Having just had the opportunity to try out the latest demo of Wing Commander: Prophecy, I can very confidently advise that even if Prophecy’s out-of-the-cockpit gameplay lacks anything original or involving, it’s still a better buy due to the absolutely fantastic in-flight action. Forced Alliance and Prophecy were released within months of one another, but the final results are clearly years apart. If you already own all the Wing Commander and Star Wars games, and want something different to fight against other than the Kilrathi or the Imperial Empire, Forced Alliance may prove worth playing through, especially if you’re more into the plot than the action; but for many space-action junkies, you’re looking at a serious waste of your hard-earned readies.
Review By GamesDomain
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