When the Destroyers came for us, we attacked. Never had we been defeated. They were like the others: strange, hideous, resisting, fighting. Only these were not like the others. They did not die. We made our first retreat—we could forego one system. We left it to the Destroyers and went elsewhere. But they followed. They hunted us. They followed us when we retreated, discovered where we lived. For a long time, we did not know why they chased us. They were no ordinary enemy. They did not seek our territory, our technology, our resources. Now we know our crime was sin.
FreeSpace is a 1998 space sim developed by Volition and published by Interplay Entertainment. It is officially titled Descent: FreeSpace — The Great War (or Conflict: FreeSpace in European markets) for trademark reasons which are not worth getting into, but has no relation to the game Descent other than being published by the same company. The sequel is just titled FreeSpace 2.In FreeSpace, the Galactic Terran Alliance is at war with an alien race called the Vasudans. The player character is an ensign recruited to fight the Vasudans. However, partway through the campaign, a new alien race called the Shivans suddenly appears and begins attacking both sides. The Shivans possess technology far superior to the Terrans or Vasudans, and threaten to annihilate both sides. Both races team up in an attempt to prevent the Shivans from locating Vasuda Prime and Earth.Set a few months later is Silent Threat, an expansion pack with a new plot, ships, and weapons. The story focused on the Galactic Terran Intelligence organization attempting a military coup in the aftermath of the Great War, centered around a new superweapon: the GTD Hades.FreeSpace 2 takes place 32 years later. The Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance is embroiled in a civil war with Admiral Aken Bosch and his xenophobic, Vasudan-hating Neo-Terran Front. Then the Shivans return in force, effortlessly sweeping aside all opposition. The battle is on to find a way to contain them before they overrun known space once more.The franchise ended there despite the incomplete story of the second game, due to a split between the publisher and the developer. However, in 2002, Volition released the source code for the game. The result of the fandom getting their hands on it is the FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project (known by the fandom as the SCP. No, not that.). It is a single umbrella project dedicated to improving the original source code; the FS2_Open engine is the result of the project, and is much more powerful and flexible than the original game engine, with greatly improved graphics as well as a plethora of new features for designers to utilize in mission-building, and it is still being improved to this day. A large number of fan-made campaigns are available as well, thanks to the game coming bundled with a mission editor, the same one that Volition used to create the original game.Hasits own wiki.
Notable Fan Projects
Ancient-Shivan War: A three act prequel to the FreeSpace games. The first two acts depict the first half of the conflict between the Ancients and the Shivans. Sadly the last act, which would've depicted the Ancients' last stand, was cancelled.
Ace Pilot: The number and size of the ships you single handedly destroy during the course of a campaign will put any major fleet battle group to shame.
Although the games strive to present a "cog in the war machine" feel, that you are just one good pilot among many the Alliance possesses, your character is singled out near the end of the first game to lead an extremely dangerous mission past the Shivan blockade... the same mission that ultimately turns the tide of the entire war.
A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Neo Terran Front; they view Vasudans as an obstacle to the survival of the Human race. Averted by their own leader, Aken Bosch, whose main plain is to actually communicate the Shivans as he thinks it's the only way to survive a war against them.
The Hammer of Light believes that the Shivans are Cosmic Redeemers and that they are chosen to eradicate all who would oppose them. The Shivans don't really care for them anyway, and destroy them regardless.
All There in the Manual: A document called the Freespace Reference Bible, a collection of the developers' notes on the first game, contains a few story details not made clear in the main game, such as some backstory on the GTA and the precise workings of subspace, as well as some hints as to What Could Have Been, including storyboards for a couple of canned cutscenes.
And in Freespace 2, when the GTVA Colossus is destroyed by one of the Sathanas Juggernauts.
AFGNCAAP: Your character is only ever referred to as Alpha 1.
User made campaigns don't even necessarily make you Alpha 1. FS2_Open can allow a mission designer to assign the player to any slot in any wing.
Always a Bigger Fish: In the first game's intro cutscene, a pilot frantically reports that his wing was attacked by Vasudans, only for both parties to be massacred by the far more ferocious, bloodthirsty Shivans on death black ships.
Animal Motifs: The Shivans are very fond of insect motifs to be precise. The SF Scorpion (which is actually an arachnid, but close enough), SF Mara, SD Lucifer and SJ Sathanas being the most blatant examples, and many of their other ships do appear vaguely insect-like in design.
And Man Grew Proud: "I remember stories of a glorious civilization... of people with myths of humanity everlasting... and they hurled themselves into the void of space with no fear."
The first Ancient cutscene. "Ours was a proud people, and always the strongest..."
Apocalypse How: The SD Lucifer can annihilate a city with one shot, or glass a planet in 13 hours; in the sequel, every large capital ship with beam cannons can presumably do this. Furthermore, enough Sathanas juggernauts can make a star go supernova.
Apocalypse Wow: The Sathanas fleet causing Capella to go supernova. If you thought the capital ship explosions were big, you'd be surprised.
Armored Coffins: FreeSpace has never hinted at the existence of ejection systems on its fighters, and tactical retreats are rare. For most ships and fighters, once committed to the field it is do or die.
Armor-Piercing Attack: Beam cannons ignore a fighter's shields. Whether this still holds true for capital ship shields (which are rare enough that the issue doesn't come up in canon) is debated among fans.
Arrow Cam: You can target your own locked-on anti-capital ship bombs. Your ship's HUD will even provide an estimate of the time it takes until impact.
AI wingmen also take some micromanaging to be effective at their jobs. Quite often, they will not bother to defend or attack critical objectives unless they are specifically told to.
The Asteroid Thicket: Asteroid fields will malevolently and continually hurl rocks in the direction of any ship you are assigned to protect. And then they'll stop as soon as you remove that ship from your escort list.
Awesome, but Impractical: The GTVA Colossus ends up being this despite the best of intentions. It follows a standard Terran design despite being co-developed by Vasudans; it can't project very much of its firepower in one direction but can engage multiple smaller ships in all directions at the same time, and is durable enough to win even if heavily outnumbered. This is exactly what the GTVA needs against the NTF, and is exactly what they could've used during the Great War. Unfortunately, the designers never imagined it would ever have to fight something of comparable size and durability, where its inability to deliver most of its firepower into a single target turns into a massive handicap.
Badass: Lieutenant-Commander Snipes, your superior for the optional SOC missions. He's an awesome pilot, he got the commander of an NTF ship executed without him doing anything wrong, and apparently survived for quite a while in a transport in a nebula, and even in such a life-threatening situation, he can still remain calm:
"Yeah, but I classified that on a need-to-know basis. And until you get us outta here, you don't need to know."
Alpha 1 too, although "Badass" may not even be enough; after all, he wins entire battles against himself.
And to top it all, their four best pilots were tasked to fly into an unknown star system in Terran-designed Shivan Maras beyond the nebula filled with Shivan presence to make scans (and destroy afterwards) of some unknown Shivan devices called "Comm Nodes", as well as to witness a few dozen Sathanas juggernauts pouring in from a distant Knossos portal. It's really pretty creepy, what with the mysterious Comm Nodes, third Knossos portal, and Sathanas fleet, making the Shivans look even more enigmatic.
And by the way, if you're good enough, you get to shoot down dozens of enemy fighters in that mission. While dangerous, it is quite fun to blast things around with your Kayser cannons.
Beam Spam: In Freespace 2, capital ships rely heavily on beam cannons for attacking other such ships and shooting down fighters. Taking out their beams effectively render them helpless.
BFG: The main beam cannons of the Sathanas Juggernaut, as well as the overdriven beam cannons of the GTVA Colossus.
For that matter, the beam cannons on any Destroyer also fit here, yet the Sathanas and Colossus both have them beaten in terms of sheer hugeness.
Big Bulky Bomb: The Meson Bomb. The bomb itself plus the container is 372 meters long, and only the biggest freighter in the Alliance can haul it around.
The Harbinger Bomb and the Helios Torpedo. The former is a fusion bomb with three salted fission warheads, and the latter is an antimatter torpedo. Both are ridiculously powerful, but a bomber can carry a small amount at any given time and take about thirty seconds to reload.
And in regards to the Helios, it's bigger than a fighter, but what's really ludicrous is that a Myrmidon fighter can carry four of them! Several members of the FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project theorize that the Myrmidon may originally have been intended to be a next-gen strike bomber, or that the developers made a mistake while modifying the Myrmidon's entry in the data tables. Both theories are equally plausible.
Big Bad: The Shivans in general, but the first game had their flagship, the SD Lucifer, that more singularly took on this role.
The Sathanas seems to take over this role in Freespace 2, until you learn shortly afterward that there's more than one. Lots more.
Big Damn Heroes: You occasionally are, particularly during the missions where you have to save escaping civilians from the indiscriminately-murderous Shivans.
The PVD Pinnacle during an Escort Mission, comes with large amount of Vasudan fighters that made you really wish there are a lot more Shivans to destroy.
And you get to be on the receiving end in one of the optional undercover missions, when you're cover's blown. You have to survive alone against two wings of NTF fighters and a cruiser for a couple minutes, but if you can manage it, you'll be treated to a wing of the elite 99th Skulls squadron and their top-secret Erinyes fighters appearing from nowhere, killing the shit out of your pursuers, and vanishing again without a word.
Boss in Mook Clothing: The Lilith-class cruiser looks exactly like the much weaker Cain in both games, a big surprise for players who don't read the tech description.
Later SCP versions made the Lilith's hull black compared to the Cain's gray.
The Fenris and Leviathan cruisers in the first game are not significant threats, but they both received a very significant facelift in the second game, especially the latter, since they are now capable of ragdolling fighters with their Beam Spam.
According to the techroom, the Satis-class Vasudan freighter was originally classified as a small Cruiser during the Terran-Vasudan War, because of the many laser turrets it carried.
Bring My Brown Pants: Invoked by Snipes right after diving to avoid a collision with a Sathanas jumping out in his path.
Captain Obvious: Command in FreeSpace 2. "Avoid the beam and you won't get hit, pilot."
Chekhov's Gun: The SF Mara fighters that were captured early in the main FreeSpace 2 campaign but then used near the end of the same campaign to detect a fleet of Sathanas juggernauts heading for GTVA space.
In the first game, if you look at the ship database and look up the weakest ship, the PVF Anubis, you will read that some factions have resorted to packing their ships with high explosives and ram them into capital ships which then reports that this tactic worked in destroying a major capital ship before the events of the game. Sure enough, in "Tenderizer". the Hammer of Light ships proceed to attempt just that on the Galatea.
Cherry Tapping: With time, the weakest laser can overcome the biggest capital ship. In the sequel, it can't destroy it, though.
Cool Starship: The GTVA Colossus, which took 20 years in the making, has the firepower of over five massive Orion destroyers and is said to be carrying state-of-the-art weaponry.
Some of the fighters you get later in the Freespace 2 campaign look stunning compared to some of the other ships you've piloted, like the Erinyes or Ares.
Cosmic Horror Story: The series is right on the verge of being one thanks to the Shivans. Their ships are far beyond anything the GTVA can take out easily (even their fighters are untouchable at first,) and it eventually becomes a trend for the GTVA to take out their superweapon at great cost and effort at the eleventh hour, only for the Shivans to either just pull out a bigger superweapon or reveal that one was just one of hundreds, if not thousands.
Crazy-Prepared: No matter how many times they are beaten, the Shivans always have a contingency plan. For example, they countered the Alliance's answer to future Lucifer threats with the even more frightening Sathanas; when the Alliance destroys the first one, they send in the other eighty-plus.
Critical Existence Failure: A single tiny weak laser shot can make a sufficiently weakened capital ship explode. This looks quite strange if a giant anti-capital beam barely scrapes an antenna.
Freespace 2 subverts this by making Fighters unable to destroy Corvettes and Destroyers on their own. As their hull integrity drops, the damage inflicted by Fighters gradually decreases until their attacks are ineffective. At that point, only Bombers and beam cannons can finish them off.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Energy leech weapons don't stop the AI properly. Strangely, they can also target stealthed enemies, allowing you to target Shivans with the "Target my Target's Target" key.
Contest Winner Cameo: Of a sort. The other two pilots who accompany the player and Snipes in "Into the Lion's Den" are named Xinny and Zero. Those were the screen names of two of the top-scoring Descent: FreeSpace multiplayer pilots.
The Sci-Fi Sim of the Year edition of FreeSpace 2 came with several fan-made missions that Volition liked so much, they included them in the official release.
Cosmetic Award: Completing certain objectives or beating certain missions earns you shiny medals.
Darker and Edgier: Both games, exactly at the event where the Shivans show up the first time.
Death of a Thousand Cuts: You could destroy capital ships [i.e. anything above cruiser class] on your own without heavy weapons—if you're very patient in the first game. The sequel made for an aversion, in which the player could reduce a capital ship's hull integrity only to a certain percentage (except for bombs).
The Maxim gun is a humorously effective way to mow down an enemy Cruiser without taking any damage. Not only does it have the fastest fire rate of all weapons in the game, it has bonus damage against hulls. Fly 3 kilometers away from said Cruiser's field of fire, and begin pounding on it until it explodes.
Deflector Shields: Standard issue for Shivan fighters. By the end of the first quarter of the great war, everyone has them.
The Lucifer takes it Up to Eleven, being the only Destroyer-class warship equipped with shields.
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: In the mission builder, FRED. It names newly placed ships <class of ship> 1, <class of ship> 2, <class of ship> 3, etc. Attempting to crash it by naming any ship, for example, Ulysses 2, when the next Ulysses would be auto-named that, results in the new ship being called URA Moron 1.
In the first mission of FreeSpace 2, if you don't jump out when the mission is complete, the ships you've been escorting will actually go through the docking procedure with the ship that you're told is coming in for them to dock with. You can watch several minutes of scripted sequence and dialogue that pertains to absolutely nothing important.
In the mission Straight, No Chaser, when the second Sathanas juggernaut destroys the GVD Psamtik, the Sathanas will normally blow the Psamtik away in seconds. However, its beams aren't scripted, just flagged as allowed to fire at will. On the off-chance that they miss enough so that the Psamtik is not immediately obliterated (essentially requiring all but one beam in the first two volleys to miss) the ship's commander and Command will exchange increasingly panicked dialogue as the damage starts to pile up. The commander even reports that their jump drive has been destroyed, so you won't wonder why the Psamtik doesn't just take advantage of its luck and retreat while still in one piece.
Difficult but Awesome: Cluster bombs. You have press the trigger a second time after launch to manually detonate it once it's at an appropriate distance. It is very tricky to get the timing right, but if you can, they are among the deadliest anti-fighter weapons in the game, and can take down entire wings of fighters in a single shot (provided they're all bunched up).
Disproportionate Retribution: Whenever the Shivans lose a fleet asset (which could be anything ranging from a Sathanas juggernaut to a wing of fighters, they deploy a larger force that the GTVA is unable to handle. For example, when you're defending the GTC Trinity in the first Nebula mission, they'll send several Basilisk fighters to attack you. After that, they send in a wave of SF Dragons.
Command's reaction to you if you fail. If you do not measure up to the absurdly high standards Command sets for you (usually as a result of its own incompetence or overconfidence), reactions can range from a dressing down, being stripped of your wings, and being actually arrested.
Earth That Was: Or rather Earth We Are Cut Off From, owing to the destruction of the subspace portal at the end of the first game. Part of the plot in the second game involves gathering information on portal construction in order to reconstruct the portal.
Easter Egg: There are a few secret videos on the Silent Threat disk in the Secret/Supersecret file. They include a looped clip of a Terran Soldier running down a hall, a Vasudan in a kitchen who pulls out the severed head of a Volition exec, a Terran in a losing fistfight with a Vasudan, and a clip of a Shivan whaling on a Vasudan fighter.
Enemy Mine: By the first quarter of the first game, the Terran-Vasudan war has pretty much over, cemented further by the formation of the GTVA during the Time Skip between both games, which extinguished all stereotypes they previously have, though the Hammer of Light and Neo-Terran Front does not share the same views.
Surprisingly enough both games have managed to pull them off well, without making them so joystick-bustingly frustrating as they usually are in most other games. Mainly because unlike in most other games where the AI of the subject you're escorting is about as suicidaly stupid as it gets, here is not an issue because the ship you're escorting doesn't do anything except fly in a straight line (and occasionally shooting at enemy ships to help you out, unless it accidentally hits you instead), and it's kinda hard to fuck up programming "fly in a straight line" into a ship's AI.
Evil Is Bigger: Aside from the fact that Shivan ships are generally more advanced than their Terran/Vasudan counterparts, many Shivan designs are the largest of their specific class. Seraphims are the largest bombers; the SD Lucifer is the largest warship of the first game; the SD Demon has 60% more hitpoints than most destroyers in the sequel and is slightly larger than its Allied counterparts; and the SJ Sathanas actually looks larger than the Colossus, mainly due to its protruding armor plating.
Expansion Pack: Silent Threat for Descent: FreeSpace, along with many user-created campaigns.
Explosions in Space: Played straight, but worth mentioning just because of how amazingly good they look if you're playing with the SCP engine and all the graphical upgrades.
Fantastic Racism: The Neo-Terran Front, a splinter group of anti-Vasudan humans, and the Hammer of Light, a splinter group of anti-everyone Vasudans.
Fictional Geneva Conventions: The end of the war between Earth and Vasuda led to the signing of the Beta Aquilae Conventions (usually abbreviated BETAC). BETAC establishes general guidelines for warfare and treatment of civilians and prisoners of war, but also lays the groundwork for the Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance. The NTF, who oppose the alliance, reject BETAC in its entirety for that reason.
Fission Mailed: Failing to achieve a primary objective doesn't necessarily mean you lose the mission. Just like in real war, unforeseen circumstances can render the original objectives either impossible or moot.
Fling a Light into the Future: The Ancients do this after realizing that they have no chance whatsoever of surviving their fight against the Shivans. The information they record regarding their downfall and the Shivans' weaknesses proves vital to humanity and leads to the Shivans' defeat in the first game.
Fragile Speedster: Light fighters such as the Loki or Astaroth can fall apart if you sneeze on them too hard.
Friend or Foe: The Hammer of Light just love to pose as your reinforcement, and then turn on you as soon as you turn your back.
Game-Breaking Bug: The usage tag for the Trebuchets is set in a way that the conditions are mutually exclusive, which means the AI just don't know how to use them. Some errors in mission settings are also present sometimes which make the missions harder or easier than it is supposed to be.
Game Mod: A lot. Twelve years since the first game's release, the modding community is as strong as it ever was, and they continue making new storylines and upgrading the source code.
Genre-Killer: Freespace 2, which was pretty much the last major space simulator released (a couple have been released since, and have been largely ignored by the gaming community). Some fans attribute this to the game being so awesome that nothing could ever compete with it. Others place the blame squarely on publisher Interplay's shoulders, for not marketing the game and causing its lackluster sales.
Glass Cannon: Many Shivan warships sport an insane amount of forward firepower. Attack them from any other direction and they go down like a sack of potatoes. The SC Rakshasa and SD Ravana play this trope dead straight. Even the mighty Sathanas can have its main guns ripped apart by a couple of bombers if only the AI pilots are more competent.
This is made for their usual tactics of jumping out of subspace on unsuspecting enemies and start blasting away with all they've got.
In general, Shivan fighters are made of paper without their shields, which makes the final fight against the Lucifer rather easy since they have no shields there.
Good Colors, Evil Colors: Terran ships are gray, reflecting the Galactic Terran Alliance as sort of a strict, militaristic organization. Vasudan ships are sand-brown, likely due to coming from a desert world. And, of course, the Shivans are black and red to reinforce their demonic nature.
Harder Than Hard: Insane difficulty, which removes all fire and turn rate delay caps from AI-controlled ships, allowing them to turn and shoot as fast as you, and reduces your energy and shield recharge rates to an equal level as theirs. It's almost like playing against many very experienced players, really.
Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: FreeSpace 2 is filled with missions where you have to keep not only yourself but an escort ship alive until a certain point... at which point the escort is destroyed by overwhelming force from nowhere.
Hope Spot: FreeSpace 2 is basically a succession of these.
Initial battles against the Vasudans were hugely one-sided against them. Then the new Vasudan capital ship classes show up...
The weakest Shivan scout seen in the initial encounters is mistaken for their best fighter, and this pretty much sets the trend: The biggest baddest Shivan ship we're scrambling to destroy before it single-handedly wipes out our civilization either turns out to be just an average-sized vessel in their fleet or has scores of identical ships right behind it.
The end of the first game can be taken as such, given the events of the second. The two dominant species in the region end a decades-long war to join forces against an incredibly powerful invader, eventually managing to just barely defeat the invasion at incredible cost to both forces, including losing both homeworlds. A generation later the invaders return, and want to know what happened to their scouting force.
Horde of Alien Locusts: Shivan ships seemingly shaped to make them look like fearsome creatures. However, they are still "normal" ships otherwise in term of functions.
Humans Are the Real Monsters: The stereotypical view of Terrans by Vasudans (or, in a stereotypical Human's view, Vasudans Are Bastards). This trope is played perfectly in one of Descent: FreeSpace's deleted cutscenes (only made known in the Reference Bible):
Jake: "See! It’s those damn sand eating bastards! I tell you man. We ought to kill em all. They’re causing more trouble than the Shivans."
Will: "I don’t know about that, Jake. I’ve heard some evil shit about the Shivans…"
Jake: "Oh they’re all in it together. First those stinking Shivans show up. That’s why they signed that treaty. They knew they would lose. They’re in it together I tell you." *Vasudan glances at them* "Yeah buddy! What are you looking at?"
Vasudan: "You have a loud mouth, human. If you knew the truth you would not say such things."
Will: "Hey man, he just had a bit too much to drink. Give him a break."
Jake: "Yeah! Give me a break! In fact I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you come over here and I’ll give you a break! I’ll break your face into little alien pieces and flush it down the toilet!"
Vasudan: "You should leave now."
Jake: "Me leave! Ha! This is our damn ship you stupid bastards! You think you own it! Here, own this!"
Hyperspace Lanes: Travel between systems is done at jump nodes, essentially the end points of established wormholes that travel between systems.
Hyperspeed Ambush: Most enemies, especially the Shivans, prefer to ambush you or the vessels you're escorting by warping in close by. Shivan warships love this tactic, as they often jump in and tear apart their targets with their beam cannons in seconds, usually done by their Ravana-class destroyers and the Sathanas juggernauts.
If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: The end of the first SOC loop mission in FS2 (in which you are undercover), after you are done with your initial objective, the squad leader orders you to destroy a civilian transport that just jumped in. You actually can destroy it, but regardless of what you do, your rebel squadmates will turn on you anyway, claiming they already know who you are.
Infinity+1 Sword: In FreeSpace 2, the GTF Ares heavy assault fighter and the Trebuchet missile. The former is a badass makeover of the more common Hercules Mark II and handles like a brick, but kicks the crap out of anything smaller than a corvette. The latter is a gamebreakingly powerful missile, combining the longest range of any weapon in either game with the ability to knock out most bombers in two shots. You only get the Trebuchet on intermittent occasions, and the Ares in the last three missions of the campaign. Other examples include the Erinyes fighter and UD-8 Kayser laser cannon. Mounting dual Kaysers on an Erinyes can be a huge drain on power but will utterly disintegrate enemy fighters in seconds.
Infinity–1 Sword: The GTF Apollo and GTW-15 Avenger in Descent: FreeSpace, and the GTF Perseus and GTW-5 Prometheus S in FreeSpace 2. The Apollo, Avenger, Perseus and Prometheus S aren't the best guns and ships in both games, but they are still used very heavily throughout both games, even after the introduction of better weapons and vessels, simply because of their versatility on the field. However, if you have bad aim and can't handle the Prometheus, then you will most likely stick with the rapid-fire Subach/Mekhu HL-7 most of the time until you get the Kayser as even Death of a Thousand Cuts will maul the Nephilim/Seraphim/Taurvi without fail since you just can't miss those oversized bombers.
Interface Screw: If your "Sensors" subsystem gets destroyed, you are hit by an EMP missile, and/or you are flying inside an EMP nebula. As Lightning Fall would be a straightforward, mostly unremarkable mission if not for the constant EMP.
If your "Communications" subsystem takes enough damage without being destroyed, messages from Command or other ships will come through garbled and unclear. It is usually still possible to make out what they are saying, however.
It's Up to You: The AI is incompetent on most difficulty levels, leaving you to do an awful lot of the objectives that don't involve blowing stuff up. Made worse by your commanding officers, who berate you and you alone when a mission goes sour.
The SD Lucifer. Since it possesses shields that are invulnerable to any Terran or Vasudan weapon, and because of its superior firepower, the Destroyer could plow through entire fleets without taking a scratch.
Freespace 2 gives us the Sathanas, which is actually called a Juggernaut in-game since its size and firepower surpass Destroyer classification. The Sathanas is so powerful, only a large fleet of Destroyers or the Colossus can defeat it.
Left Hanging: FreeSpace 2 ends with the Shivans blowing up Capella, destroying most of the human and their own fleet that are still in the system. The epilogue hypothesizes that they were perhaps attempting to find a way back to where they came from. While this was most probably a Sequel Hook, the discontinuation of the series meant that the actions of the Shivans at the end of the second game was an open-ended answer for twelve years. It was only recently that Word of God (specifically, the game's lead writer) actually confirmed it as such.
Lethal Joke Weapon: The GTW Flail. At first sight, some people may feel like dismissing it as a novelty, and it really isn't all that useful in single player when confronted with huge waves of enemies. But when used by a player with good aim in multiplayer, good luck trying to get a lock as you get ragdolled across half the playing field.
In the sequel, the Flail gets upgraded into true lethal weapon, the Morning Star. It still has the original's kinetic effect, but it is devastating against fighters. Moreover, there are now several missions where its rapid fire, long range, and kinetic redirection capabilities are useful assets.
Little Hero, Big War: Some early missions you fly are rigged to fail, which is later revealed to be due to behind-the-scenes politicking by the GTVI and Admiralty, who want Bosch's ETAK Shivan communication device for themselves. A few of your pilots complain about it.
Why did we attack the Iceni? Why did we destroy that cargo? I can live with being a pawn if the game makes sense! — Nameless pilot
It's quite scary to see a wing of Basilisks do this, honestly. It's an unfortunately quick way to kill a Cruiser.
Meaningful Name: Shivans. This isn't the name they call themselves ... nobody knows what they call themselves because they never even attempt communication with anyone, and don't respond to communications directed at them, either. The GTA named them after the Hindu god of destruction, Shiva, due to their usual habit of blowing up absolutely everything they didn't build. The fact that Shiva is also the Hindu god of creation is not ignored by the game: in the epilogue, a character waxes philosophical about whether or not the Shivans play a role in preservation as much as destruction.
They didn't pick the name "Project ETAK" out of a hat, either. ETAK is short for "Etamnanki", a tower which some believe inspired the Biblical story of Babel. Project ETAK is an attempt at building a Shivan communication device.
The GTVA Colossus. It's a big ship, bigger than most destroyers. Nuff said.
The TAG Missiles (TAG being short for Target Aquisition and Guiding). When it hits an enemy, the missile activates a beacon that marks it as a target for capital ships.
Mercy Mode: You may skip a mission if you fail it five times in a row.
Mooks: Shivans are usually the ones to play this trope; dozens of them are killed by a single wing of 99th Skulls pilots led by Snipes.
The Neo-Terran Front play this role for a good part of the second game. They usually fly Great War era fighters like the Hercules and Medusa, while you fly shiny new ships like the Myrmidon and Perseus.
Mook Chivalry: Lower levels limit the number of enemies allowed to attack the player, with Very Easy allowing only two ships to attack the player at any one time. On the other end of the scale is Insane difficulty, which allows up to 99 attackers.
More Dakka: The GTW Mekhu HL-7, the Vasudan version of the Subach HL-7 used by Terran ships fires much more faster, and deals more damage. There's also the GTW Flail and its successor, the Morning Star.
Capital ships in Freespace 2 are armed with Flak Guns, which fire explosive AA rounds at fighters that get too close. While on that topic, there are also the Corvettes, which are essentially Cruisers with more guns and better armor.
The GTF Erinyes, sporting eight primary weapon mounts for shredding enemy fighters. There's also the Ares, the counterpart to the Erinyes with huge missile banks that rival that of a bomber.
Nigh-Invulnerability: The SD Lucifer, which has impenetrable shields and is only vulnerable in subspace.
Behind the scenes, however, the Lucifer is only invulnerable because the "Invulnerable" flag is set on it for missions. To make it vulnerable in the last mission, they simply didn't turn on the flag.
Several mods have been made to give the Lucifer actual shields rather than simple invulnerability. Results have been mixed. The (original) engine's way of rendering shields doesn't scale very well, unfortunately.
When you first encounter the Shivans, it is extremely difficult to hurt them because their shields are extremely resistant to the crappy standard-issue equipment you have. Plus, their weapons are superior to those of the Terrans and Vasudans. Actually managing to kill one results in a different debriefing, where Command congratulates you on proving that the new enemies are not invincible.
The Mothership: The SD Lucifer, responsible for glassing Vasuda Prime in 13 hours. Its destruction caused the remaining Shivan fleet during the Great War to be greatly disorganized, easing the Terrans and Vasudans in finishing them off.
Non-Standard Game Over: you will get a different ending cutscene if you did not survive the Capella explosion.
The now-infamous start to the binary system mission: the very first thing you see is a Sathanas juggernaut that's about to accidentally ram your starfighter into oblivion. "DIVE, DIVE, DIVE! HIT YOUR BURNERS PILOT!"
Terran Command's famous "Oh my god! It's the Lucifer!"
Probably your first reaction at seeing the countdown on your screen after Command warns you that the Capella star has just gone supernova, and that the shockwave from its explosion is about to hit.
Omnicidal Maniac: The entire Shivan race suddenly comes out and tries to kill everybody non-Shivan.
Some of the story does imply the Shivans may only target genocidal races, the only races confirmed to be attacked by the Shivans were the Ancients, Terrans, and Vasudans. The Ancients were confirmed to be genocidal in the cut scenes, and the Terrans and Vasudans were fighting one another.
With the story being incomplete, it is very difficult to assess the Shivan motives. If they were purely genocidal, they should not have bothered to abduct the command crew of the NTF Iceni, and with their fleet of juggernauts they could have easily wiped out the GTVA instead of blowing up the Capella star and hyperspacing away to parts unknown. The story seems like it was intended to be further developed in a third installment that was never made.
Confirmed by the Word of God in another link. Shivans send out a scouting party, then send in a main group, create a gate by collapsing a star, then...um...they hadn't figured the next step out, but probably port in the REAL armada.
Organic Technology: The Shivans seem to be some kind of biology-electronics hybrid species; in fact, there are theories that the ships themselves are creatures.
Our Graphics Will Suck In The Future: The briefing screen, especially on the first game where they used Terran ship icons (Fenris cruiser icon for cruisers and Orion destroyer ones for destroyers) to signify non-Terran ships.
Outrun the Fireball: Fighters and bombers lingering near a warship approaching critical mass do this all the time. You also get to run from a really big one in the last mission of FreeSpace 2.
For those unfamiliar, Command informs you that the Capella star has gone supernova and you've got 40 seconds to get the hell out before the shockwave hits. Good luck if you so happened to be on the wrong side of the battlefield. You still win, though. Technically.
Pay Evil unto Evil: Love the Treason...: Snipes rigs half of an entire fighter squadron of NTF fighters to detonate (with help from the fighter wing's crew chief), massacres a whole bunch more (alongside Alpha 1), then blames it on the "laziness" of the captain of the Sevrin, who is then executed.
Photoprotoneutron Torpedo: The gigantic Wave Motion Guns are typically called "beams", both in-game and out, but their technical name is "Photon Beam Cannon". There's also the Meson Bomb, a superpowerful explosive that completely vaporizes anything within three kilometers.
Planar Shockwave: The graphic effects use several planar shockwaves, but the actual blast zones are spherical and can knock you around whether one of the "waves" grazes you or not.
Point Defenseless: True in the first game, as capital ships were only armed with "blob" turrets, which did decent damage but were pathetically slow and easy to avoid. And once shields came into the picture, they almost became a non-issue. The sequel, on the other hand, introduced shield-piercing anti-fighter beams and flak cannons that shred any fighter stupid enough to fly into their range. Blob turrets are still around, but more advanced turret AI meant that they'd concentrate on incoming bombs, which they actually are capable of shooting down.
The heavier bombers also have defense turrets, but they will only fire at whatever you are targeting. At least this is the closest thing to an auto aim.
Precursor Killers: The Shivans. Exactly how many times they've done so is up for debate.
Protocol Peril: The entire Terran-Vasudan War started with a First Contact gone wrong, when a translator messed up the ridiculously complex Vasudan language.
Ramming Always Works: The Colossus vs Repulse battle hilariously averts this when the Repulse fails to do anything more than dent the gigantic Colossus. The battle between GVD Psamtik and NTF Belisarius goes down exactly the same way.
Retcon: The Battle of Deneb in the first game was an ambush of the GTD Galatea by the SD Lucifer immediately after the SD Eva was destroyed in a separate engagement, with most of the fighting done by strike craft wings. When it is shown in flashback in the second game's intro they are suddenly the flagships of entire fleets, including ships on both sides that were destroyed earlier in the war.
The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: The debriefing of the last level of Silent Threat has a comment that had the player's side lost against the Hades, "GTI would be writing the history books".
Roboteching: The Hornet swarm missile. Its more advanced descendent, the Tornado, actually corkscrews all the way to the target.
Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Hammer of Light and the Neo-Terran Front, the latter of which are actually scary dogmatic humans.
Schmuck Bait: In one mission, the Shivans leave behind some cargo containers, which Command immediately captures. Two of them are rigged with explosives, which were presumably left as a trap by the Shivans.
Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: Combat takes place at unrealistically close ranges (< 500 m). Modern jets are actually faster than FreeSpace fighters and bombers ... but if the combat was modern, we wouldn't have that Old-School Dogfight feel that makes the game fun to play.
They also get this wrong in the other direction for once. A big plot point is Earth getting cut off from the Portal Network at the end of the first game, so 30 years later nobody has any idea what happened to it for lack of communication. Except... Alpha Centauri is connected to the Portal Network, and it's close enough that ordinary radio signals could have travelled back and forth to Earth in that amount of time. It'd be really slow communication, but still...
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The captain of the GTD Phoenicia pulls this when Sathanas' first salvo nearly destroys the mighty Terran warship. In hindsight, probably a smart move, as the destroyer definitely wouldn't have been able to take another hit.
Script Breaking: Disabling certain ships in the final mission of FreeSpace 2 can screw up the entire end sequence.
Shiny-Looking Spaceships: Most Shivan capital ships except the Ravana and Rakshasa (or the Lilith in the upgraded engine), Terran cruisers, and mostly averted by the Vasudans except for the Typhon.
Shout-Out: The Ancient technology to track ships in subspace is found on Altair IV. And in the cutscene where scientists are testing new shield technology, the firing beam discharges at 1.21 gigawatts.
The whole aesthetic of the series, from how the first cutscene is staged to the capital beam weapons of the second game, is very much inspired by the contemporary Babylon 5. The Shivans, in particular, are the Shadows - except that they don't care what you want, they just want you to die.
A surprisingly cultural one: Admiral Aken H. Bosch. As in the painter Hieronymus Bosch, a.k.a. Jheronimus van Aken.
Shrug of God: Volition has remained very tight-lipped about the mysteries raised by the second game. Somewhat (in)famously, one of the devs once said that, had FreeSpace 3 been made, we would've learned that the Shivans are "part of a much larger problem."
A more recent interview has brought a few more details to light: The devs implied that the Shivans were a biological tool built to create new jump nodes connecting back to the Shivan homeworld. The general idea for post-FS2 stories would have involved the GTVA going on the offensive and attacking the homeworld. Whether the Shivans' creators were still around was left up in the air. They still did not explain exactly what happened to Bosch, but did say that his end was probably not a good one.
Space Clouds: Nebulae that look like really thick technicolor soup when you fly through them, obscuring things from your radar except at close range, and limiting sight range to under a kilometer. They also have frequent lightning storms which, when intense enough, wreak EMP-related havoc with your ship's HUD.
Space Flecks: Small, translucent, rotating rocks that can be seen during a mission.
Space Friction: There's no reverse thrusters visible on any ship yet you can simply set your speed to zero and come to a stop.
Space Is an Ocean: FreeSpace designates its capital ships from smallest to biggest in the order of cruiser, corvette, frigate, destroyer, superdestroyer and juggernaut. Note the existing navy terms aren't in the order used currently.
Completely averted in gameplay, however. The FreeSpace series in general is notable for taking place in a completely three-dimensional environment. With friction.
Starfish Aliens: The Shivans. They more closely resemble giant five-legged spiders than anything else, having apparently evolved in a zero-G environment. Among other interesting quirks about them are: nearly bulletproof exoskeletons, multiple redGlowing Eyes of Doom, and the ability to survive prolonged exposure to vacuum. Don't forget the integrated laser beams.
Starfish Language: Vasudan is so complex as to be almost impossible to learn by humans, who get by with mechanical translators for interspecies communication. Shivan language apparently takes place through built-in communications systems and so doesn't even have a spoken component.
Stone Wall: The original Lucifer superdestroyer was equipped with two Flux Cannons, but was replaced by the far weaker SRed cruiser-scale beam. This reduces the Lucifer to a 800,000 hitpoint hulk that's only dangerous to Cruiser-sized warships.
Stuff Blowing Up: Especially in the new FS2_Open, those explosions are purdy and will make any pyromaniac drool.
Subsystem Damage: Getting hit at the same spot multiple times when your shield is down may damage and destroy a subsystem in addition to your ship taking hull damage. Most ships come with the standard Sensors (affects radar integrity), Engines (affects ship movement), Navigation (theoretically affects jumping out) and Comms (affects the success rate of sending ship-to-ship orders or requests).
Suicide Attack: Both the Hammer of Light and Neo-Terran Front tried to do this several times.
Taking You with Me: The NTF's rear admiral, Koth, attempted to do this by ramming his own ship, the NTD Repulse, into the GTVA Colossus.
In FreeSpace 2, after a successful mission, a Vasudan commander proclaims: "This victory proves without a doubt our technological superiority over our Great War nemesis. For the second time, the Alliance defeated a species which has annihilated entire civilizations across this galaxy. With the Colossus, we will have nothing more to fear." Now, this kind of blatant Genre Blindness is Tempting Fate by itself, but in a Dark and Edgy setting where the storyline constantly reminds you how hopeless your situation is and how insignificant your victories are, this really takes it Up to Eleven.
Shivan ships' weapons do considerably more damage than their allied equivalents. For example, the main beam cannons of the Sathanas do almost twice the damage per-shot and fires twice as fast than the beam cannons of the Colossus, and the latter does not even have an equivalent. Its huge beam cannons, while assigned as specific weapons in the mission editor, don't exist in-universe - they're just what happens when the gunners overload the next-step-down beams to the point where they start melting. Shivan beams even look more efficient, with a near-solid beam, whereas Vasudan beams look less focused, and Terran beams are even worse. It brings the Vasudan commander's comments into full-on arrogance.
From the preceding missions, the Vasudan stating this and Command seem to be completely cognizant that the Shivans still possess a massive technological advantage over the Alliance. Bear in mind though, that the Alliance up until that mission had just had several fleets effortlessly annihilated by the Sathanas and was looking down the barrel of a second Shivan incursion; the statement is most likely part of a propaganda campaign to reassure the GTVA.
In the first game, Terran spacecraft classes take names from Greek or Norse mythology (Apollo, Hercules, Loki, etc.); for Vasudan vessels, Terrans employ Egyptian mythology (Anubis, Seth, Osiris, etc.); and Shivan ships receive biblical terms (Cain, Lilith, Dis, etc.), outright demonic names (Lucifer, Demon, Asmodeus, etc.) and mythological monsters' names (Manticore, Basilisk, Dragon, etc.). Reporting Names for Terran squads use Greek letters; Vasudan squads are named after the zodiac (Aries, Taurus, Pisces, etc.) and Shivan squads are given Hindu/Sanskrit terms (Arjuna, Bheema, Rama, Krishna, etc.)
In the second game, theme naming conventions changed slightly due to the events in the lore: Vasudans actually grew to like the Egyptian designations that their newly-allied Terrans gave their spacecraft and began using them officially. Both the Terrans and Vasudans employ Greek letters for their wings (although Vasudans tend to use them from Mu onwards) while leaving Zodiac names for Shivan wings. Shivan designations expand further: individual ships are named after pretty much anything of occult, pagan or Judeo-Christian origin (Baal, Chemosh, Demogorgon, Beast, Thanatos, Rephaim, Belphegor, Asuras, etc.); furthermore, ship classes retain their religious-esque names (Seraphim, Aeshma, Azrael, Mephisto, etc.) and include some characters from Hindu mythology (Rakshasa, Ravana, Rahu).
Tim Taylor Technology: You can change the distribution of power between your shields, weapons, and engines. Tempered by the fact that power to your engines has only a small effect on their maximum output. It otherwise only affects the recharging rate of your shields, gun batteries, and afterburners.
Translator Microbes: Vasudans can be heard [and, in cutscenes, seen] speaking their own language, with the monotone mechanical translation played over the top and slightly delayed; no Aliens Speaking English, either. The fluff in the sequel indicates that the technology has matured somewhat to allow for better contextual recognition; in the second game, the translation voice carries much more inflection, making things like sarcasm more obvious.
Unexpected Gameplay Change: Sometimes you have to fly a bomber while being assigned to a fighter squadron, and FreeSpace 2 had one annoying stealth mission.
Vehicular Turnabout: One mission in the first game required the player to capture a Shivan fighter, and in the next mission use it for reconnaissance in an enemy held system.
Visual Pun: In one mission where you protect a crippled Vasudan Destroyer, the Shivans send a Lilith-class cruiser designated the "Lightning". Another cruiser arrives some time later, called the "Thunder".
The Captain of the Colossus when he frantically tried to hail the NTF Admiral on board the Repulse to surrender. Of course he didn't, and even tried to ram, which did nothing but some minor dents in the Colossus.
"Don't be absurd, Koth! You're sacrificing 10,000 lives for nothing!"
At the beginning of the first game, we face a similar situation between a Vasudan capital ship, the GVD Psamtik, and a badly damaged NTF corvette, the NTCv Belisarius. The captain of the rebel ship refuses the Psamtik's orders to surrender, which forces the Psamtik to destroy the corvette.
Woolseyism: In-universe example; the Vasudans consider the Egyptian theme of the Terrans' naming convention for their ships flattering, given the longevity and importance of Ancient Egypt in Earth's history, so they adopt it as official translation for their proper nouns and individuals take Egyptian names for Terrans to refer to them by in conversation.
Wronski Feint: The sheer size of capital ships makes this a practical tactic in the first game. The flak cannons of capital ships pack in the second game make it impractical, because the shrapnel they shoot at your pursuer is likely to hit you too.
One series of missions in Freespace 2 has you fighting the remnants of the NTF fleet as they make a frenzied charge to the Knossos Portal in Gamma Draconis.
The penultimate mission of the first game has you on the receiving end of one. Your squadron makes a mad dash to the Sol jump node as both the Shivans and the Hammer of Light send everything they have against you, eventually culminating in a Hammer of Light destroyer warping in to attempt to block your path.