In the mid-22nd century, a massive asteroid mined from the depths of space misses its lunar orbit target and crashes in the Pacific Ocean, resulting in Earth's magma, from the fractured core, vaporizing seawater, releasing steam and heat. After this catastrophe, only three factions of humans remain.

Headed by Brigadier General Derek Fisk, The Iron Coalition, a United Nations space-borne peacekeeping force with the creed "Order, Strength, Unity," dedicates itself to the prospect of restoring and maintaining order for what's left of humanity. Diametrically opposed to this philosophy are Mercedes Kelleher's GigaCorp, a faction with only one goal -- total domination, and Bios, an offshoot of GigaCorp's genetic experiments' physically and mentally advanced, space-ready fanatics devoted to eliminating "stale gene" humanity.

Allegiance, developed by Microsoft, is an online, real-time, multiplayer, squad-based, epic space-combat adventure. Two to six teams, with between 3-15 players, can be accommodated at the MSN Gaming Zone (www.zone.msn.com), or over a LAN.

Multiplayer options include: Deathmatch, where the first team to achieve a specific number of kills wins; Capture the Flag requires retrieval of a specified number of flags and subsequent return to the teams' home sector; Conquest requires ownership of all stations to win; Countdown uses a specified time limit; in Artifacts, the winning team is required to gather numerous items and be the first to return to their base; and victory in Prosperity mode goes to the first team to reach a set monetary goal. Allegiance also provides a series of offline training missions to teach fundamental aspects and elements.

Success in Allegiance depends on team effort with players taking specific roles within squads. You can be any one of a number of pilot-types (scout, stealth, bomber, interceptor, capital ship and fighter), a turret gunner, base defender, or commander who must balance attack forces with team assets. In the investor role, you control the asteroid miners and assume several responsibilities that include looking for asteroids with Helium3 (the only resource in the game), developing the tech tree, and keeping mines in working order to prevent their destruction.

Space travel between sectors is accomplished using Alephs, small but stable wormholes discovered in 2115, which allow for instantaneous movement, and the source of intensive fighting to control. Four other types of asteroids, beyond the Helium3-based rocks, include silicon (used to establish the Tactical Laboratory), uranium (supplies energy for Expansion Centers), carbonaceous rock (building block of the Supremacy Center), and generic (platforms for outposts, shipyards, refineries and teleportation receivers).

Allegiance contains nine maps of varying difficulty, size, and parameters. Other game options include assignment of specific skill levels (to even the playing field), minimum and maximum players per team, number of lives per player, starting money, total money, and density of asteroids. Also included is a foldout reference card highlighting controls and commands (flight, combat, voice and views), as well as specifics on the three factions and various platforms used for expanding and operating your space-based team. ~ Michael L. House, All Game Guide