You could always play it to find out. :P
But in seriousness, I won't argue whether or not Freespace 2 is the best space combat game of all time; I'll merely state what I like about it. These are in no particular order:
1. Mission Design - okay so there is no random campaign generator which I love from my flight slims, but the missions are, by and large, very well constructed - intense (with multiple, changing objectives in mission), feasible (always important), and logical (they fit well into the story).
2. Story Elements - Voice acting, writing, atmosphere, and story structure are all very well done. The story is dark and gritty with twists which never feel too gimmicky. Admiral Bosch, Petrarch, and Commander Snipes are all memorable characters. The atmosphere is perfect for a military space sim with a pervading sense of doom and a dash of hope and wonder. The developers tread the line between giving the pilot a nice feeling of importance, but also of being a "cog in the wheel". This goes hand-in-hand with Mission Design and Gameplay elements. Personally I would have gone for more of the cog-in-the-wheel approach with a random campaign generator, but that wasn't the modus operandi for military space sims (and still isn't). I think there was something ineffable about the story, especially with some of its unanswered questions, that keeps it alive with people making mods. Freespace 1 and 2 together told a grand, almost mythic space opera and story of survival against the odds to which a lot of people connected.
3. Gameplay elements - Scale. Much more so than in Freespace 1, you and the rest of your fellow fighters will be scurrying underfoot while behemoths bludgeon each other. It makes for a very intense battlefield. Other than that the gameplay elements are very similar to Freespace 1, except more polished in areas that needed it. The Freespace Open Source engine keeps them up-to-date and polishes them further. The visuals in the FSO engine are really quite spectacular and just beautiful. The open source engine and FRED tools have also kept the game alive with new fan-created mods and an engine that refresh the game and improve its performance on modern systems.
I don't think Freespace 2 brought anything truly unique to the table (that crown goes to Independence War 1 for bringing in Newtonian physics around the same time as FS2), except perhaps the aforementioned sense of scale, but it does everything it does do very, very well. It learned from its predecessors and improved upon them. Now whether or not Freespace 2 was the best of the 90's space sims or of any of the space sims, I'll leave to the judgement of history because it has some pretty tough competition. However, I think that for the reasons stated, Freespace 2 should indeed be held in high regard as a classic of the genre for the quality of its craftsmanship. Most importantly: It's just a lot of fun. :)
Post edited August 01, 2011 by crazy_dave