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"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 over a tragic miscommunication during first contact. Several missions in however, a new alien race called the Shivans suddenly appears and begins annihilating both sides. The Shivans possess technology far superior to either the Terrans or Vasudans. They cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be bargained with, they exist only to destroy. Facing extinction, the GTA and PVE join forces in an attempt to prevent the Shivans from locating Vasuda Prime and Earth. They are not entirely successful...


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. Cut off from Earth after the destruction of the Shivan's flagship Lucifer, and with Vasuda Prime a pile of burning glass, 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. Against a truly unstoppable armada, and a rogue admiral with a mysterious agenda, a desperate battle begins to seal the Shivan invasion in the Capella system.


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. This let to a renaissance of fan-made campaigns, new content including ships, weapons, and missions of incredible complexity with the FRED mission editor, the same one that Volition used to create the original game.

As of May 7, 2014, the first game is now available on Steam, with the second game joining it on June 6th.

Has its own wiki. For fan-games, see FanWorks.Free Space.

This video-game provides examples of:

  • 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. This is balanced by the "cog in the war machine" feel; that you are just one good pilot among many the Alliance possesses. "Alpha 1" 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.
    • An Ace badge is even available for the player to earn in their medals section. It requires 100 confirmed kills to achieve.
  • Achievement Mockery: Destroying ships and completing objectives gives you points, which is accumulative, even over multiple replays of a campaign or mission, and used to determine your rank (a Cosmetic Award). The highest ranks (Rear-Admiral, Vice-Admiral, and Admiral) have point requirements in the millions, with attaining Admiral typically translating into completing the single-player campaign in either game a hundred times. Each time the player gains a rank, the debriefing for the mission where they reach the threshold will include a special message. In both games, the moment the player reaches any of the Admiralty ranks, this message may change from a mundane congratulatory message into No Fair Cheating.
    • In FS1, the message outright accuses you of cheating once you attain the rank of Rear Admiral or higher, with the congratulatory message for Admiral outright expressing concern that you might be cheating habitually, which is bad. As an apparent continuation of this, the congratulatory message for Ensign (the lowest rank, already attained by default in a new pilot file, and thus which would not usually be seen by the player) expresses astonishment at you attaining the rank and suspects that you were busted.
    • Downplayed in FS2, where only the message upon attaining the rank of Admiral invokes this trope, telling you to "go read a book."
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Neo Terran Front; they view Vasudans as an obstacle to the survival of the Human race. Subverted by their own leader, Aken Bosch, whose main plan is to actually communicate with the Shivans as he thinks it's the only way for Humanity to survive.
    • 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.
    • As the second game ended with the Shivan threat sealed away for the moment, interviews with designers explained the third game would have involved an eventual counter-strike against the Shivans, with an even bigger scope than FS 2.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us:
    • When the SD Lucifer destroyed the GTD Galatea. Bonus points because you're still flying the bomber you used to attack the SD Eva, so you helplessly try to intercept high-speed fighters before the Lucifer finishes the job.
    • When the second SJ Sathanas destroyed the GVD Psamtik within the first few moments of its appearance. This started the sequence of events leading to the single-player campaign's finale.
  • 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 fighting a Vasudan patrol, only for both parties to be massacred by the far more ferocious, bloodthirsty Shivans in death black ships.
  • And Your Reward Is Clothes: The Artemis D.H. unlocked by completing the first SOC loop. While its description notes that it is more maneuverable than the standard Artemis bomber, its actual stats are identical to the original, making it little more than a palette swap.
  • 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.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The Ancients' cutscenes in Descent: FreeSpace.
  • 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. Keeping a pilot alive is hard, even for a short term, and due to the vastness of space finding escape pods is... difficult.
  • Armor-Piercing Attack: Beam cannons ignore a fighter's shields. This applies to friendly and enemy ships. 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.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Mid-space collisions between AI-controlled ships are common. Also deadly depending on the ship's mass.
    • 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: There's plenty of asteroid fields. Some active ones will specifically hurl rocks towards any big or huge ship.
  • 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 Crew: The 99th Skulls. The ''elite of the elite'', they're often tasked to deliver dangerous missions such as helping Alpha 1 hijack a rebel transport, taking down a cargo depot filled with enemy fighters and even a few capital ships, and flying through a nebula storm with EMP hell to mess up the sensors of a fighter filled with Shivan fighters in order to rescue a lost transport ship.
    • And to top it all, their four best pilots were tasked to fly into an unknown star system in Terran-retrofitted 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.
  • Bald, Black Leader Guy: The voice of 3rd Fleet Command in the second game.
  • 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.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The interior of Vasudan ships.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Humans Are the Real Monsters, Vasudans are Scary Dogmatic Aliens, the Ancients doubly so with a dash of genocidal imperialism, and the worst of the bunch are probably the Shivans, who just simply destroy everything on sight.
    • That said, by Freespace 2, there is one ray of light which helps keep the GTVA from doing anything too bad: the Beta Aquilae Convention. BETAC is something along the lines of the Geneva Accords, and while their full contents are never revealed in-game, there are clearly rules to protect civilians and prisoners of war from indiscriminate murder and abuse. Even when faced with genocidal NTF violence, the GTVA still adheres to the rules of BETAC.
  • 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 your 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 Battle:
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Skill: 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 ramming them into capital ships. The document 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: Ancient, mysterious Starfish Aliens from beyond intend to annihilate all life in the galaxy that starts using subspace for unknown reasons. Their technology is ultimately far superior to anything the GTVA possesses, their numbers are practically limitless and every victory against them comes at a great cost, and only for them to bring out a much greater superweapon into the fray or hundreds of them!
  • 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.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Shivan warships are built entirely around launching a massive Alpha Strike from a Hyperspeed Ambush. When they pull it off most fights are over in seconds, but when they can't Terran and Vasudan ships can outmaneuver them and get out of their limited fire arcs fairly easily.
  • Critical Existence Failure:
    • In the first game, a single stray laser shot from a fighter can make a sufficiently weakened capital ship explode. This can look quite strange if said shot lands on an antenna.
    • FreeSpace 2 downplays this by causing most fighter and bomber weapons to deliver increasingly less damage on larger warships and installations until they become completely ineffective, at which point only bulkier missiles, torpedoes and warship beams will continue doing damage. It can still look funny if a warship explodes from getting hit by the almost-harmless EMP missile, or if a giant anti-capital ship beam barely scrapes a radar dish.
  • Collision Damage: Collisions all around primarily due to Artificial Stupidity, mentioned above.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Shivan ships are black and red. Capital ship beams in FreeSpace 2. Engine exhaust in both games.
  • 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.
  • Cultured Warrior: Admiral Aken Bosch is intelligent, cultured, and self-aware; hardly the kind of man you would think would be leading a rebellion based on open racism against Vasudans. In his log, Bosch expresses contempt for his NTF movement, calling it "an army of stupid cattle, driven by their hatreds, their fears, and insecurities." This provides an early hint that his motives are quite different from what they appear.
  • Darker and Edgier: Both games, exactly at the event where the Shivans show up the first time.
  • Darkest Hour: The aftermath of the Lucifer's 13-hour bombardment of Vasuda Prime sees both the GTA and PVN at their lowest point in the war — both the Terran and Vasudan fleets are crippled, the Vasudan homeworld is rendered almost completely uninhabitable, with casualties in the billions, and many star systems previously owned by both races are being overrun by the Shivans. Meanwhile, the Lucifer advances inexorably towards Sol, and neither the Terrans nor Vasudans have found a way to get past its sheath shielding and damage it, let alone destroy it outright.
  • 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.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: This is a staple in space combat sims, although the game can customize this on a per-ship basis. For example, the GTS Asimov has a blast radius of 5km.
  • 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.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • 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. If you try to be extra clever and also include a ship called URA Moron 1, the next ship will be named URA Moron 2, and so on.
    • 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.
  • Dive! Dive! Dive!: Shouted at the beginning of one mission, when you start out right in the path of a Sathanas juggernaut as it's jumping out.
  • 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.
  • Easy-Mode Mockery: Which difficulty you choose adds a multiplier to your score; The lower the difficulty, the lower your overall score will be. This has the overall effect of slowing down promotions with the amusing consequence of an Ensign potentially being in command of an elite squadron.
  • 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.
  • Escort Mission: Most of the time, the ships you're escorting fly in a straight line to their destination, rather than taking the most frustrating possible path, and aid in their own defense, with the largest risk being that they might accidentally shoot you instead.
  • Ethereal Choir: The soundtrack of FreeSpace 2 is loaded with this trope. "Fanfare", "Aquitaine", "Genesis Ambience", "Exodus Ambience" and "Database" all use it in some way.
  • 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.
  • Evolving Title Screen: The official singleplayer campaign in both games, as well as Silent Threat, switches between two different menu layouts depending on your progress.
    • In Descent: FreeSpace, the first switch happens after completing Paving the Way, where you are temporarily based on the GTD Bastion for a few missions before returning back to the Galatea, whereupon the layout switches a second time, back to the original. It switches again for good after the Galatea is destroyed by the SD Lucifer.
    • Silent Threat, the layout permanently changes after the GTD Krios is destroyed, as you are transferred to the GTD Soyakaze.
    • In FreeSpace 2, the menu layout switches upon completing Endgame, where you participate in the Officer Exchange Program and are stationed on board the GVD Psamtik for a good part of the mid-game. Interestingly, the menu layout does not switch when the Psamtik is destroyed and you are transferred to the GVD Memphis, although this could be done due to time constraints, the suggestion that the Memphis is the same destroyer class—and thus has the exact same layout—as the Psamtik, and because the menu switches back to the original layout for good upon completing the very next mission (Argonautica), which coincides with the conclusion of the exchange program and your transfer back to the GTD Aquitaine.
  • 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.
  • Fatal Family Photo: The intro to FreeSpace 2 shows the corpse of a pilot with a hologram of a couple, presumably said pilot and his wife.
  • 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.
  • From Bad to Worse: Already long and bloody Terran-Vasudan War escalates into apocalyptic proportions with arrival of the Shivans. It's getting only worse from than.
  • 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. Over two decades 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.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation:
    • In its introductory cutscenes, the Colossus is shown to possess far more firepower than it actually does in game. Also, it is said to carry literally dozens of fighter and bomber squadrons, yet only a handful are ever deployed during missions, most likely du to technical limitations.
    • The GTD Hecate-class destroyers are scheduled to replace the GTD Orion, as they are supposedly tougher and better armed. In practice, the Hecate struggles to defend itself even against the much smaller Moloch-class Shivan corvettes, which aren't actually impressive at all themselves. The aging Orions that in lore were merely retrofitted with beam cannons to enhance their service lives are actually just as tough as Hecates, but carry considerably greater anti-capital ship firepower and can almost go toe-to-toe with the devastating SD Ravana-class.
  • 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.
    • The Shivans were originally supposed to be green!
  • The Great Offscreen War: The Ancient-Shivan conflict was only briefly described in a narration by an Ancient in several cutscenes throughout the first game but was presumed to be one hell of a war.
  • Guilt-Based Gaming: You can complete mission as soon as you meet the advancement condition, but doing so generally means you didn't complete a primary objective. The debriefing in these situations tends to include a reprimand for doing so even though you advance to the next mission.
  • Gunship Rescue: Just when nearly all hope is lost as an NTF corvette bombards Enif Stations, a massive ship, the GTVA Colossus, arrives and quickly vaporizes the enemy ship.
  • Happy Ending Override: Inverted by Silent Threat — the tone of Freespace's ending cinematic is heavy on assuming the Shivans will overrun everything and that what has been won is a reprieve for Sol (now isolated from the subspace network). Come Silent Threat and... the Shivan invasion force turns out to have suffered a massive loss of coherence and strategic efficiency after the destruction of the Lucifer to the point that the remaining Terran-Vasudan forces in the colonies are winning the war against them.
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom: "Send FIGHTERS!! I-I know they're following me, send everything you have NOW!!"
  • Hard-Coded Hostility: The Shivans from Descent: FreeSpace and its sequel.
  • 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.
  • Hello, [Insert Name Here]
  • Hitbox Dissonance: Quite a few, but the most notable example is the SD Ravana in FreeSpace 2, which is somehow capable of shooting beams through itself.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The cluster missiles. It takes a lot of calculation to hit it at the right time, considering its speed, when it will explode, the distance of the enemy target, and direction of said target to use it effectively. More often than not, the average novice player will throw it point-blank at the face of an enemy fighter, usually killing himself.
  • Hopeless War: The war against the Shivans.
  • 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.
  • 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!"
    * followed by a Bar Brawl*"
  • Humans by Any Other Name: Played straight with the classic Terrans, but amazingly subverted with the Vasudans, as "Vasuda" is from an ancient Sanskrit word meaning "Earth"!
  • 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.
  • Gainax Ending: The second game ends with a massive Shivan fleet of humongous size entering Terran space and just when it was decided to permanently collapse the two jump points leading from the Capella system to prevent the Shivans from overruning the rest of the galaxy, they blow up the star and disappear into strange green jumpgates, destroying and killing everything in the system and apparently vanishing without a trace. Might possibly have been a potential cliffhanger hook for future games, but the series was never continued.
  • 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.
  • Informal Eulogy
  • 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 Juggernaut:
    • 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 flanking Destroyers or the Colossus can defeat it.
  • Justified Tutorial: Tutorial simulations you can play before some missions.
  • Lead the Target
  • 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
  • Light Is Not Good: The Hammer of Light.
  • Lost Technology: The technology of the Ancients.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Swarm missiles.
    • 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 Acquisition 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.
  • Mighty Glacier: The Ursa heavy bomber is by far the slowest flyable ship and it handles like a brick, but its firepower rivals a small capital ship.
  • Military Mashup Machine
  • Mission Control: Command.
  • 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.
    • The enormous Nephilims and Seraphim bombers take ages to destroy, and have quite frightening (but rather weak) rear turret lasers, but are easy to take down nonetheless due to their slow speed and giveaway target profile.
  • 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.
  • Motif Merger: 2 borrows the style for an early short video discussion backstory, showing the Galactic Terran Alliance and Parliamentary Vasudan Empire emblems merging into the Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance emblem. In general, the GTVA emblem counts as this trope just as much as the Union Flag does, being a combination of the symbols most representing the Terran and Vasudan peoples.
  • Near-Villain Victory: In the first game. SD Lucifer was destroyed in a narrow window of opportunity of 10 minutes before she could leave the subspace and devastate the Earth. Even before the Sol gate battle, GTD Bastion (a ship that was ordered to destroy her inside subspace gate) was ambushed by SD Tantalus and barely survived, being too late for the final battle with superdestroyer. It was only thanks to the skills of small number of Terran and Vasudan pilots that saved the planet from inevitable doom. Said wings had to get through heavy resistance of both Shivan and Ho L fleet in epic race against time from the last 2 missions of the campaign.
  • 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 and the fact that you can't get a target lock on them at that timenote . 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.
  • Oh, Crap!
    • 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.
    • GVD Psamtik: "Affirmative! Sathanas configuration! Repeat! Sathanas configuration!"
  • Old-School Dogfight: It's even written on the box as a feature!
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: During the end cutscene.
  • 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.
  • Our Weapons Will Be Boxy in the Future: Due to the Terran ships following ISO Standard Human Spaceship classification, we have some really, really boxy ships as well; a notable one is the GTD Orion, which , indeed, looks like some sort of a flying armored brick. Others such as the Triton, Elysium, and Aeolus can fit into this category as well. The technical descriptions of some of the Vasudan ships mention that at first glance Terran designers laughed at the Vasudans for not designing their ships along "purely utilitarian" lines. They shut up soon afterward.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Neither the Terrans nor the Vasudans were expecting the Shivans. Neither were the Ancients.
  • 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.
  • Painting the Medium: The main menu.
  • 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.
    "When you sign up with the wrong outfit, you get what you deserve."
  • 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.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse:
    • The SC Lilith-class cruiser is just as small as its sister class, the SC Cain, but carries a monstrously powerful destroyer-scale beam cannon as its main gun and is comparable in toughness to a corvette.
    • Mjolnir gun platforms are armed with the best anti-capital ship beam cannons that the alliance has to offer, yet they are roughly cruiser-sized. Even though they are unmanned and don't possess propulsion systems, one has to wonder how they can produce this much energy.
    • 'Fighters count as well, especially when player-controlled. It's not unusual at all for them to take down cruisers almost single-handedly.
  • Planar Shockwave: Averted. While graphically the shockwave is planar, you always see it face on, basically as if it were a relatively thin shell of material that you can only see when looking across the edge. And the damage radius is spherical in nature.
  • Planet Terra: The Galactic Terran Alliance.
  • Player-Exclusive Mechanic: The GTM Trebuchet is this in FreeSpace 2. Within the tables, it has the "bomber+" and "huge" flag; the first limits the AI to firing the missile at bombs and bombers only, while the second prevents the AI from firing it against smaller ships (which includes bombers). As a result, there are no valid targets for the AI to fire the Trebuchet at. Mission scripts can work around this.
  • 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.
  • Portal Network: Faster-Than-Light Travel works this way between star systems in this series.
  • Precursors: The Ancients.
  • 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.
  • Recursive Ammo: Cluster bombs.
  • The Remnant:
    • In the first game, is a Vasudan group calling themselves "The Hammer of Light" who refuse to accept their government's cease-fire with the Galactic Terran Alliance, and believe that the genocidal Shivans are a prophesized god-race. The Vasudan Empire declares them a terrorist group and they are believed to have been wiped out some time after the formation of the GTVA.
    • In the second game, the Terran Admiral Bosch forms a Polaris-based militant group called the Neo-Terran Front. Their aims are to overthrow the current Terran government and break ties with the now-friendly Vasudans, motivated mainly by good old-fashioned racism (speciesism in this case). They are declared a rebel group and wiped out over the course of the game. It was actually all a front by Bosch, who really wanted an excuse to plunder some Vasudan ruins and revive an abandoned Terran project to communicate with the Shivans. He is successful in this endeavor, and survives the game... albeit in the custody of the Shivans, and who knows what they intend to do with him.
  • 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.
    • Not only that, but the battle had the implication that the Galatea was destroyed in that very cutscene, with a large hole blasted in its hull, instead of being blown up during the mission itself. A Demon class destroyer was in the cutscene as well, along with the GTD Hades, which wasn't even part of the battle itself. While the Demon class destroyer is assumed to be another ship other than the Eva, Silent Threat: Reborn establishes the Orion class Destroyer seen in the cutscene is the GTD Legion, while the GTD Hades met its end at Deneb, thus tying up those loose ends.
  • 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".
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The Shivans. Originally, however, they were meant to be green.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Snipes. In Love the Treason..., he rigs a wing of NTF fighters to explode mid-mission (sparing only you and him), brings his 99th Skulls in to assist with taking out reinforcements, then pins the blame for the catastrophic damage he just inflicted on the relief cruiser the NTF convoy were originally sent to meet.
    • Most of his missions have aspects of this. Need to capture/rescue a bunch of VIPs stranded on a freighter in extremely hostile territory? Take the 99th Skulls into the deepest most dangerous part of the nebula to lead them out. Want to take a peek at what's beyond the nebula Knossos portal? Refit four enemy fighters and fly them in right under the Shivan's noses.
  • Roboteching: The Hornet swarm missile. Its more advanced descendant, 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 traveled 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.
  • Sensor Suspense: "Incoming jump signature, hostile configuration!"
    • "IFF confirmed! Hostiles inbound!"
  • 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.
    • FreeSpace 2 gives us the RNI Systems logo. It resembles another logo from the nineties.
    • 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.
  • 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. The FS2_Open engine has the option to disable this for players who want a bit more realism in the game.
  • 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.
  • Space Is Noisy: Weapons fire, fighters flying past, lasers cutting through other ships, and need I mention the the really big and loud explosions of capital ships?
  • Space Marine: A squad of Terran marines board a disabled Shivan transport. For Space Marines, they aren't all that badass, since they predictably end up slaughtered by the Shivans.
  • Special Effect Branding: Apart from the fact they all use engines, lasers and subspace drives, It's hard to tell that Terran, Vasudan and Shivan ships are even from the same universe. The factions' laser cannons all have distinct colors. The MediaVPs take this further with the shields being different colors.
    • Terran vessels are boxy, grey and decidedly 'military' in aspect to reflect their 'utilitarian' attitude. In FreeSpace 2 they become more streamlined due to tech-sharing and Vasudan influence, although this process doesn't seem to work in reverse.
      • The early Vasudan ships, especially freighters such as the Bast and Ma'at classes, are as clunky and boxy as their Terran equivalents, but they seem to have crossed the starship Bishōnen Line much faster than the Terrans. Even the Shivans are going this way, from the harsh, severe, jagged asymmetrical contraptions of the first game to the insectile designs of the second.
    • Vasudan ships look vaguely like alien creatures, particularly beetles. According to the Tech Room, they are based off creatures that live or used to live on the planet Vasuda, supposedly because of their highly philosophical culture.
    • The Shivans... well their ships are painted black, red and silver and fire off red lasers. They also have the tendency to have random spikes sticking out, and occasionally be asymmetrical with an off-center engine. In fact, some of them look like weird animals - the beetle-like Sathanas, lobster-like Lucifer, slug-like Demon, and squid-like Taurvi bomber. God knows how Shivans manage to balance their ships. Maybe that's why the captured Terran-modified asymmetric Dragon in FS1 was crippled, while the captured (symmetrical) Mara you flew in FS2 was awesome.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Some fans still spell the GTW UD-8 Kayser as "GTW UD-8 Kaiser". It's a Y, not an I, goddamnit!
  • Sprint Meter: The afterburner.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: Fits almost perfectly, though the bigger ships deviate a bit.
  • Standard Sci Fi Setting: The first game follows this almost to the letter. The second is a little different.
  • Starfish Language:
    • Vasudan is so complex as to be almost impossible to learn by humans, who get by with mechanical translators for interspecies communication. Speech is affected not just by the speaker's caste and societal position, but even their current physical proximity to the Emperor.
    • 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.
  • Subspace Ansible
  • 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.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • 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.
  • That One Level: See the trope page.
  • Theme Naming: Applied to both ship classes, designations of individual ships and Reporting Names for wings/squads: Specifically
    • 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 officiallyinvoked. 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).
  • Timed Mission: Freespace penultimate mission The Great Hunt claims there's a ten-minute time limit, but there's no script that enforces this (just a claim that Earth is doomed). On the other hand, the final mission Good Luck has SD Lucifer scheduled to escape after 10 minutes, followed by your fighters blowing up.
  • 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.
    • Played With in the battle between the GTVA Colossus and the SJ Sathana 01. Increasing power to beam cannons does make them unusually effective — but at the cost of causing fires and other damage aboard the Colossus.
  • 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.
  • Units Not to Scale: Very pointedly averted. The game's advertisements made a point of showing off that capital ships in this game were realistically large compared to the fightercraft. In-game, the largest capital ships can take several full minutes to fly around, even at the fastest possible speeds for your fighters.
  • Variable Mix: Each music track contains multiple variations on ambiance and battle themes, and even short stings for events like allied reinforcements, enemy reinforcements, major objectives completed or failed, etc. The game dynamically transfers between them as dictated by the action.
  • 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.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: You can order your wingmen to jump out if their fighter or bomber is clearly too badly damaged to be useful. There's also a sense of satisfaction from successfully protecting all ships escorted by your wing during convoy missions, which can get you medals and special recognition in debriefings.
  • 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".
  • Watching Troy Burn:
    • When the GTI destroys the GTD Krios in Silent Threat in a case of He Knows Too Much just as the player's flight was returning from an Escort Mission.
    • In Free Space 2, when the GTVA Colossus is first worn down from a direct engagement with a Ravana destroyer, then obliterated by one of the Sathanas Juggernauts during a feint attack involving the player's squadron.
    • After destroying the Eva in the first game, your next mission has you return to the Galatea just in time for it to be destroyed by the Lucifer.
  • Wave-Motion Gun:
  • Weak, but Skilled: Nearly every time, the Terrans and Vasudans get to outsmart the Shivans' superior technology with better tactics. In fact, they're the only ones who bother about tactics at all; they're fighting a foe who sometimes can't even bother to repel some wings of bombers trying to take out the main guns of one of their Juggernauts, and attack a huge GTVA warship with one Sathanas ''with the latter's guns disabled'' (though of course, there are nearly a hundred to back it up in case it gets destroyed).
  • Wham Line: "Capella has gone supernova! I repeat: Capella has gone supernova!"
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life:
    • 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 second 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.
  • With This Herring: The Prometheus R fires slowly, uses up a lot of energy, and hits like a beanbag thrown by a newborn, so naturally it's one-half of the standard armament on all GTVA fightercraft. While it stops being mandatory after a while, the R's omnipresence will make you paranoid about ever starting a mission without checking your squadron's loadouts first.
  • 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.
  • You All Look Familiar: The game only has a few voices for your nameless, expendable wingmen.
    • This is especially jarring, because, well... they tend to die. A lot.
  • You Shall Not Pass!:
    • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Free Space 2


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