Welcome to InsaneBaron Review 2.5: OPERATION TEMPLAR. Today I'll be writing my first “mini-review”, that is, a short review of a short campaign.
First, a little about me and my reviews. I'm a decently experienced pilot, but I haven’t been on HLP for very long. Hence, these reviews are gonna be tailored for two groups of people. First, other new-ish people who, to quote General Battuta, are looking for their “...First (or Next!) Campaign.” Not that I'm making n00b reviews, I'm just not making 1337 reviews. Second, hopefully my reviews will be helpful to the campaign makers themselves, by way of feedback, encouragement, and a bit of constructive criticism. If you're a new recruit trying to decide if a campaign is for you, or a designer wondering how new recruits will react to your campaign, then these reviews are for you.
I'm going to organize these reviews into four categories. First, PLOT. Characters, story, scary or funny moments, et cetera. Second, GAMEPLAY. Balance, fun-factor. Quality of any new ships and weapons. Clarity of mission goals. Challenge. Third, AESTHETICS. This will barely apply to some simpler campaigns, but this includes cutscene quality, the artistic appearance of new ships/weapons, voice acting, music... the “look and sound” of the campaign. Finally, TECHNICAL STUFF. Was it easy to set up? Did I run into bugs? That sort of thing. This last section will naturally be incomplete, because I'm no beta tester. I didn't try to break any missions (“really, I wasn't TRYING to break it! It just happened!”). So the only bugs I'll catch are ones that will come up in a casual playthrough- but those are probably the most dangerous type.
Anyway, here goes...
OPERATION TEMPLAR was originally a set of four Volition-made multiplayer missions. The only known multiplayer missions to be confirmed as canon, they bridged the gap between Silent Threat and FreeSpace 2 by covering an important bit of FreeSpace history: the last days of the Hammer of Light. The player(s) were sent a a series of cooperative missions as the spearhead of “Operation Templar”, a decisive assault against the HoL. Unfortunately, they were multiplayer missions, and FS multiplayer is by this time mostly dead
(although, “there's a big difference between Mostly Dead and All The Way Dead”, especially thanks to the BP team.) The result is, most of us never would have had a decent opportunity to play these missions if something hadn't been done.
converted Operation Templar into a four-mission single-player campaign. Unfortunately, all they really did was stick the four missions together into a campaign file. The result? You had to play solo on missions designed for four-player co-op. Major balance failure.
That's when the FSPort team got involved. Much like they had done with Silent Threat: Reborn, they remade OT into a viable single-player campaign. They followed the original much more closely than they did with ST:R, preserving the original mission structure, briefings, and even voice acting, but rebalancing the missions for single-player enjoyment.
And now.... OPERATION TEMPLAR
PLOT: The plot is 90%
canon. If you don't count having fewer enemy wings and more friendly ones, there are only three real changes.
First, since it's a between-games campaign, G&G (Goober5000 and Galemp, see my last review
) gave you a cross-era equipment pool, combining gear from both games. Your ship supply is still FS1-era, but the weapons are more complicated. From FS1, you still have Flails, Leech Cannons, S-Breakers, and a limited supply of Banshees, plus all FS1 secondaries except the Harbinger and I think the MX-50. From FS2, you have the Akheton SDG and Prometheus R. I'll discuss the implications under Gameplay.
Second, G&G added a whole new CB to the first mission, complete with one bit of original Voice Acting, which explains what Operation Templar is all about, why the HoL is still around, and why the weapon pool is so weird.
The third change comes in on the last mission, see gameplay.
All in all, the plot is logical and reasonably interesting, if short. Missions lead to eachother in a sensible flow of events as you pursue the HoL's strike teams back to their hideout. In fact, the plot makes more sense than the original Silent Threat. The Canonity of the story adds to its value (many campaigns, including Blue Planet, take the FSPort remake as canon material, much like they often do with Silent Threat: Reborn). And while it's not an epic anti-Shivan struggle, it will definitely keep you interested enough to play the four missions.
Operation Templar has an interesting combination of Volition solidness and FSPort creativity.
One unique aspect of the campaign is the unusual loadouts, as mentioned above. Cross-game mashups are possible; you can put Akheton SDGs on an Apollo, for instance. One of the hard parts is the lack of straightforward dogfight primaries. Lack of Earth materials has exhausted the stock of Avengers and original Prometheus cannons, but the HL-7 family has yet to be developed. You have to either make do with the low-powered Prometheus R, or the shield-centric Banshee. I flew the first three missions in a Hercules mainly for the quad Banshee.
Note that Capships still operate on the FS1 rules: no beams yet, and primaries/missiles still work on them if you're patient enough.
Each of the missions poses an interesting challenge. Operation Templar is not a mindless Blast-em-up campaign. Due to the HoL's tactics of taking hostages, care must be used to prevent blue-on-blue losses. Therefore, strategy is the key. Sometimes you can't shoot back.
“Bringing the Hammer Down” is a pretty straightforward Capship Assault scenario, requiring you to take out a destroyer (The captured PVD Anhur) before it escapes. Sets a good start for the campaign, as the following missions are essentially a pursuit of the HoL escapees.
“Chasing the Threat” is a creative “hostage situation” mission, where you have to ID the enemy transports before attacking. Follows with a nice big furball skirmish.
“Tightening the Noose” is an intense, multi-objective mission.
You need to destroy an HoL destroyer (the HLD Tanis) while assisting in a rescue op for the hostages on board two transports trying to rendezvous with the destroyer. Transports must be disabled, but not destroyed, before reaching the destroyer. Friendly marine transports must be escorted. The Tanis must die
. It takes some strategy. Here's how I did it: have all the bombers dogpile the Tanis while you slow down (but not full disable) the first transport. Once the Tanis is down, the HoL won't have any reinforcement wings left, so it's safe to disable the transports and trigger the arrival of the marines. Have some fighters protect the marines while the bombers finish off the Tanis's escort cruisers, then go home.
“Final Outpost” was a fitting end to the HoL (although according to War in Heaven, which I'm in the middle of, they're still out there somewhere). This was the third major plot change G&G made: changing the HoL's outpost Nagada from an Arcadia to a fan-made PVI Cheops (which makes more sense, if you think about it). This mission takes a LOT of strategy, as you have to gain space superiority without destroying the outpost, call in an escort the marine transport, protect them while they rescue one last hostage from Nagada, then blow the place and pull out. Worth a couple of tries.
Side note: on Final Outpost there's an Isis that flees the base, apparently containing the HoL's leaders. You get a secondary objective for killing it, but unfortunately it warps out once its hul gets to 30% or so, making it FRUSTRATING to kill
. And I'm a maximalist; I don't leave objectives incomplete
. Finally I found a solution: camp the fighterbay till it launches, soften in up a bit, then feed the leaders of the HoL a pair of Serkrs, killing them in one swift blow before they could bug out.
Anyway, gameplay was quite satisfying overall.
Essentially retail. No new music, only one new ship (the Cheops-class Vasudan asteroid base). Fully voice-acted, but all the voices were re-used from the original multiplayer missions or the main retail campaigns. The exception would be the intro CBAni, which was a new addition by G&G and was specially voice acted (perfectly well) by someone from FSPort.
Easy to install. I only encountered two bugs, both merely annoying. First, during the debriefing for the first mission, the second half of the debrief (both text and voice) was doubled; the commander gave the speech about “finishing the threat once and for all” twice
. Second, on the last mission, the flare of the explosion of Outpost Nagada froze and remained floating there even after the outpost was gone.
I think the problem wasn't with Operation Templar but with my MediaVPs: my secondhand jury-rigged Windows Vista machine
has so much trouble with the Advanced Effects that Age of Aquarius was unplayable until I deleted the MV_Advance file.
Anyway, I don't give percentages to Minicampaigns (too much “Apples and Oranges” effect). But, Operation Templar is a solidly made campaign, worth playing both for its enjoyable missions and for its significance to the FreeSpace Saga. Highly recommended. Thumbs up, G&G!