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Classic Games Resurrected: System Shock 2
Developers: Irrational Games
Looking Glass Studios (defunct)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Engine: Enhanced Dark Engine
Release date: August 11, 1999
Genres: FPS, RPG, Action-adventure, Survival horror
I am SHODAN!
Back in 1999, I played the System Shock 2 demo that covered the first third of the Med/Sci deck, the second deck of the Von Braun.
I was so hooked on the scary atmosphere and the different play style to the run of the mill FPSs that I just had to get the full version…sometime.
It was only two years later however that I bothered, and when I did get it, I honestly couldn’t believe that I didn’t get it sooner.
What is System Shock 2 and why was (and is) it so popular?
System Shock 2 was released in 1999 and at the time Half-Life was the King of the Hill.
Due to this fact, in addition to be hailed as a masterpiece and being voted as game of the year by many publications, System Shock 2 has also appeared on many a list of great games that nobody played - or at least most people. It gathered a cult following that has stuck with it for over the past ten years.
It is seen by many as an inspiration for many games that would arrive later on, like Deus Ex, Doom 3, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
This same phenomenon occurred with its prequel System Shock. When it was released in 1994, it was eclipsed by Doom and Doom II, even though it featured many technological innovations and dare I say advances over those two games.
Many fans await a System Shock 3, but it seems to be a cruel game played by the proposed developers, as with Thief 4, Thief being another series originally created by Looking Glass Studios. There is no official word or approximate release date for these titles. Critics worry that if they are released, they will be debase any future prospects of the series, perhaps because they are under new developers’ leashes.
You take the role of a civilian on earth who goes to a UNN recruitment centre, and decides to enroll in one of three branches of the military, the Navy, the Marines, or the OSA. The choice of which path is completely up to the player, and he may decide after he plays through several training sections.
After this, the protagonist requests to be transferred to the crew of the UNN Rickenbacker, of which will consist the crew that will escort the TriOptimum starship, Von Braun, on its maiden FTL (faster than light) voyage into space.
While the player was in cryonic sleep after the surgery he had, a distress call from Tau Ceti V had been answered by the two ships. A research team and the ships’ captains had gone planet side to investigate and ended up bringing strange eggs aboard the ship and in the process became infected and were integrated into an alien communion whose purpose is to spread the infestation. Most of the crew becomes infected, as well as the Von Braun's computer, Xerxes.
The player wakes up in a cryo recovery bay months later after having an R-grade cyber rig installed in his body, even though these implants were supposedly outlawed after the events on Citadel Station in System Shock, many decades ago. He quickly discovers that things aboard both ships have gone very, very wrong.
• Interesting hybrid between FPS and RPG.
• The ability to upgrade your player’s characteristics.
• Many interesting weapons, melee and firearms.
• Great story.
• Thumping soundtrack.
• Scary atmosphere and sound.
• Plenty of replayability.
The player starts the game on earth at a UNN (Unified National Nominate) recruitment centre to enroll in the military. You can choose the Navy, the Marines, or the OSA. Depending on which you choose, will supposedly determine what sort of characteristics your character will have. This only really starts you off, whereas later on you can upgrade as you see fit.
You are fitted with an R-Grade cyber rig, and along the way you find or receive cyber modules when you achieve objectives, and you can find a limited amount of O/S stations from which you can select certain bonuses that you won’t get from the usual upgrade units.
There’s technical skills, physical skills, combat skills and psionic skills, all which make you more powerful and adept in certain areas, and perhaps easier to complete the game as a whole.
The currency used aboard the ships are ‘nanites’ and they can be used at vending machines to buy many different items, and of course these machines can be hacked for a better selection and cheaper prices. Nanites are also required to hack, modify, and repair items and weapons, as well as activate Quantum Bio-Reconstruction Machines.
You can find numerous weapons onboard both ships along with different types of ammo and different firing modes. The weapons can jam though and need to be repaired and maintained. They can even be modified as well to do more damage or use bigger clips.
You can research certain things that you pick up by mixing them with chemicals to analyze them, and make it easier to kill certain enemies, of which there are many different types, like hybrids (infected crew members), rumblers, and cyborg midwives. Most of the enemies possess intelligent AI, but it still may be easy to find a workaround, and of course you have many corners and objects to use as cover, but this depends on your play style. If you go charging in with guns blazing, you’ll most likely come up short. Weapons can break during combat, and ammunition is scarce. Mix this with enemies that respawn and you’ve got a problem.
The game sees you running back and forth looking to achieve goals, in the hope of eventually ending the chaos aboard both ships. You receive certain objectives as well as other notes through e-mail and audio logs that update the player on events current and past.
With Straylight's "Anomalies, Discrepancies, and outright Bugs" System Shock 2 bugfix/rebalance/spellcheck mod or just ‘Straylight’s mod’ for short, the gameplay is changed a little.
Weapons have been tweaked to do either more or less damage, and this takes into account what ammunition is loaded. You may find that when before you were able to dispatch those pesky little arachnids quite easily even with armour-piercing bullets, now the game will not be so forgiving with this mod. New effects have also been added to the weapons.
Other things that the mod has changed are armour stats, aesthetics, functionality, and weapon and item placement.
The game uses an enhanced Dark engine which was also used for Thief: The Dark Project, and later Thief II: The Metal Age. The graphics weren’t phenomenal but I was captivated by the architecture and level design of the decks, which I thought was excellent. Looking out of a window in to space and seeing the stars made me feel as though I was really there.
One thing you’ll notice about System Shock 2 is the fact that it is dark and uses lighting to good effect, giving a blue glow to most of the decks. I think that if ever there was a great vision of how a starship in the future should look like, you’ll find few better than System Shock 2’s Von Braun.
With the introduction of the System Shock 2 Upgrade Project and the System Shock Rebirth mods, which enhance objects, textures and character models respectively, the game looks a lot sharper. The fonts on certain objects like signs look more legible, and other objects look clearer and more defined.
The characters look excellent compared to their original counterparts, and some of the weapons and their effects such as muzzle flash have been improved graphically as well. The only things that weren’t improved were the floor, ceiling and wall textures as according to the team responsible for the SHTUP mod: “Wall and floor texture resolutions cannot be increased without editing the levels themselves.”
The game used a good soundtrack composed by Eric Brosius, who also worked on the Thief games, but to a lot of people’s chagrin, the sound quality was disappointingly low.
The music was very moody and dark and contributed immensely to the atmosphere and the feeling of isolation and vulnerability. My favourite tracks were the ones featured on the Med/Sci deck and the Hydroponics deck.
Now there is the entire collection of original System Shock 2 tracks in a high quality 320 kbps mp3 format. Other more download friendly 128 kbps mp3 versions can be found on other sites.
Then Like the Thief games, sound plays an important role in System Shock 2. The sounds in the game world were meant to be scary as horror was apparently a ‘key focus’ according to the developers. The droning and settling of the ship, combined with the mumbling of the enemies and digitized speech of the robots made me feel very unsettled, and it initially took me a whole month to finish the game because of this.
Now With Deep Fried Beer’s Sound Upgrade, many sounds are modified in the game, mostly the weapons along with others like the turrets encountered in the game and some GUI sounds when hacking or working in the inventory screen.
As with Thief and Thief II, the controls weren’t all that nice. It was hell to jump on top of things; sometimes the crouch button didn’t work, it was hard to mount onto objects and it was easy to slip off of them.
There’s no doubt that the controls were quite awkward to downright horrible with the Dark engine games, and if there is one weak point with System Shock 2, this is it.
Observations and other comments
There is a misconception that when people are frozen for medical or scientific purposes, it is called cryogenic sleep. It is actually called cryonic sleep.
It’s interesting how the prequel, System Shock, which was technologically superior to Doom and Doom II, and was overlooked, and yet Doom 3 used elements from System Shock 2.
There was a government agency called the OSA that featured in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. It stood for Office of Secret Actions.
Bugs and other issues
The game in its original form will not run on Windows 2000 or XP, but there is a patch that will get it to work, although I’m not sure about Vista or Windows 7... or Windows 8. Doubt it.
What I think of it now
Looking Glass studios made two series that were masterpieces and both challenged what was available and acceptable for their time. Those two series are the Thief and System Shock series, and have both been hailed as groundbreaking games, even though they were not incredibly popular and didn’t make great sales, which eventually led to Looking Glass Studios closing its doors.
System Shock 2 is still alive and well, and the mods mentioned above have received a lot of attention. In fact, NAG magazine in South Africa featured all of them on their May ’07 cover DVD, and the folder was referred to as "System Shock 2- 2007 Edition."
System Shock 2 still remains one of my favourite games of all time, and I would very much like to see a sequel, but only if it is as good, if not even better than System Shock 2’s spiritual successor, Bioshock, which I found to be a little simplified in terms of the inventory and RPG stakes, but still a good game.
The only thing is if both System Shock and System Shock 2 were technologically innovative for their respective times, then System Shock 3, if it ever is released, will have some big shoes to fill.
Other notable System Shock 2 fan projects
Compared to the Thief and Thief II, System Shock 2’s proverbial cousins, there haven’t been too many FMs developed for this game; in fact, only a handful if at that. Most of these are good quality ones that you can read more about at http://zinkchristine.de/ and http://www.sshock2.com.
Christine and company have churned out four great campaigns for System Shock 2 over the past few years. These include ‘Ponterbee Station’, ‘UNN Nightwalker’, ‘UNN Facility Polaris-32A0’, and ‘Have A Nice Holiday!’. There’s also a smaller map named ‘Shocking Ruins’. All of these feature new locations, interesting stories, and new objects. They also have new characters mentioned as an inside joke, like Al Bundy, Peggy, and Marcy and Jefferson Darcy from Married With Children!
The other few maps that are available can be found on http://www.sshock2.com.
What do you think of System Shock 2?
© 2009 ANDR01D