I've been wondering recently, why do I keep coming back at Freespace ? There are plenty of other space games out there, and yet Freespace is still my favourite.
I think the most wonderful feature of Freespace, the one that keeps me playing, is that you're not just a random dude who is told to shoot at things and progress. You're not a one-man-army either (well, not in Insane at least) - I mean, you can save the day even if you end up alone, but it's really hard and you have low probability to succeed.
You're neither one nor the other - you are a commander. With big responsibilities on your shoulder. You have to be careful with your wingmen ship/weapon assignment, as well as not give them stupid orders and help them when you can. Because if they die, either you're gonna be the next, or your mission will fail.. But even though keeping them alive is a high priority, the success of your mission is #1 priority. And at times you might end up sending your wingmen to die, because that's the only solution left.
When you fail a mission, you can think of how you could have done better, and change your strategy accordingly. I mean, it's not just your pilot skills - it's also your ability to understand what is going on, and to take the right decisions.
This is something that I have only seen in Freespace so far. You can give me a game with great graphics, or a game with awesome battles, or a giant MMO spacegame set in the Freespace universe. If there is no squadron management, it will never beat Freespace in my eyes.
What about you ? What kept you playing during all these years, aside of the community ? Why did you start modding this game in particular, and not another space-game ?