Part 1. System Shock 2
For several years I have heard of System Shock 2 referred to as a hallmark of PC gaming. Now I know why people have spoken of it so highly. Long before being dropped into the sunken ruins of Rapture, Irrational Games set their sights on the cold terror of interstellar space.
Having already played through Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, I thought I knew what to expect from System Shock 2. Man, was I wrong. From the opening tutorial, to the first few minutes aboard the Von Braun; I realized just how different of a game this is was from those spiritual successors. I was a bit overwhelmed at all the game was throwing at me; an inventory system, skills and skill points, weapon degradation, everything from hacking to weapon repair costing nanites, etc. This certainly was different.
However, I learned quickly. Not only would I wisely have to spend cybernetic modules, ammo and med-hypo conservation was a must. One of the first things made clear by the games is that, you, the player, are weak. This is no Doom, running and gunning are not viable options.
Overall, I found the the combination of shooting, stealth, hacking and psionic powers to provide for an exciting method of play. Though there were a few times where the atmosphere was broken by annoying design choices. Hint: infinitely spamming enemies near the endgame is never a good idea. There was some back tracking too, but nothing unbearable.
Now I want to talk about what, to me, truly elevates System Shock 2: the setting and narrative.
The Van Braun has traveled 53 trillion miles from Earth, to Tau Ceti V. One could not get any more isolated than that. I see the Von Braun representing an encapsulation of humanity. The ship itself is packed with the latest state-of-the-art technologies and luxuries. This is captured dead pan in TriOptimums corporate slogan: Military. Science. Consumer. However, outside of these comforts, separated by only the thinnest protection, the silent void presses in from all sides.
By now, the derelict starship has become so common, it takes a lot to make it a memorable setting. Unlike most though, the Von Braun is more than just a haunted house in space. When the player awakens, the ship once filled with life is now deadly, uncaring and even melancholy. The ambient sounds and eerie lighting really invoke the a distinct mood.
Another thing that SS2 does well is the use of audio logs to tell its story. We now live in an age where practically every game has audio/text logs that either move the main plot along or attempt to flesh out the larger setting. For some this works, for many others, it does not. System Shock 2 is a game in which this technique works. Hell, it was one of the first games to actually utilize this type of asynchronous storytelling. Really, the universe of System Shock 2, at once dark and fascinating, holds up well by todays standards.
And now, here are some other random thoughts I had on why I liked System Shock 2 so much.
The polar binary that exists between SHODAN and The Many is a central aspect of the plot. On the surface level, their duality is simple; biology versus machinery, the singular opposed to the plural. Despite these differences though, they both hold a common goal: the destruction or absorption of humanity. So really, who ever wins, we're fucked.
Life is also a central theme of SS2. The Many are not typical aliens out for anything as crude as galactic conquest. Instead, their aim is simply, to live, to grow and to add more players to their “symphony of life”. The Many might be one of few truly alien alien beings depicted in video games. And them there is SHODAN, who simply hates all forms of biology and see the cybernetic as the embodiment of perfection.
There is an almost ironic note to the contradictory nature of SHODAN and The Many. On one side there is SHODAN; a machine created by humans. Ever since gaining sentience she now hates her creators and their inadequate biology. Then there is The Many; a life-form made by SHODAN, in her contempt for humanity, that exalts the flesh above all and seeks to unify all living beings.
As the lone soldier, you find yourself caught between these vying sides. As well, you are a literal amalgamation of them. You are where flesh and metal meet.
Anyways, there have been my thoughts on System Shock 2. Next, for part zwei of my blog, I'm going off the deep end with Metal Gear Solid 2. I finished it about a week ago for the first time and man, what a ride it was. Hopefully, I will have that write-up soon. Stay tuned.