That's fair enough. But I have to ask: if the races are interpreted as characters, doesn't that make them fairly cliched ones? In particular, the arcs of the GTA and PVN are pretty much cookie-cutter space opera.
Oh yes, most definitely. The Terrans and Vasudans fit neatly into ol' "quick, fast, adaptable humans" and "staid, dogmatic, cow-faced aliens." The Ancients - well, their name itself is as cliche as the concept of an all-powerful progenitor race that once ruled the galaxy and left behind remnants of its great, vast civilisation after its unnatural destruction.
What I like, and have always liked, is the Shivans. Yes, their insectoid appearance and hive-mind society is typically inhuman and, as such, distasteful and frightening, but the concept of the Shivans being the Great Preservers as well as, or in fact through, being the Great Destroyers is what saves Freespace from being just "SPACE WAR" for me.
Freespace is a war story, with a clear premise of 'war is hell', something that's reinforced throughout the game. You lose Vasuda, Earth, the Bastion, the Beta Aquilae Installation, many freighters and transports and countless wingmen, all due to war. Yet war is ultimately responsible for our survival; without the Terran-Vasudan war, we never would have honed our fighting skills and our ability to adapt to our enemies' technology to the extent that we could defeat the Great Destroyers. The Shivans in themselves articulate the concept of war being peace - their constant indiscriminate aggression unites warring races against them - an idea we can trace back to Orwell's 1984.
But the price of war is not forgotten; the Vasudans, who 'lost' the war, saw their planet, their friends and family, destroyed, while the Terrans, who 'won' the war, saved their planet from destruction - but the soldiers of the GTA are distanced from the families that they protected, physically through the loss of the node but also, more importantly, emotionally through becoming murderers for their species.
That's how I saw it, anyway, and that's why I prefer FS1 to FS2 in terms of story. FS1 had a clearly defined premise and set of ideas behind it, whereas FS2 did not, even though it looked prettier and had Aken Bosch directing the play. Of course, it suffered for being Part 2 of 3 without the Part 3, whereas FS1 works as a single piece... but as it is, nothing brings it out of its cliche of "SPACE WAR."