So, I've been lurking these forums for... well actually years now... and finally WiH has put me over the edge and made me make an account, because I can't let this slide without reviewing it.
Genius, pure genius. To me personally, this is the best expansion of Freespace lore. Other takes on it are also good, often brilliant, but the Blue Planet take so far manages to balance out the pseudo-mysticism V built up around the Shivans with some ground-in-reality concepts, diluting it with wonderful pseudo-science and all makes sense so far.
To the campaign at hand:
Story & overall feel:
Laporte was the most identifiable character of any campaign I played so far. This may not work for others as I have read already, but to me, her character arc was one I could relate to. The athmosphere and feel of the campaign together with sympathetic and believable characters like her and Simms (and also Steele in a way) made me so emotionally attached to everything, like works of fiction only seldom do.
When it comes to the battle of ideologies that seems to be raging even in these forums, I definetely side with the UEF more than with the GTVA - perhaps that also played a huge role in why I could really feel frustration and anger on every freighter lost, every capship sacrificed - and satisfaction for every little success.
While the Alpha 1 feel has been diluted, I never felt like a useless pawn, and the transcendant connection to the Shivans (I guess, I don't think those were the Vishnans talking with all the 'destroy to preserve' stuff) made me feel important and "chosen-oneish" enough. Rather than useless I felt like a necessary part of the greater machinery.
Talking of machinery, this campaign/mod - again more than many contemporary works of fiction - manages to show the harsh reality of war. In the way a work of fiction should - as an epic storyline of characters changing due to the influence of war. It shows that in war there is no moral high ground, there is no real glory, and you can't fight a war and still stick to morality. By that, not the GTVA nor the UEF are "evil", they just act by the necessities of war.
The focus on "real" strategy and plotting inside a war was a good thing to me. I was never too much a fan of the Alpha-1 "you will turn everything around single-handedly" feel. After all, there was a bit of that in here, too, in just the right dosage for my taste.
Steele is of course both awesome as a strategist, yet I personally was also compelled to hate him enough to reasonably put him into the "villain" category. Mainly the masterplan to alinate the Vasudans from the UEF made me both shake my fist at him and yet admire his grand scheme. His final trap was so masterfully implemented that I truly felt crushed. Defeated by myself more or less for even having the hope to maybe achieve a major victory against the GTVA there.
The use of music above all was perhaps what made this an "action-packed-thrillride" to quote every movie description ever made, yet this mod deserves it.
Holy crap, this was hard... I played on medium, and I quickly realized that even a small mistake can cost you your life. Let a fighter behind you and one salvo can be enough to critically damage or sometimes even kill you. Dogfights are intense, and finally capships felt like they should feel (IMO) - a reasonable threat to fighters, instead of the sitting ducks I remember from retail.
The final mission took me forever, 20+ tries, and after 10+ I tuned down to easy and later even very easy. Especially frustrating to me was that I finally finished it once, came to the point where the tag appeared on your Beamblocker ship, and I accidentally was exactly in the line of fire of the green beam. The main reason it took so long though were performance issues. Dogfighting becomes very tedious when framerates drop and lag makes your aim nearly uncontrollable. Also I am curious on when exactly the beam overload event kicks in. Sometimes I managed to kill off every fighter of the last wave before it triggered, and sometimes it triggered almost immediately after they launched. Also the timing on when the second attack group warps in seemed a little sketchy/random to me at times - but never clearly broken like it happened elsewhere.
Besides that, the many fresh elements, dialogue choices, the customizable strike team against the corvette in one mission, the hostage situation, made clear this certainly wasn't just another FS2 campaign. All those options are also another reason I can't share the "you feel powerless to influence the outcome of missions" some seem to have got.
Besides the last mission, none felt frustrating enough for me to consider cheating, and I wouldn't call myself a very good pilot. But then again, I haven't had a chance to compare yet, as all my friends I tried bringing to FS2 were completely overwhelmed by the controls, as they were used to Freelancer as their only space game I guess.
Overall, I think this is better than most commercial games when it comes to mission design, story and characters. It has some minor flaws - performance issues and some bugs that are already being polished from what I got, so - kudos to you. To me you are awesome in many ways, including proving (again) that modders and hobbyists with a passion can sometimes even surpass standards set by the mainstream gaming industry.
Overall, better than AoA, better than everything else I played so far. To me it lived up to the hype.
Hm, pardon some minor language quirks that may appear above, I'm no native speaker, and my english tends to be over-stylized and complicated from what I'm being told, because I learned it mostly from literature and RPGs, later the internet, and not actual spoken english.
BTW: I hope this will eventually be VA'd, although I understand that this seems like an almost impossible task. It would just be a shame if it were never VA'd at all, as it would so greatly improve the game.
And I can't await Part 2.
Damn those cliffhanger endings, especially when they mention AoA characters as possible major characters in part 2