I wouldn't say Privateer is my favourite WC game, though certainly, apart from Armada and SO, it's the one I spent the most time playing (and, ahem, I wasn't really playing SO when making UE and Standoff, so…). But I very strongly agree about atmosphere. It had tremendous atmosphere. I suppose some of that comes down to the game giving you a lot of time to get used to itself. The amount of time you spent in your average mining base in Privateer far, far exceeded the time we spent on the Tiger's Claw, Concordia, Victory, Midway and so on. In fact, depending on how long someone played Privateer, it may have exceeded the time spent on all those carriers combined. It's ironic, but repetition in some ways contributes to building atmosphere. Just compare Privateer and Privateer 2 - the latter was also quite a big time investment, but because its locations were so much more varied, you end up spending less time in each of them, whereas in Privateer… well, if every mining base looked the same, then the result was that they all get lumped together in our memory as one, much longer, experience.Can I say Privateer? As an open-ended Sandbox, it becomes shallow pretty quickly after you've done everything, but to get to the point where it becomes boring is a long and glorious journey. I just love the locations, the atmosphere, the customisation and the quirky characters.
WC4 was too much about the FMV - and I agree with Quarto that the one missle kills were a departure from the series and certainly not in the spirit of WW2 in space.
re: WCP/SOI actually really liked the gradual gameplay changes, with the game moving from WW2 in space to sort of ColdWar / Potential WW3 in space. More missiles, deadlier missiles, less gun usage. In WC1, guns were the primary mode of engagement and the focus shifted slowly but steadily until we got WC4.
Gameplay-wise, WC Prophecy and SecretOps were overall pretty great but I really disliked the way missiles were working in these games. They were too weak, too slow and to "fat". As such, I think my favorite is the WC3/4 gameplay, with WC3 balancing story and gameplay better.
One thing I really want to stress is how good Super Wing Commander (Mac) was. I never played the DOS originals and was pretty shocked when I attempted them 10 years ago and have not finished any of them to this day.
None of the games ever got capital ships (or bigger battles) right, the technology simply was not there. WCP obviously had the biggest advantage there but they sacrificed capship-on-capship engagements to their subsystem-gameplay.
Privateer is close to perfect. Amazing atmosphere, beautiful soundtrack, good pacing, fair progression and engaging gameplay. Definitely one of my favourite games of all time.