Saturday, July 20, 2013

System Shock 2

How did I spend my birthday? Playing System Shock 2 for the first time!





I didn't hear about it when it first came out, but since Bioshock became popular I've heard a lot about how it's nothing more than a new version of System Shock 2. So I thought I'd try it. Now I see how it all began. I see the intent behind the design, and also the shortcomings of the execution.

It's a first person shooter, but with RPG elements. So you have stats, and you add experience points (cyber modules) to those stats to boost gun skill, hacking skill, strength, agility, psionic power, etc.

The game starts off giving you a choice of which career path you'll take: you can play as a gun-nut, a tech expert, or a psychic warrior using mind powers!

Yeah, they're called psionic abilities instead of plasmids. They're very lacking. I started off with the psionic career, but did little upgrading to my psionic stats over the 20 (freakin!) hours it took me to finish the game. There was no reason to. There are only two weapons on the psionic side. The rest are temporary effects like boost strength by two points for 2 minutes, or disable robots for 10 seconds and stuff. No real reason to spend points upgrading that, though the anti-atrophy psi is quite useful. Guns degrade and break after so many shots in this game, so it's nice to have a psi which halts that.

Instead I upgraded my weapons stats because that's how you kill things!

I think the developers were aiming for being able to play the game using either psionics, tech, or weaponry. Choosing a career at the beginning makes it feel like, ok, I chose the Marines, that means I'm going to be a gun-nut in this playthrough! Or, I chose a tech path, so that means I will get through the game hacking systems and I'll let the robots and security systems kill things for me. It doesn't work that way.

You don't have freedom to survive by either tech, weapons, or mind powers. There's really no other way to survive on this ship besides killing the enemies, which you can only do effectively with weapons, so you have no choice but to become a gun nut, with some hacking and mind-powering on the side.

The game wanted to have these different play styles, but it's still biased towards being a shooter. The other elements are merely useful, not paths by which to play the game.

The game never seems to end! It just keep going and going, and the starship Von Braun is a fucking maze! But I like how there are no levels, and you are free to go anywhere on the ship you like at any time.

The final boss is unfair, but I beat her! Most games have a recharge area before the final boss to prepare you for the fight, but not System Shock 2. It makes you go through a couple difficult levels and then rewards you by pushing you down a hole to the last battle! I was lucky I had any ammo or health packs left to survive it! I was probably lucky I upgraded all my stats high enough to beat the final boss, but I won! I ran through the maze that was the starship Von Braun and made it to the end of that game!

Actually it wasn't luck. I happened to manage and conserve the right resources, acquire and keep all the right weapons, and upgrade the appropriate stats to be able to win. I made right decisions, even if I didn't know they were right until the end. I can see how it would be possible to get stuck at the final boss for neglecting to upgrade certain traits, but I also think it's unlikely, as there's no shortage of cybernetic upgrades in the later levels, so no reason not to upgrade those stats.

What a game it was. Not perfect, but still quite good and very memorable. It makes you earn the privilege to use the weapons and equipment, and that changes everything. Never played a game where first you have to upgrade your weapon skills just to use the first gun!

In spite of the RPG system being biased and the story reminding me so much of Dead Space, the game is still pretty damn good. Well, ok, SS2 came before Dead Space, so Dead Space stole its entire plot from SS2! But I'm sure SS2 took its plot from some earlier game I don't know about.

Now I see how Bioshock evolved. It took everything that worked in System Shock 2 and left out the stuff that didn't. Including the story.

It's a bit too long, and I think it would've been cooler if you really could play the game three different ways, but in spite of those shortcomings, SS2 is challenging and engrossing. Beating it feels like a real accomplishment.



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