About a week ago I replay all of BPC and I realised I wanted to post my thoughts regarding it's gameplay(mostly on the insane/realistic difficulty), something I feel is discussed much less than its story. Hope someone will find it interesting. This is all my obviously all my opinion and I'm not trying to present any of this as truth. Just imagine I wrote "IMO" after every line you disagree with
Age of Aquarius
While not as complex or filled with :words: as later releases there's still a lot to love about AoA, especially the re-remastered BPC release. A lot of work has been put in to balance the fighters and weapons so that you actually have a choice instead of just picking the Perseus with double PromS like retail or double Balor like the old release.
The Kulas, Aurora, and the fighter-bomber update of the Myrmidon present real options depending on what you want or need, and the Circe-Prom S combo provides high alpha to kill Shivan fighters in 1 or 2 shots. The Kayser is still the king of pure damage but it's sadly not very viable due to the energy drain compared to the Balor with not enough of a boost in damage. Still, it's more variety than you'll find in most campaigns.
The enemy AI, while not as good as WiH is still noticeably better than retail and will make for some great dogfights, especially in the Vishan missions where they're given more power to compete with the player's supership.
Aside from those re-done missions however the Shivans won't present a real threat to the player, their weapons are still crap and their numbers aren't as high as retail so the campaign is overall rather easy, it's been that way since the 2010 release though. The really challenging mission is Universal truth, swarming you with nightmare inducing numbers of Seraphims and Piranha spamming Nahemas. After failing it 4-5 times in a row you'll feel like you understand the hopelessness and despair Shivans were meant to invoke, it's a great example of gameplay and story integration, especially since it comes after a bunch of easy missions where you're constantly praised for your heroics. It's a great wake up call and it will force you to master the skills you'll need to get through War In Heaven.
Overall it's one of the best campaigns that still has a distinct "Freespace" feel to it. Vassago's Dirge outshines it in my opinion due to better FREDding, using better AI, and a better difficulty curve though.
In terms of presentation it's better than ever, the VA is still excellent and the music feels fitting and mixes great with beam and laser fire sounds. The new effects and models combined with bright, colourful skyboxes make it look great too.
If you ever wanted to get someone into FSO, this is the campaign to do it with. It looks, sounds, and feels almost like a commercial release while being pretty light in tone and challenge, perfect for newcomers!
War In Heaven (acts 1 and 2)
Almost a complete opposite in terms of gameplay, it will provide a real challenge even for Freespace veterans but it does suffer in terms of variety.
The rebalanced primaries help in act 1 but you're still limited to the Uhlan, your only real choice comes from missiles and taking either the Vulcan-Scalpel combo or the Maul. In act 2 you'll mostly be flying a Kentauroi with a Rapier as your primary weapon, the only exception being Aristeia where you get a decent choice of fighters and primaries to take. The last 2 missions will give you the option to fly the heavier Uriel gunships but sadly it turns and flies too slow to compete with superior TEI fighters while not providing much you can't do in a Kent with a Gattler in the 2-bank.
The AI used here is pretty much the best FSO can offer at the moment and combined with enemies who fly capable ships armed with actually dangerous weapons make for a campaign that feels much less heroic than standard Freespace gameplay. Sure, you can still win a 1v5 dogfight if you fly hard enough but the days of cutting through 50 enemy craft per mission with relative ease are long gone. You can end up with 40+ kills in Delenda Est, but it's by no means as easy as it is in retail. WiH will make you play around the strengths and weaknesses of enemy craft rather than just rushing in head-on.
Thankfully, allies will often be a big help and help you out of a bad situation even when they can't quite keep up with you. They will even appear quite intelligent at times(with some help from clever scripting). You are presented with opposition that's not only challenging but also feels smart, using a variety of tactics to complete their objectives and pulling out when necessary.
You won't feel like the GTVA has an infinite number of ships, they still feel like the same GTVA you play as rather than surrogate Shivans.
Especially notable is the hard work put into making capships move and fight in a believable and intelligent manner, complete with tactics that make sense for the situation and capabilities of those ships. To make sure the player notices this, you will receive <intercepted> messages telling you exactly what and how the enemy capships are doing. While it's never really explained how these messages are intercepted in certain missions(those where you don't have an AWACS ship with you) it's an acceptable break from reality to showcase some cool manoeuvres.
Like AoA, it looks and sounds great, perhaps even better with huge battles and beautiful flak and torpedo explosions everywhere.
Unlike AoA it's definitely not friendly for newcomers. It's dark, technical, and rather challenging.
War In Heaven(Tenebra)
While you'll only fly the Ainsarii and will want to use the UX accelerator aside from Eyes in the Storm(where you have your pick of fighters) and One Future where you fly a capships the variety here comes from the missions. Every mission offers new gameplay though most of them will be focused on using the stealth capabilities of the Ainsarii. The missions this time are focused more around story and atmosphere rather than gameplay, with the notable exceptions being Her Finest Hour and Eyes in the Storm. The AI is still excellent but you don't interact with them that much, either oneshotting them from stealth or avoiding them all together.
You're discouraged from breaking stealth and further discouraged from dogfighting as your Ainsarii is a real pig. Too big and turns too slowly compared to the Alliance Pegasus.
While I can certainly get some enjoyment from the novelty value of cool new mechanics and good writing, ultimately replaying the campaign left me a bit bored, itching to finally get back to real dogfighting(thankfully Eyes in the storm provides just that).
The difficulty is non-existent in most missions as the challenge comes from understanding the new mechanics rather than flying skill and execution. Her Finest Hour is an exception to that rule, a great puzzle-like mission that offers you some chance to dogfight(even though you're still stuck in the stealth pig), providing great replay value if you want to understand how all the pieces work together.
Overall it's much more cerebral and while still very engaging it provides much less classic "fun" than Part 1.