End Boss Month #18: System Shock 2

Today, for the first and only time in my planned schedule, we’ll jump into the realm of PC gaming. Back in time to an age when sci-fi horror didn’t mean Dead Space, and when Ken Levine worked on a shock of a different sort. System Shock 2, to be precise, and its antagonist SHODAN.

For what it’s worth, SHODAN was also the villain, or rather, villainess, in the original System Shock, but I personally am more familiar with the sequel. Mostly because it’s the one that I played, and it scared the utter shit out of me. You haven’t known fear until you’ve screamed at the top of your lungs while flailing in the darkness with a wrench. And SHODAN is the cause of it all.

What is SHODAN? Well, she’s an evil artificial intelligence hell-bent on murdering the worthless sacks of meat she considers humanity. Imagine GLaDOS, but replace her dark sense of humor and cake recipes with an acute, genocidal psychosis and the desire to turn people into cybernetic zombies to serve as her unwilling murder puppets. Both AIs toy with their subjects, whether it’s your space marine character in System Shock 2 or Chell in Portal.

SHODAN does not appreciate your cake memes.

But rather than lead you through a series of test chambers with the promise of cake at the end, SHODAN’s plot is far more sinister. After being forcibly awakened from his sleep chamber on board the Von Braun, the player character quickly learns that everything has gone to hell. His only help is Dr. Janice Polito, who communicates with him and directs him through the ship. He makes his way through the Von Braun, hoping to make contact with Janice and hopefully find a way out of this mess. But when he finally finds her, she’s dead, and has been dead for quite some time. She had committed suicide before he even woke up.

So who was this Janice helping the player through the whole game? Why, SHODAN, of course. The entire time, she had been tricking you into helping her assume control of the ship. And when she starts using the Von Braun’s faster-than-light drive to start warping reality, you have to shut her down. And by shut her down, I mean run around a chamber, hacking terminals to shut them off as a physical avatar of SHODAN chases you around and makes you piss your pants, your skirts, your jorts, and your kilts.

And, like all horror villains that just refuse to stay dead, SHODAN finds a way to live on, even after her defeat. She takes possession of a woman, one of the few survivors of that managed to find the safety of an escape pod, and becomes SHODAN in actual physical form. Yeesh.

Unfortunately, Looking Glass Studios shut down after System Shock 2 was released, and with the rights to the series being held in the purgatory that is the EA back catalogue, it’s unlikely that we’ll see her villainy rise again. Which is unfortunate, because her antics could teach necromorphs a thing or three.

7 Comments
8 Comments
Posted by Hailinel

Today, for the first and only time in my planned schedule, we’ll jump into the realm of PC gaming. Back in time to an age when sci-fi horror didn’t mean Dead Space, and when Ken Levine worked on a shock of a different sort. System Shock 2, to be precise, and its antagonist SHODAN.

For what it’s worth, SHODAN was also the villain, or rather, villainess, in the original System Shock, but I personally am more familiar with the sequel. Mostly because it’s the one that I played, and it scared the utter shit out of me. You haven’t known fear until you’ve screamed at the top of your lungs while flailing in the darkness with a wrench. And SHODAN is the cause of it all.

What is SHODAN? Well, she’s an evil artificial intelligence hell-bent on murdering the worthless sacks of meat she considers humanity. Imagine GLaDOS, but replace her dark sense of humor and cake recipes with an acute, genocidal psychosis and the desire to turn people into cybernetic zombies to serve as her unwilling murder puppets. Both AIs toy with their subjects, whether it’s your space marine character in System Shock 2 or Chell in Portal.

SHODAN does not appreciate your cake memes.

But rather than lead you through a series of test chambers with the promise of cake at the end, SHODAN’s plot is far more sinister. After being forcibly awakened from his sleep chamber on board the Von Braun, the player character quickly learns that everything has gone to hell. His only help is Dr. Janice Polito, who communicates with him and directs him through the ship. He makes his way through the Von Braun, hoping to make contact with Janice and hopefully find a way out of this mess. But when he finally finds her, she’s dead, and has been dead for quite some time. She had committed suicide before he even woke up.

So who was this Janice helping the player through the whole game? Why, SHODAN, of course. The entire time, she had been tricking you into helping her assume control of the ship. And when she starts using the Von Braun’s faster-than-light drive to start warping reality, you have to shut her down. And by shut her down, I mean run around a chamber, hacking terminals to shut them off as a physical avatar of SHODAN chases you around and makes you piss your pants, your skirts, your jorts, and your kilts.

And, like all horror villains that just refuse to stay dead, SHODAN finds a way to live on, even after her defeat. She takes possession of a woman, one of the few survivors of that managed to find the safety of an escape pod, and becomes SHODAN in actual physical form. Yeesh.

Unfortunately, Looking Glass Studios shut down after System Shock 2 was released, and with the rights to the series being held in the purgatory that is the EA back catalogue, it’s unlikely that we’ll see her villainy rise again. Which is unfortunate, because her antics could teach necromorphs a thing or three.

Online
Posted by believer258

If I'm not mistaken, Dead Space was originally going to be System Shock 3 for the original Xbox. It's a good thing it wasn't - the backlash would have been phenomenal.

Posted by ArclightBorealis

I've played through all of the original System Shock, and I can say that the end fight in that one is interesting than in 2. The build up and twists that occur in 2 are amazing, but going into cyberspace to fight against SHODAN on Citadel was a very interesting and almost immersive kind of battle. As you fought her, the screen began to slowly fill with SHODAN's image and your aim would get erratic and lose control. If you didn't destroy her in time, if the screen was completely filled with her face, then you lose (I think the game doesn't even go to a game over screen, it just shuts down or something). For a game from 1994, I found it rather impressive just thinking about it.

Regardless of the quality of the final battles, SHODAN is indeed an excellent, terrifying villain. Definitely helps because of the distorted, fucked up voice.

Posted by Hailinel

@believer258 said:

If I'm not mistaken, Dead Space was originally going to be System Shock 3 for the original Xbox. It's a good thing it wasn't - the backlash would have been phenomenal.

I can't even imagine the rage that would have resulted from that.

@Alaska_Gamer said:

I've played through all of the original System Shock, and I can say that the end fight in that one is interesting than in 2. The build up and twists that occur in 2 are amazing, but going into cyberspace to fight against SHODAN on Citadel was a very interesting and almost immersive kind of battle. As you fought her, the screen began to slowly fill with SHODAN's image and your aim would get erratic and lose control. If you didn't destroy her in time, if the screen was completely filled with her face, then you lose (I think the game doesn't even go to a game over screen, it just shuts down or something). For a game from 1994, I found it rather impressive just thinking about it.

Regardless of the quality of the final battles, SHODAN is indeed an excellent, terrifying villain. Definitely helps because of the distorted, fucked up voice.

That's pretty crazy. Especially if the game really did just send you back to the desk top. Also, it's crazy to think that game was released back in 1994.

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Posted by Encephalon

SHODAN is a fantastic villain, but I personally found The Many to be a more viscerally terrifying enemy, probably because of my deep-seated aversion to body horror. I think it's because I saw The Fly too young. Yuck.

Posted by Hailinel

@Encephalon said:

SHODAN is a fantastic villain, but I personally found The Many to be a more viscerally terrifying enemy, probably because of my deep-seated aversion to body horror. I think it's because I saw The Fly too young. Yuck.

We all have our personal squicks. But man, the Many are creepy as fuck, no doubt about it.

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Posted by Ravenlight

@Hailinel said:

You haven’t known fear until you’ve screamed at the top of your lungs while flailing in the darkness with a wrench.

Great. I thought I'd gotten over my PTSD caused by SS2. Now it's all coming back to me.

I think the randomly respawning enemies were more frightening than SHODAN herself ever was, but damn she was a great antagonist.

Posted by Napalm

I feel like System Shock 2 never gets its due. What an awesome game, and what an awesome soundtrack that game has. Man.