I've been lurking on this forum for about seven years - a time framed by cycles of Freespace obsession followed by months or years of disinterest. Curiosity has always brought me back to check on the goings-on of this awesome community and download the latest and greatest updates to the game, but it was the recent release of WiH R2 that finally convinced me to actually register on these forums. Now I can finally give this mod the great praise it deserves (and some constructive criticism) - before I slink back into the darkness.
I've given much thought to the following, and don't mean it to be hyperbolic: BP: WiH is one of the best games I've ever played. I'd probably put it somewhere in my top ten, in the company of Metal Gear Solid, Mario 64, the Gabriel Knight Series, Half Life 2, etc. A very qualitative (and pointless) list, to be sure, but it illustrates just how compelling of a mod the Blue Planet team has created - at least for one individual. Considering the amount of people who continue to post about the game so long after its first release, I doubt I'm alone.
Why do I like WiH so much? Because it syncs so well with many of my personal gaming sensibilities: I value good stories, a rational universe with logical rules (that aren't constantly broken or plausibility-straining), creative pushing of boundaries, and thoughtful execution. WiH is lacking in some ways, but not in those. (Most) everything just... makes sense, and I can't emphasize enough how important that is. Even when you don't understand what is going on, just knowing that there is a hidden baseline logic beneath the storyline makes the whole thing more enjoyable. By contrast, plausibility never seemed to be the rule in retail FS2 (as much as Volition tried, in the end you were still the nameless super-pilot, somehow laying waste to Shivan capitals all by yourself), and for that I found the original games lacking.
As far as R2 goes, I think it is a worthy sequel. It has state of the art production values (relative to this community), and continues to push the Freespace story in a fitting and compelling way (I find it harder and harder to separate Blue Planet from Freespace canon as time goes on, honestly; it's filling the void left by Freespace 3). As far as the missions go, I've been reading some of the praise and criticism they've been getting, and wanted to give my two cents. This is where the constructive criticism comes in.
I think the new emphasis on open-ended tactical mission control options should be continued into the next release to some extent. However, future releases would be better served by providing a more gradual learning curve for players learning these mechanics. Many of the R2 missions required an hour or two of trial runs to beat. This was seldom because the missions themselves were overly difficult - I found most of them fairly easy after the practice. Rather, they took many replays because I was forced to learn complex new gameplay mechanics for the first time in almost every mission. This is not optimal design. If these new mechanics were instead ramped up over the course of precursor missions players would feel more at ease when tackling the complex missions the BP team so obviously wants us to have. One example: now that I understand what you guys were getting at I'm *craving* more missions like Her Finest Hour - it's super-fun assigning targets for the Narayanas -, but trying to beat that one for the first time was a real *****!
It might also be a good reminder to beware of excess. Goodness does not always increase linearly as content increases. In this case I'm referring to the amount of exposition. Yes, I love the story and read every single line in briefings, missions, and the dreamscape. But is the sheer volume of dialogue slowing down the pace of the game too much? Probably. A little. I'd love to have that same amount of total dialogue but spread it out over a few more missions. They don't even need to be incredibly innovative, time-consuming FRED masterpieces. Sometimes we just want to go in and blow stuff up, after all.
But all this criticism is really secondary to the main point of this post: letting you guys know that you have made an awesome game, and people - many who you'll never even know - appreciate it. Like I said... one of my favorite games ever. And I'm just one lurker out of hundreds or thousands.
Back to the shadows.