One of those all-time classics everyone should play.
I bought this on my 11th birthday, less than a week after it came out, based solely on a preview in a magazine I liked, to go with my dad's brand-new 386/16 speedster. (old computer gurus can chuckle now) Now, a decade later, I still play it, and despite going through four computers, it's stayed on the hard drive of every one. The gameplay is still possibly the best of the series, with slower-paced, more realistic dogfights. (instead of the two-hits-and-they're-dead mentality of the sequels, you had to really WORK to take out the ships in this one) The music was incredible for its day (and still extremely good if you're lucky enough to have The Kilrathi Saga and its reorchestrated, digital soundtrack) . This and the Secret Mission addons probably still have the most interesting missions of all of them. (my all-time favorite may be the "escort the friendly Dralthi" mission) Finally, this seems to be the most overall immersive of the games. Just from talking with fellow WC fans, we've got tons of great war stories from this (and some from WC2) but few (if any) from any of the other games. (mine is when I took out a space station in a Scimitar with every system down, no missiles, and only one gun)
Not much. The AI wasn't that great, but it was probably the best of its day. I'm probably the wrong person to ask, though - I've played it so much, I can predict what the AI is going to do 90% of the time. The Secret Mission disks were incredibly difficult at the time (old WC fans still get a cold sweat if you mention the Gwenhyvar) but seem easy if you've managed to pull yourself through Privateer.
The Bottom Line
Probably one of the top-10 best games of all time. This is one any fan, especially one raised on new games like Freespace, owes it to themselves to play for the sake of history.