Level One – System Shock 2

List Item: Play 100 of the greatest computer games
Progress: 66/100Title: System Shock 2
Developer: Irrational Games & Looking Glass Studios
Original Platform: PC
Year: 1999

And so today we have the latest in the series of games that managed to freak me out and had to watch someone else to get a grip of what made this an essential play. Honestly, for someone who has loved computer games all their life this is getting embarrassing.

System Shock 2 is one of the few games in this Top 100 that were critically appreciated at the time, but was a near flop commercially. So much so that System Shock 3 has been in limbo for the better part of 20 years. Still, so influential was this game that it is a regular feature on a number of best of lists.

In essence this is an action/survival horror game set in space. After some character generation choices (interestingly done in a way to give your character some history) you find yourself waking up on a spaceship as it is being ripped apart by the AI, human-alien hybrids, robots and cryokinetic monkeys.

The world is firmly planted in the cyberpunk tradition with, and it is not too much of a spoiler to say this since she is on the box, an AI called SHODAN acting as antagonist. She is lethal and truly one of the great bosses in a time where evil computer as villain has become a bit old hat.

The atmosphere is greatly helped by the music and the audio cues. Having the first hybrids apologising for hurting you and basically asking you to end their misery is an extreme mindbender. Killer7 did a similar thing, but the effect is much more pronounced here. This is made better by music that just ups the tension at all times. It goes to show the importance of having a good soundtrack on a game that is meant to mess with your head.

One thing that helped remove some of the scares (and this might just be because of playing it on easy) is that death is cheap. As long as you can find the respawn point then you can be up and running straight after death and with no real negative consequence. It really does take the sting out of being overwhelmed by apologetic mutants.

The way this is balanced is by having constantly respawning enemies. This, after a while, just became annoying rather than challenging. Something that really was improved on in the successor Bioshock where once an area is clear you are safe for a good while.

Actually, now that I have seen both System Shock 2 and Bioshock in action the similarities between the two are uncanny. Swap cyberpunk for steampunk and introduce a more philosophical brand of storytelling and there you have it.

Take, for example, the upgrade system. During the game you get a limited number of point called ‘modules’. With it you are able to upgrade your stats or buy new ‘psi powers’. It’s basically the precursor to Bioshock‘s plasmid system, just that you use the modules to buy upgrades for all features.

Honestly, this is a game that I would really recommend. I know I didn’t play it too long because I am a jumpy wuss, but having seen it in action via the husband it feels like my own nerves prevented me from taking part in a unique experience.


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