Speaking of "Old": System Shock 2

Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

I've spent a few days getting to know System Shock 2.

The narrative seems to bridge back to the original System Shock, and I get that feeling that I should have tried to hunt down the old game, but I'd rather not be tied down by that. I think my mission in playing this is to understand why people tend to think of SS2 fondly, and compare it to Bioshock, often saying SS2 was the better of the two.

In that regard so far, I can say:

The game is much more brutal about builds. In true complex RPG fashion I had to restart my game because the build I'd selected was inadequate. I would have liked to have at least a baseline of competence in the fields where the Navy is said to practice, but instead I wound up picking stuff that didn't really help.

That said, the amount of options feel a lot less fluid, in a good way. You decide to go down a path and you get a different experience, though as to how different I'm not quite sure. I can't reach the loot on that ledge, but I get access to a box with loot. I don't get that much damage with a puny pistol, but can research the chilled monkey brains to get a bonus to damage.

The narrative itself is fairly straightforward so far, although I'm not far along really so there could be changes. I've actually stopped listening to tapes, which is probably not a good idea, but I miss the ability from Bioshock to hit "T" when you find a new tape recorder. Here the interface in general is a bit less than optimized, even though there's a lot more to manage here than in Bioshock. Enjoying SHODAN and XERXES voice acting so far.

The Thief engine, an engine I love, I think works better in the dark than it does in well-lit, antiseptic corridors. I find it hard to get past some of the polygonal bodies... I actually think it would be easier for me to have empathy for the sprites of the first System Shock than these guys, but it could be down to how I largely skipped over the early 3D gaming days from the sprites before them. Still, the engine does have its familiar quirks too, where I'm never quite sure where I am with regard to the platform I'm trying to leap to (thankfully the vaulting mechanic saves this from being a rage quit for me).

The game REALLY opens up when you hit engineering, such that it's rather intimidating, and the turrets are often so fast and so deadly that I find it a major stopping point when I hit a room with those. At least with my restart I can use shotguns now, hack more efficiently, and mod weapons a little bit (though being told that I can put 24 bullets in a clip on the pistol makes me laugh, since I rarely have that many. The next mod makes reloading the bullets I don't have faster!). Will probably try to buy a point in maintenance so I don't have to scrounge weaponry all the time.

Despite the wonkiness, I'm glad that the customization goes beyond clicking off stats. You can use the environment to your advantage, hide behind one guy while another guy accidentally shoots him, crush a robot with an elevator, that sort of thing. Emergent situations, I guess, although a lot of the potential for these moments is telegraphed to allow the player to take advantage of them.

In all I see WHY Bioshock is so closely related, even basic mechanical similarities, like alcohol giving a boost to your health but subtracting psi, or the ancestor to the Vita Chamber that many seemed resent in Bioshock, or the chirpy vending machines, all feel like a direct philosophical copy-paste. I'm cool with that, though I'm still wondering if, along the line, my current build will be obsolete and I'll have to start over again; Bioshock at least had momentum in that regard. I do wish that Bioshock had a bit more possibility when it came to customizing, though I'm not sure I would have liked it so much if it had been quite as final with the changes as System Shock 2 is... maybe an experimental grace period?

The games feel different enough that I don't think I can say one is superior to another; SS2 feels more flexible with choices but more rigid when you make them, and it's got the disadvantage of being an older game with a rougher interface, while Bioshock, if you strip away the derivative stuff, is stronger in the interface, but the choices you make, apart from the little sister stuff which I've said I liked, feel largely inconsequential since you're never bound to anything, and pretty much get everything, and more than you can use, by the time you're done. I wonder if Bioshock Infinite's 1999 mode will be a compromise as far as character builds are concerned.

Will report back from the station when I learn more!

#1 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

I've spent a few days getting to know System Shock 2.

The narrative seems to bridge back to the original System Shock, and I get that feeling that I should have tried to hunt down the old game, but I'd rather not be tied down by that. I think my mission in playing this is to understand why people tend to think of SS2 fondly, and compare it to Bioshock, often saying SS2 was the better of the two.

In that regard so far, I can say:

The game is much more brutal about builds. In true complex RPG fashion I had to restart my game because the build I'd selected was inadequate. I would have liked to have at least a baseline of competence in the fields where the Navy is said to practice, but instead I wound up picking stuff that didn't really help.

That said, the amount of options feel a lot less fluid, in a good way. You decide to go down a path and you get a different experience, though as to how different I'm not quite sure. I can't reach the loot on that ledge, but I get access to a box with loot. I don't get that much damage with a puny pistol, but can research the chilled monkey brains to get a bonus to damage.

The narrative itself is fairly straightforward so far, although I'm not far along really so there could be changes. I've actually stopped listening to tapes, which is probably not a good idea, but I miss the ability from Bioshock to hit "T" when you find a new tape recorder. Here the interface in general is a bit less than optimized, even though there's a lot more to manage here than in Bioshock. Enjoying SHODAN and XERXES voice acting so far.

The Thief engine, an engine I love, I think works better in the dark than it does in well-lit, antiseptic corridors. I find it hard to get past some of the polygonal bodies... I actually think it would be easier for me to have empathy for the sprites of the first System Shock than these guys, but it could be down to how I largely skipped over the early 3D gaming days from the sprites before them. Still, the engine does have its familiar quirks too, where I'm never quite sure where I am with regard to the platform I'm trying to leap to (thankfully the vaulting mechanic saves this from being a rage quit for me).

The game REALLY opens up when you hit engineering, such that it's rather intimidating, and the turrets are often so fast and so deadly that I find it a major stopping point when I hit a room with those. At least with my restart I can use shotguns now, hack more efficiently, and mod weapons a little bit (though being told that I can put 24 bullets in a clip on the pistol makes me laugh, since I rarely have that many. The next mod makes reloading the bullets I don't have faster!). Will probably try to buy a point in maintenance so I don't have to scrounge weaponry all the time.

Despite the wonkiness, I'm glad that the customization goes beyond clicking off stats. You can use the environment to your advantage, hide behind one guy while another guy accidentally shoots him, crush a robot with an elevator, that sort of thing. Emergent situations, I guess, although a lot of the potential for these moments is telegraphed to allow the player to take advantage of them.

In all I see WHY Bioshock is so closely related, even basic mechanical similarities, like alcohol giving a boost to your health but subtracting psi, or the ancestor to the Vita Chamber that many seemed resent in Bioshock, or the chirpy vending machines, all feel like a direct philosophical copy-paste. I'm cool with that, though I'm still wondering if, along the line, my current build will be obsolete and I'll have to start over again; Bioshock at least had momentum in that regard. I do wish that Bioshock had a bit more possibility when it came to customizing, though I'm not sure I would have liked it so much if it had been quite as final with the changes as System Shock 2 is... maybe an experimental grace period?

The games feel different enough that I don't think I can say one is superior to another; SS2 feels more flexible with choices but more rigid when you make them, and it's got the disadvantage of being an older game with a rougher interface, while Bioshock, if you strip away the derivative stuff, is stronger in the interface, but the choices you make, apart from the little sister stuff which I've said I liked, feel largely inconsequential since you're never bound to anything, and pretty much get everything, and more than you can use, by the time you're done. I wonder if Bioshock Infinite's 1999 mode will be a compromise as far as character builds are concerned.

Will report back from the station when I learn more!

#2 Posted by eroticfishcake (7787 posts) -

Interesting write up since I just so happen to be playing SS2 again after a long, long time (it doesn't seem to like my computers which is odd considering how Thief 2 runs perfectly and they both use the same bloody engine.) But yeah, SS2 is still a great game but time hasn't exactly been...kind to it. While the community has done a good job of preserving it there's still some quirks that makes it feel really archaic like the rather clunky interface and the fact that it runs on the DARK engine, which is fine but as you said it works better in darker environments (which Thief 2 capitalises on.) Character building seems much more interesting and while it's almost too easy to screw your build it can be very satisfying to roll a good once since it gives all your choices some weight to them so it's not like you can do everything. Do I hack the turret and turn it against my enemies or do I chuck a good ol' rocket at it? Those decisions generally come to you on your next playthroughs and it's just so much fun.

All in all I still think SS2 is a better game then Bioshock since I just don't feel like the depth or atmosphere is quite there. On the other hand it almost feels like lemons and limes since SS2 is more of an RPG whilst Bishock leans towards the shooter genres. In any case I'm quite happy to come back after all these years. I just forgot how terrifying it can be sometimes (mind you I was very young at the time and scars never heal.) Looking forward to hearing more from you.

PS. You should really listen to those tapes. They really add to the atmosphere plus there's an interesting cameo appearance in one of them.

#3 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@eroticfishcake: Yeah, in SS2 you can do a lot to actually avoid combat, while in Bioshock you're pretty much required to get good, through your own wetware, at shooting stuff if you're going to succeed. That one emphasis makes the games strongly distinct, you're right.

I figure if I play more SS2 soon I'll just spend some time in a closet listening to those tapes. Actually I need to go to a chem cabinet for my research, but I'm stuck in the cargo deck getting attacked by monkeys!

You ever try out that multiplayer? What sort of build are you trying out?

#4 Posted by eroticfishcake (7787 posts) -

@ahoodedfigure: Funny enough the monkey wrench is pretty damn useful in SS2 (again) so I've basically been running around with that knocking shit around and hacking stuff with my nerdy hacker build, I just don't like it when I can see items but can't reach for them. Personally I always play the tapes when I'm moving around since it keeps me company. T_T

I've never played the multiplayer since a) It's nice that it's there but like Deus Ex I just don't think the mechanics lend well to that sort of gameplay and b) I don't even think I had internet at the time and even if I did it would've been more than terrible. As if Irish internet companies aren't bad enough as they are. In any case I should get back in...those psychopathic monkeys won't monkey wrench themselves to death...

#5 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@eroticfishcake said:

@ahoodedfigure: Funny enough the monkey wrench is pretty damn useful in SS2 (again) so I've basically been running around with that knocking shit around and hacking stuff with my nerdy hacker build, I just don't like it when I can see items but can't reach for them. Personally I always play the tapes when I'm moving around since it keeps me company. T_T

I've never played the multiplayer since a) It's nice that it's there but like Deus Ex I just don't think the mechanics lend well to that sort of gameplay and b) I don't even think I had internet at the time and even if I did it would've been more than terrible. As if Irish internet companies aren't bad enough as they are. In any case I should get back in...those psychopathic monkeys won't monkey wrench themselves to death...

Yeah, I entertained the idea of just spamming wrench stuff in this game, although something has to be said for blasting cameras and turrets, I think. Ammunition is scarce, but I often find the hacking terminal is right in front of the turret you're trying to hack, so I haven't yet seen hacking as that great against turrets, unless you find a terminal earlier and reach the turrets later.

And yes, I do hate it when I can see but not reach something. I managed to injure my char quite a bit jumping for a pistol I could see hanging like the Grapes of Tantalus across from a railing. Did get it, eventually, but I guess this stuff is for the levitation folks. As a non-psi, alcoholic build I guess I'll be taunted by these things the whole game.

I do try to get those tapes playing when I'm moving around, but since I usually find something on the edge of my exploration field, I find that it muffles my ability to explore my environment. It's best for backtracking, but the respawning this game does makes even backtracking an exercise in stunt living. Those mutants can be sneaky fuckers.

Damned monkeys. Give them a swat for me, will you?

#6 Edited by bybeach (4976 posts) -

I went the easiest way with the class choices in SS2 and that worked..as reputed. Specializing in psi was of course doable, but difficult, at least again by repute. Looking at it as art(that horrible word) bs'ed me past the character looks, and it seemed to actually enhance those, say symbiotic with the worms, cause they looked ugly on purpose. I adjusted to the interface and rpg mechanics such as repair, loved the tapes, and yes you see the foundations of bioshock all through it.

I so much wish there was a SS3, but probably never will....

The monkeys!!! You learn about them......

#7 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@bybeach said:

I went the easiest way with the class choices in SS2 and that worked..as reputed. Specializing in psi was of course doable, but difficult, at least again by repute. Looking at it as art(that horrible word) bs'ed me past the character looks, and it seemed to actually enhance those, say symbiotic with the worms, cause they looked ugly on purpose. I adjusted to the interface and rpg mechanics such as repair, loved the tapes, and yes you see the foundations of bioshock all through it.

I so much wish there was a SS3, but probably never will....

The monkeys!!! You learn about them......

It's funny how often reputation winds up taking the place of empirical study when it comes to what works as a build. A strongly said opinion is somehow qualified just because it's stated strongly... I've been duped by a few in the past, only to learn things weren't as rigid as they seemed when I took the blinders off and tried stuff on my own. But not all games are balanced properly, so you will get situations like this. I really have only been trying to get a playable character in SS2 so I'm not sure what any sort of optimal looks like yet, though :)

You ever play the original System Shock?

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