It's one of those games where I could not play it because my machine back in the day didn't have the specs for it :(
So finally, after almost 2 decades, I got my grubby paws on it from gog :3 It reminds me totally of the wing commander series, even the same dragging-the-mouse-all-over-the-table just to catch an enemy dogfighter. Miss my saiteks.
Playing on medium, there were only a few missions that were annoying to win (recon mission in enemy fighter was one) and some protection missions, but thanks to the mission hints during the debriefing, it was not too difficult to win after a few tries. Overall, it was fun, almost an arcade experience.
For one, the spaceship you fly is really hardy. Starting out, there are no shields, but crashing at over 100m/s into a capital ship just gets some hull damage. With shields, the ship is able to take some serious damage, unless you just ignore the ships on your tail. I remember on xwing having to equalize or set the shield configuration and management all the time, here I mainly used the equalize, and for rare occasions, the boost front/rear shields.
The wingmen (is there a more gender neutral term? Wingpeople? Wingpersons? Those-who-follow-my-lead?) are really good, they are even able to respond to more intimate commands like Disarm capital ships (destroy enemy weapons), or Disable (shut down engines).
Combat, was really very wing-commander like. If not for kilrathi and unknown aliens I'd say this was wing commander. Missiles don't seem to track very well, I rarely see my missiles do proper damage like the guns, but on the flip side, it is quite possible to dodge enemy missiles with the afterburners together with the countermeasures. Even being hit by a missile doesn't seem to do _that_ much damage.
The storyline, honestly is quite straight laced. Attack this, defend that, escort this, blow that up. I think what's missing from WingCommander are no strong characters. You don't really know who the commander is, you don't know who's flying off your wing. It's not like WC where you get hobbes and maniac flying with you for years (why did you kill of hobbes, origin, why?!). I think having characters that grow together with you gives a feeling of protectiveness over your wingmen. I do send my wingpeople home in Freespace when they are in the red, but I'm just not as attached.
The final mission to destroy the big bad invulnerable capital ship, I somehow wasn't able to play (this is dosbox on osx). I could only hear what's going on, but the view of space was blank, with only the hud displayed. Luckily, thanks to my amazing people-who-fly-with-me-on-missions, they took down the big boss with only an "Engage Enemy" command :P
The game also came with the expansion pack. Played the first mission and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Playing as covert ops, we're supposed to silence our own people for the greater good. Bleh. Cmd-Q, thank you very much.
Overall, I thought this was a very enjoyable game. May have to play it again and lose the secondary objectives on purpose to see what happens :P