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  • Alternative Character Interpretation: There's a positive or negative interpretation possible for every faction in the game, even if one accounts for the limits of their ideologiesnote  — even those of the Hive or the Believers:
    • Commissioner Pravin Lal: An honest politician who wants everyone to be equal, to spread democracy and freedom, and to end all wars. Alternatively; He never really does step down as the leader of his faction, so obviously there are no elections, or he just rigs them in his favour. He also is pretty prone to eliminating anyone who doesn't agree with his values of democracy and libertarianism. His government is so plagued with excess bureaucracy and absurd amounts of gratuitous voting that nothing ever gets done. Furthermore, he's ironically the most conservative of the faction leaders in a sense, seeking to preserve a traditional Earth social framework in an environment where it makes for an increasingly bad fit.
      • Pravin Lal is the perfect embodiment of ethical integrity until one little quote in regards to genetics concerning his wife who was shot in the back by Santiago's men on the Unity.
      "I loved my chosen. How then to face the day when she left me? So I took from her body a single cell, perhaps to love her again." — Commissioner Pravin Lal, "Time of Bereavement"
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    • Sister Miriam: Promotes traditional values, religion and culture, and opposes the evils of science pursued without regard to morality. She's also one of the few faction leaders shown to actually care for the welfare of the marginalized and downtrodden. Alternatively: She isn't above ruthlessly murdering anyone she dislikes in the slightest, usually people who are different and intellectuals. Also, Miriam worships a God who is described as all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-judging; in other words, everything she denounces about technocracy and more. Does she object to mass surveillance because it's fundamentally wrong, or just because it's humans who are doing it instead of the almighty?
    • CEO Morgan: Champion of free market economics, hard work, oppropriate reward, individualism, and friendly competition. Alternatively: Owner of human history's single most powerful economic monopoly, ever, of all time... ever! He is essentially abusing his anarcho-capitalist society as his own private cash farm. There's also his unhealthy obsession with personal wealth and refusal to commit to any sort of charity. The title of his seminal work, "The Ethics of Greed", plays to a number of interpretations.
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    • Provost Zakharov: The most brilliant scientist to ever grace our universe. He is single mindedly devoted to advancing technology and uncovering all of the universe's secrets. He also runs a technocratic society and government. Alternatively: Zakharov has this thing about experimenting on live test subjects without their consent (or tricking them into it). He would blow up Chiron if he thought there was something valuable to discover in doing so.
    • Chairman Yang: Firm believer in community, self sacrifice, and true long term engineering of pretty much everything from eating schedules to full scale social engineering and even eugenics. This is the guy who wants to bring humanity to its true potential via socialism and dictatorship, and does it with honesty too! Alternatively: Yang likes to sacrifice people for the greater good. If it means advancement towards a better tomorrow, Yang will most definitely feed you to a shark or something. Also, the collectivist nature of his state really doesn't give people much incentive to work hard, get rich or do more than their share, as tall poppies aren't rewarded.
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    • Colonel Santiago: Survivalist, social darwinist, and general all around bad ass. Santiago intends to make all mankind strong, both mentally and physically. The master species of all species. If you live under her rule expect strong discipline, high morale, and a body so fit you could crush a brick wall with your face. You will probably have the proudest and most awesome military ever imagined to boot! Alternatively: Santiago mandates that you must prove your right to live. The weak are... weeded out. The slightest sign of sickness in a newborn is grounds for such a fate. Also, her faction is brutally militarist to the point that almost no funding at all is invested into culture, science, education, or even basic housing; You have to do that all by yourself. After all, the strong should be able to build a house and live in it under the most brutal conditions, right?
    • Lady Deirdre: Environmentalism and sustainability is her hat. Deirdre seeks to build a society which lives in perfect harmony with nature and has probably even mastered the elements. Under her carefully guided economic management, industry has no pollution and every product is wholly recyclable. Alternatively: Deirdre is quick to tame local wildlife and use it to eliminate pretty much anyone who is even the slightest bit wasteful. Her total intolerance for other ways of life pretty much guarantees that her faction will never fulfill the full potential of any of their technological advancements.
    • Guardian Lular H'minee: Caretaker of Manifold Six/Planet, concerned with preventing the dissasster of previous Flowering/Transcendence at Tau Ceti. She can be seen as a somewhat lofty but benevolent precursor who seeks to protect the universe at large from irresponsible race towards "godhood". Alternatively: A traumatised coward who is projecting the failings of her own race on mankind and is obstructing our own evolution as a species because of it.
    • Conqueror Judaa Maar: A daring leader who is willing to win the ultimate prize for his eons-old species while denying it to the unworthy specimens of humanity that have demonstrated their dangerous and unworthy nature in destroying their homeworld by constantly warring with themselves for almost as long as they existed. Alternatively: A nietzchean lunatic who would risk a catastrophe on a cosmic scale to attain "godhood" which he/they would probably use to oppress other species.
    • Aki Zeta-Five: Human enhancement, discovery and ultimately a transcension of this reality. Aki wishes to improve mankind by getting rid of all the bad emotions and hurtful primitive drives that shackle us and ultimately aims for us to essentially conquer ourselves as hyper-logical AI-cyborg hybrids. Alternatively: She epitomizes the autistic, hyper-logical mindset that, while highly capable in certain areas, is essentially neutered in others, producing beings that are needlessly deprived of more "chaotic" aspects of life (that themselves need not be bad if moderated).
    • Ulrik Svensgaard: Freedom, booty and a pirate's life. Svensgaard promotes a life of unbridled seafaring privateer, valuing personal freedom and daring enterprise while teaching arrogant factions to respect the sea and the people who live upon it. Alternatively: A rambunctious, semi-chaotic society with no strong atattchments or loyalties and virtually no respect for others' property. Hardly a model for humanity's future.
    • Prophet Cha Dawn: Super-environmentalism and protection of the Planet. He could be viewed as giving voice to the (mostly) voiceless Planet and giving it a fair fighting chance by utilizing technology. His faction is also, next to the Gaians, the most cognizant of the wonders and mysteries of the Planet. Alternatively: A misanthropic cult lead by a humanoid-abomination that is bent on destroying humanity (themselves included) to "save" the Planet that is constantly suffering.
    • Foreman Domai: Worker's rights, an eudaimonic society and ending poverty forever. Striving to create a truly equal and happy human society in which everyone willingly contributes to the greater good and everyone has a comfortable standard of living. Alternatively: An idealist willing to stem scientific and social progress while having no regard for the environment or individual desires of his people.
    • Datajack Sinder Roze: Free Information, individuality and playful hacking are her jazz. She is unburdened by stifling ideologies and instead wants to live in a free, open-minded and dynamic society of veirdoes, eccentrics and hackers while promulgating the free flow of information and encouraging a positive hacker ethos and outlook on life. Alternatively: A ne'er do well who causes chaos for the fun of it, casually disregards people's privacy and steals others' tech and inventions instead of putting in the effort and inventing it herself.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Out of the expansion characters, the most popular are Foreman Domai and Prime Function Aki Zeta-Five.
  • Game-Breaker:
    • The University and Cybernetic Consciousness have been argued to be this, due to the power of high-speed research, especially in the early game. Played properly, they'll discover the major research advances first, and then can leverage their advantage into an Elite Army, a vast network of upgraded bases, or extort allies for favors in exchange for tech. Their penalties are easily offset with the proper social engineering choices and secret projects.
    • There are serious balancing issues with factions introduced in the Alien Crossfire expansion. Cybernetic Consciousness, Nautilus Pirates and especially Free Drones come with extremely powerful bonuses, while their "penalties" aren't even pretending to make things even or striving for balance. Then there are aliens, who are Purposefully Overpowered in single player, but are simply banned in multiplayer.
      • The Manifold Caretakers and the Manifold Usurpers are considered overpowered in multiplayer, where the restrictions on diplomacy and win conditions no longer outweigh their numerous practical advantages.
    • Pirates start in the sea and have access to foils from the start of the game. This means that they have complete independence from the rest of the players in the early game and uncontested access to sea pods, and more importantly, if they dominate the sea areas of the map in the early game, can become the driving force in midgame diplomacy by controlling which factions are able to meet each other.
    • Cloudbase Academy, a Secret Project that gives a free Aerospace Complexnote  in each base of the faction that owns the project's home base. For economic benefit, this also means that a player's entire empire suddenly has full benefit to any satellites that have been launched. In multiplayer, of course, the usual response to someone else developing it is to nuke the base from orbit.
    • The drop pod ability for units lets them make air drops anywhere eight squares away, at a damage penalty of up to 30%. The catch is that a unit that has just performed an air drop can immediatley perform another. Cue units basically able to teleport across the map in exchange for taking damage, at which point you can just air drop them into a friendly base and let them take a turn to rest. This lets a player move combat units to the front lines instantly no matter where they were built. Or you can strap drop pods onto a Colony Pod and build a base anywhere you want.
    • The population boom mechanic can be this. Raise your "growth" stat high enough and any city with two food will *immediately* increase it's population by one every turn until it runs out of food. Population size effects the building resources and income of a city, being able to shoot it's population up allows you to take a tiny city and make it a powerhouse in just a few turns, if you have sufficient food.
    • Cloning Vats secret project provides the never-ending population boom, along with (more importantly) removing penalties from Power and Thought Control social policies. Normally those two provide a stacking penalty to Industry and Support ratings, meaning the army is elite, but also very small and expensive. With Cloning Vats... If build by anyone in multiplayer, it's the top priority of every other player to nuke base with it ASAP.
    • While easily missed the early game, Supply Crawlers are a quick way to rocket a base's production into the stratosphere.
    • Starting in Monsoon Jungle and getting nutrient bonus within the reach of your base. Expect population to explode. If this happens on a river tile it goes from simply game-breaking to so ungodly powerful the game is already decided.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: A planet only a bit bigger than Earth has been discovered in the Alpha Centauri system... that's as close to its sun as Mercury is to ours. Dammit.
    • Well, it orbits Alpha Centauri B. Chiron (fictionally) orbits Alpha Centauri A. There's still hope!
    • The Cybernetic base "Tau Collective" sounds like a Shout-Out to the collectivist Tau Empire from Warhammer40k, but Alien Crossfire came out in 2000, while the first Tau Codex didn't come out until the next year.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Sheng-Ji Yang. He cheated on his psych evaluation (using knowledge he obtained via having a PhD in psychology) to get on board the Unity as its executive officer and quite possibly (never confirmed) assassinated Captain Garland.
  • Memetic Mutation: "Please don't go. The drones need you. They look up to you."note 
    • AND THEN THEY WERE EATEN BY MINDWORMS!note 
  • Narm: The "faction eradicated" cutscene is normally horrifying, but becomes unintentionally hilarious when the faction in question is the Cult of Planet. There are only three versions of the captured leader's scream (one for female human leaders, one for male humans, and one for aliens), and the male version is much too deep for the childish Cha Dawn.
  • Player Punch: When you first create a Mind Worm boil, you'll be treated to an interlude where your faction leader dispatches a trusted aide (with a randomized name, different per faction) to become the boil's controller. If that first boil gets destroyed in combat, another interlude will appear where your faction leader is looking upon the scorched remains of said aide, and is quite distraught by the sight.
    • If you subsequently capture the city that produced the unit that killed your aide, you get a third interlude, and the city is renamed in their honor automatically.
  • Science Marches On: One of the first secret projects you can build is the Human Genome Project, a real-life international research program to decode Human DNA that was ongoing when the game was made. Instead of still being a work-in-progress in 2060 when the Unity is launched, faster supercomputers allowed the project to be finished in 2003, four years after the game was released.
  • Tier-Induced Scrappy: Miriam. War in 4X games built on the civilization model, like Alpha Centauri, is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, and without proper preparations it can quickly become long-winded war of attrition with no end in sight. Miriam is aggressive and therefore extremely annoying, should one end up with a common border or insufficiently large body of water as a buffer. Playing as Miriam is even worse, because the AIs are suddenly as aggressive towards her as she usually is towards everyone else. All six of them.
    • Many are unhappy with the new factions in the expansion, believing them much more powerful than their counterparts in the original game. The aliens get hit particularly hard with this, since their primary disadvantage (their inability to properly form alliances and launch diplomatic programs) isn't a factor in multiplayer games.
  • Values Resonance: Entire game's theme of political factionalism and environmental concerns became more in tune with the current Climate Change crisis and polarization, especially in the United States, in The New '10s.
  • Viewer Gender Confusion: Cha Dawn, a child leader with an ambiguous appearance and a female voice actor, tends to invoke this. A player may not even realize he's male until other leaders refer to him with male pronouns or his faction is eradicated (see Narm).
  • The Woobie: Pravin Lal, whose sole goal is to preserve the original Unity mandate of creating a peaceful settlement for humankind on another planet and must now watch as that dream falls apart through factional infighting — and it's Up to Eleven in the Novelization. He can become a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, however, depending on how the game unfolds.
  • The War on Straw: The factions, especially in the base game, draw inspiration from an exaggerated version of American politics in The '90s, when the right depicted the left as communist ecoterrorists obsessed with godless science and enthralled by a corrupt United Nations, and the left in turn depicted the right as greedy Christian fundamentalist militiaman gun nuts. This is most clear in the insults that the leaders use against each other in diplomacy.

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