Saturday, January 3, 2015

System Shock 2

What I learned from playing System Shock 2 is that I cannot appreciate the old classics if I have not played them years ago. I guess I sort of got it from Deus Ex already but this one definitely confirmed it. I just miss all the features the progress in game design and technology has brought.

Things like quest markers/overlay, scaling HUD, and more sensible controls for changing between psionic powers, for instance, would have been nice things to have. The game also has some really odd design decisions, like stat booster implants that run out of charge in real time, and very fast weapon degradation. How can such a scifi setting have weapons that need to be constantly repaired?

The aged graphics did not bother me that much, the multitude of mods I installed before playing helped a bit in that regard. Not enough to make taking beautiful screenshots a possibility, though. The lack of advanced physics engine and dead enemies simply collapsing or exploding in a poor looking effect did bother me, however.

Melee combat also felt very clunky, often in tight places I managed to hit a wall instead of the enemy I was aiming at. I have not really liked melee in modern first person games either, though, so I guess System Shock 2 is not that much at fault in there. A single key stroke to take down an enemy, like in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, would have been a nice alternative.

The sound design and quality in old games tends to be quite poor and SS2 is no exception. The music is not exactly memorable either. The most annoying thing is the voice of SHODAN, though. The way it keeps changing got extremely jarring after a while.

I was not particularly fond of the way enemies respawn. It is a way to keep the tension up and make it harder to fill up your inventory since you usually have to spend resources to defeat the enemies. I guess it works but I sure do not like going back through doors and finding respawned enemies behind. Once I got the invisibility power, things got a bit more bearable and I ended up running almost all of the end-game cloaked.

Raising or lowering System Shock 2's difficulty does not affect enemy damage or health. Instead it increases or decreases the number of items – or at least cyber modules – that spawn. So if the game feels unnecessarily hard at the beginning, restarting it on lower difficulty might not have an immediate effect as I found out. But in the long run the game will become easier as you are able to get more upgrades and powers.

System Shock 2 was once the most requested title on GOG (now surpassed by Grim Fandango since they finally got SS2). Thus it most certainly has its fans and people who like it. A lot of those probably played it back in the day.

The only thing I really liked in the game was such a small feature as being able to grab onto an obstacle when jumping at it and then climbing on top of it. Of course new games tend to have the feature too but there was just something tangible with the fact that you have to keep the jump key pressed to attach and then climb onto something. In Mirror's Edge – for instance – Faith grabs onto a ledge automatically (at least if I recall correctly) without you having to press anything. Too bad there is not that much platforming in System Shock 2.

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