Description: The 121st Shadow Daggers of the GTD Nereid engage in one of their famed five-minute raids. Things start to get hairy when the Nereid doesn't make contact at the designated time.
For a single mission, 'Waiting Game' introduces several new concepts surprisingly well. The command briefing sets the scene - Sirius during the fall of the NTF - and details the background behind the 121st squadron, the GTD Nereid, the five-minute raids and the mixed-race situation without difficulty, making good use of appropriate animations from the main campaign. The briefing is also of a high standard, using colours and camera movements effectively. The mission itself - help clear the way for the advance of the Vasudans from Deneb and Alpha Centauri into Sirius - slots neatly into the established timeline, providing a view from a front we never really saw in FS2. Mission chatter, meanwhile, is full of character and accurately expresses the player's own thoughts.
However, there are some (potential) holes, depending on how willing the player is to buy into the mission. It seems odd, for example, that this fully-functional destroyer, playing an instrumental part in the NTF Civil War, will not soon after be sacrificed to collapse the Vega-Capella node. NTF wings are given unconventional names, mixed-race squadrons are not known to exist and there is an unfortunate reference to 'headz', which can potentially jar with the suspension of disbelief. These things are more or less minor matters, however.
There's a good loadout, appropriate to a bomber mission, with a choice as to how heavy a ship you want to fly. With a nice Prometheus S cannon and all the Cyclops bombs you could ever need, the player is well-armed, but not overly so. The friendly:hostile ratio is well balanced as well. The player has plenty of wingmen and cruiser support, but still not enough to make taking down several corvettes and cruisers a walk in the park. Furthermore, the change in ratio numbers is well-managed as the player's isolated situation becomes all the more precarious.
Again, however, there is a dark side. Although the player can survive without too much difficulty, assuming he doesn't overstretch himself, it is hard to fully accomplish all mission objectives and complete the mission with a better than 'moderate' outcome. It is very tough to destroy a corvette, two Leviathans and fend off fighter attack when said capital ships jump in almost at the same time and depart not too long after, especially since most of your wingmen have already been destroyed. Taking out a majority of ships and leaving the last two untouched still nets you a 'mediocre' debriefing, which seems unfair, given that it's hard to attack three ships simultaneously.
The design is generally very good and FRED technique is correct. Events, messages and objectives are named properly and even the notes in the Mission Specs editor are filled in. The scripting is good - send-message-list is used, for example, as are correctly chained directives and such. The ships arrive independent of one another - no waiting for one ship to be destroyed so that the other can conveniently pop in a few seconds afterwards - which is appropriate for the mission concept. Respite is provided at certain junctures as well, most notably the end, which prevents the frustration of dying as you almost jump out.
There are flaws (as always!), of course. Gamma has no available player orders, which makes FRED complain unnecessarily - this could have been avoided by changing Gamma's name to Epsilon. More seriously, the issue with the Mordenkainen and the Leviathans could have been done better. If the idea is to have the player merely damage all three ships, instead of destroy one and leave the others (as hinted at in the briefing), then messages and directives should be deployed to reinforce that idea. At the very least, 'Heavily Damage the Mordenkainen' should complete when the Mordenkainen is heavily damaged, suggesting to the player that they should break off their attack and chase after the Asmodeus and Mephistopheles cruisers. Certainly, the directive to attack the Leviathans should not come up only after the Mordenkainen has been destroyed or departed, considering that the cruisers leave before the corvette does!
Also, break-warp is used instead of never-warp to stop the player jumping out before he should. Break-warp can be fixed by a support ship, meaning that the player could re-arm his bomber (a common potential occurence, surely) and regain the ability to jump out, which could break the debriefing. That said, the debriefing is already broken, but in a minor way: debrief stages for one result can be very incompatible with another. The player can 'fail' overall and get the worst debriefing result, where the commander is extremely sarcastic and mean, but successfully accomplish the secondary objective and be told that he flew an "ace defensive screen" and shouldn't let "anyone understate [his] abilities." I mean, what? It's good that the debriefing accurately reflects individual aspects of the mission, but it must remain consistent in itself, and extreme responses need to be toned down so that they aren't jarringly incompatible.
The mission is basically fun. Attacking and destroying the NTF capital ships is enjoyable, as is the interesting task of flying intercept in a Medusa bomber. Although the mission is a linear set of events, always ending in fleeing the counterattack to join the Nereid, the different outcomes of those events combine to form different results for the entire mission, which is good. The intro is also very nice, clearing the deck of an Orion shortly before it jumps out, and hits the player with the reality of the time limit before it's even started.
The only thing that mars the gameplay is the difficulty of getting a better than 'average' result on Medium. Which is just as well, really.
Other Thoughts: While it seems like a Strike mission, don't be fooled: it's Assault. I liked that bait-and-switch.
Bottom Line: An enjoyable mission with a lot of explosions and, barring some balancing, really only a few minor issues. What more could you possibly ask for?
Highs: Good concepts, rollicking bomber fun, nicely polished.
Lows: Objective balancing.