You might not know about it unless you own a Mac, but the Escape Velocity series has existed for more than a decade. The original Escape Velocity
came out for the Mac in 1996, and was followed by Escape Velocity Override a few years later. The third game in the series is the first to be ported
to Windows -- and if you pay the $30 registration fee, there's supposed to be some kind of official plug-in letting you play the first two games, also.
All three games in the series have the exact same gameplay. You're a space pilot living in a galaxy with many different star systems, which are
connected to each other to form a network. You have a ship that can jump between star systems. Some of the systems contain planets that you can land
on. You start out with a pathetic little shuttlecraft, but you can buy new ships and lots of equipment. To earn the money you need, you can sign up
for "missions," which usually require you to fly from one planet to another delivering goods, but sometimes involve combat. You can't really do anything on planets other than sign up for missions and buy supplies, so most of the game consists of flying around and getting into fights, and more often than not running from them.
Escape Velocity Nova doesn't change this basic setup, but it does have more variety than either of the first two games. There are six different factions in the game, as well as a few minor ones. Each faction controls some star systems in the galaxy, and most of them are at war with each other.
Also, each faction has its own weapons and technology, which can differ significantly from each other.
There is also a storyline, sort of. Sometimes, by carrying out certain missions, you can ally with one of the factions and start one of the campaigns. By doing so, you will often make the other factions hostile to you. For example, if you sign up for the mission called "Delivery to Sol," complete it, and then return to Earth later on, you will be approached by a representative of the Vell-os race, who will make you an offer. If you accept, you will start the Vell-os campaign and fight Polaris and the Rebellion. If you refuse, you can start the Polaris campaign and fight the Federation. Each campaign consists of a series of required missions, and as you complete them, the game will tell you more about the plot and give you access to some of the heavier ships and weaponry.
It's a simple game, but there is no other game quite like it. And it can be a lot of fun to customize your ship with weapons and then get into fights with pirates or enemy governments. Unfortunately, it's a bit difficult to get money, because the civilian missions really don't pay all that well. You basically need to fight capital ships and steal their money if you want to earn enough for the big upgrades. Also, the missions are all very similar to one another, basically glorified fetch quests with occasional battles. But combat can require some skill, and the game can be pretty addictive. And it's just fun to get powerful ships like the Vell-os Javelin or the Polaris Scarab.
You can download a shareware version of the game from Ambrosia's website. It shows you all of the gameplay, but you can only get 2/3 of the way through any campaign. Try it out, and if you have $30 to blow on the latest flash-in-the-pan generic RPG, you might consider spending it on this game instead.