15 Aug 2008

WEEKEND WASTER - System Shock 2

Each Friday I'll be recommending a game that will provide you with a weekend of solid, life-destroying fun. There's no dipping in and out here. When you start playing these suckers, you're in it for the long haul. You'll wake up on Monday morning, still in the pants you were wearing on Friday, wondering how the hell you'll manage to go cold-turkey at work. It's like crack, only messier.

On offer today is System Shock 2, one of the all-time greats in terms of both the survival-horror and RPG genres.

To be honest, I don't think you'll be able to pick this one up on the high street any more and checking Amazon.co.uk reveals some ludicrous secondhand pricing, but it's worth trawling through bargain bins and eBay for a copy. Alternatively, Home of the Underdogs will provide you with all you need to scare yourself stupid. If you have any problems running the game in XP, Windows 2000 compatibility mode should knock it into shape.


Right off the bat, System Shock 2 draws you in. The initial setup for the game is innovative and refreshing, starting in the army recruitment offices with a choice of careers between the navy, marines or psi-ops. As a general rule, navy hack computers, marines shoot things using their guns and psi-ops shoot things using their minds. After this you'll be sent on a career path in which you will choose three years of past experiences. It's a great way of sculpting your character history and adding attributes without destroying the immersion of the game.

Before you know it, you're on the good (space)ship Von Braun and everything goes horribly wrong. This is where it's up to you to figure out what's going on and how to stop it, utilizing the help of a surviving crew member, Dr Polito.

In terms of gameplay it's almost second to none. When it comes to problem-solving, the options available to you are numerous and thinking on your feet is crucial. Due to ammo and supplies being particularly thin on the ground, you'll find yourself running away and avoiding confrontations just to stay alive and this works to heighten the tension without becoming annoying.

SS2 is no looker, that's for sure. It was built using Thief's Dark Engine which, even in it's day, was the runt of the pack. Considering this, I find it incredible that the atmosphere and horror of the game still hold up despite wooden animations and ugly character models. Regardless, the tortured moans of the hybrids are perfectly clear, the hum of the ship is still as haunting as it ever was and Xerxes' monotone is exactly as I remember it.

If you haven't played System Shock 2 before then you have no excuse not to now. Even if you played it years ago, it's worth a revisit, if only to remind yourself how games should be made.


Nick said...

A classic. I think I might revisit it soon :)

Congratulations are due for not being tempted to enter into a 'Reasons why System Shock 2 is better than Bioshock' rant. I know how hard that must have been for you ;)

It's also worth getting your hands on System Shock 1. Obviously, it appears somewhat dated, but there are patches to run it at 1024x768 and you'll be surprised at how fresh it is. Ignoring the cumbersome movement system, I actually find the interface quite fun to work with - if a little contrived. I think it has aged better than the Underworld games and has some surprisingly advanced technology in it i.e. fully operational surveillance screens and cameras (in real-time).

Nick said...

In your article, it might be worth pointing people towards the mods/updates for it. There's new textures, models, sounds and a widescreen mod that has it looking great on a large monitor.