(This is part of my journey playing through System Shock 2. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)
So we’ll start this new series with a mortifying confession: I am a super, major, undeniable wuss when it comes to horror games. Much like I am with anything scary in real life, I guess, because my overactive imagination has always worked against me in that regard. And yet I don’t avoid horror games/movies/literature either, because sometimes there are fascinating and creative ideas and worlds that I want to check out. So I’ve gone through a cycle of subjecting myself to scares and then swearing off of them more times than I can count.
Resident Evil 2 kept me up at nights. Silent Hill kept me up during days. I couldn’t make it through the opening sequence of Silent Hill 3 when I bought it, which was a good $40 wasted right there on the spot. Even as much as I love The Secret World, there are parts of that game that had me checking behind the couch and jumping at every little sound.
This is all a roundabout introduction to say that when I originally played System Shock 2 in the earlier parts of the last decade, I lasted just about as long as it took me to find a hanged corpse on the ship. If memory serves me right, at that point I stood up, flipped the keyboard, and shouted, “I’m out!” to no one in particular. I haven’t touched the game since.
But maybe it’s time. Maybe I can be brave enough now that a lot of time has passed and I’m holding your hand while going through all of this. It’s a classic, I know. Everyone raves about it. It’s from 1999, and I need to stop fearing things that happened back when The Phantom Menace came out. And if I don’t play it, it’ll just taunt me forever from my GOG collection as a waste of a purchase. So let’s do it.
System Shock 2 was the 1999 sequel to a game nobody remembers (1994’s System Shock). Originally it was a standalone game until EA picked it up and asked the team politely to retool the story to connect it to the first game. The project was done by Irrational Games (Bioshock) and Looking Glass (Thief). It’s basically a blend between both thematic genres (horror and science-fiction) and video game genres (stealth, FPS, RPG, adventure, and survival horror). There. We’re good to go.
We won’t be getting into any scary territory today, however. The game starts with a memorable and quite-immersive sequence that blends the tutorial and the character creator with the game world instead of some bland menu screens. My nameless character starts his journey as a UNN recruit four years prior to a massive scientific experiment.
The tutorial sections take you through the fairly complex controls of the game. This isn’t a streamlined FPS, a la Bioshock, but something with more texture to it. All of this takes place in these virtual rooms which look pretty neat. In fact, even for 2014 and not using any fan-made graphical mod upgrades, SS2 looks sharp. Sure, the human models are Anarchy Online terrible and there’s not much in the way of shadows, but I’ve seen much worse.
Designing your character starts here, with a choice between the three branches of service: Marines, Navy, and OSA. I’m going OSA because holding a ball and using psionic powers sounds awesome. Plus, I know repairing weapons in this game is a headache, and I’d rather have my mind as a reliable backup.
Following this choice, you go through three years of training by selecting one of three missions packages per year. These give you specific stat increases and abilities. I, for example, gained the ability to manipulate computers with my mind and shoot frosty lil’ snowballs.
My training is cut short (I think) to join a top-notch scientific expedition. Scientists have developed the first faster-than-light drive and put it into a giant ship called the Von Braun. It, along with a piggybacked military ship called the Rickenbacker. Their mission is to shoot across the galaxy to another star system and come back.
Well, I surely hope nothing goes wrong so far from backup!
Crap, things went wrong.My character emerges from cryosleep with a fragmented memory and images of the ship under attack from within. A radar dish explodes and slams into the window while a computer voice urges me to leave the room before it decompresses. To be ornery, I stick around to see if that would actually happen. It does not.
A friendly voice on the comm system — doctor somebody — tells me to get my butt to deck 4. Why, is there a party on deck 4? Don’t lie, I remember this much. You’re going to make Syp squirm, aren’t you?