So, I just had two days of sick leave and threw myself at the campaign....
First some technicalities:
- I ran in to the bug with "Bringing down the Gavel" on more recent builds.
- I had big performance hits in "The Texas Seven", "El Chapo" and "Going out with a Bang"; framerates dropped consistently into the 10s and with the last one it made mission barely playable.
- I also skipped over "Black Flag", "To Steal a March On" and "Going out with a Bang" because the mission proved to be too difficult (in the case of the last one the permformance hit did play a key role):
- - With "Black Flag" I had trouble with keeping up with all the stealth mechanics, going so far that I couldn't get a scan as soon as Tyr wing arrived.
- - "To Steal a March On" I had trouble with getting enough transports disabled without being shot down; I tried to break the mission by blocking the Jump Node with disabled ships only build a killbox for myself... (it would have worked if just the cruisers would have actually fired disrupters to away some of the turrets on ships that were disabled)
- - In "Going out with a Bang" evading the waves send specifically against you while maintaining the torpedo decoy just was too much to handle at once. The wingmen just took too long to intercept any target and I got swarmed each time. It doesn't help that you can't really stop to restock your countermeasures and get damaged systems back as you either sacrifce the Intrepid or yourself.
Now onwards to the metaphorical meat of the review.
This campaign has some of the most amazing production value I've seen from the community and it deserves a recommendation just for that. I am not exactly a fan of the realist stylistic choices made (tl;dr: Fiction should never try to cover too hard its own artificiality, as being recognizably artificial helps facilitate access to subtext) but they are esspecially fitting for the story at hand; attempting to make the campaign feel very authentically military works as sugar for more bitter parts of the narrative IMO (more on that in the spoiler tags). This extends to elevating the rather dull visual design choices, making this a very "earthy" campaign.
The story itself is well written and executed with a rather low thrills approach (Don't expect some big twist, though as the curtain is drawn back it is quite interesting), however the missions are very varied and many have nice one off mechanics. These mechanics are well introduced and while they are always "one and gone" most of them are quite enjoyable addtions - and they don't take you away from the core gameplay.
With regards to the narrative there is a big BUT...
The story very much relies on Ozymandias being a very capable foe, and always one step ahead for a while as he has a lot of steps planned out. Meaning that the Intrepid and Admiral Po have really catch-up throughout the story and makes for a nice arc. (Side Node: I am positively suprised to see a capable adversary whose capabilites don't limit themselves to "biggest boat")
However there is a big bump in the narrative as it beats you over the head with just how much you blunder through the enemy plan. And it rather then involving you further by giving you a reason to see Ozymandias brought low, it felt like an attempt to break my spirit.
I recongize that putting you on the losing side for a while is signficant challange. But I wish there would have been more options to at least claim a token victory in some scenarioes - like "The Texas Seven".
Speaking of "The Texas Seven" that mission was most railroading this campaign had and it really was not a good experience. Having you have to hack your fighter was a nice touch as far as finding a new challange for the player. But on the other hand it quickly went from playful frustration to actual frustration as I realized that the whole hacking minigame was not meant to be beaten, only to be a time waster (I had several goes at it because multiple times I didn't beat until the Cardinal had already jumped out - something to do with the fact that the game reads my keyboard as an standard english configuration).
Summary: I would highly recommend this. It is top-of-field stuff - probably the best out there.