System shocked?

GOG, one of the finest gaming distribution platforms on Earth, had a sale a few months back, in which the eager individual could acquire an old favorite and one I had wanted to go back to but didn’t. (Alpha Centauri — plus the expansion! — and System Shock 2.) Total cost: roughly $3.

I haven’t gotten back into Alpha Centauri yet, although I think it’s just a matter of time. I’ve mainly playing System Shock 2 and… well…

A bit of background. Anyone who has followed this site for any length of time knows that one of my all time favorite PC games is Deus Ex. (Dragon Age: Origins, the Mass Effect Trilogy, and Skyrim would all be somewhere near the top as well, in terms of sheer number of hours played, as well as EUIII/EUIV and Vicky 2). Deus Ex was introduced to me by a very good friend shortly after it was released; the same friend recommended System Shock 2, loaning it to me so I could play it. 2000 was an excellent year for gaming, though. I played System Shock 2 for a couple of weeks, but never for very long, and eventually turned elsewhere.

As I grew older, I found myself stumbling upon more and more games in the System Shock 2 lineage. Thief was another game in this lineage — roughly contemporary with System Shock 2, released in 1998 — that I played and set aside, although it was the stupid zombies that kept me away. (I later returned to Thief and regretted not giving it another chance.)

Other games of the System Shock heritage include Bioshock and Dead Space (although the latter is made by different people.)

It is now 2014. I’ve spent a few hours the couple of weeks on System Shock 2 and…

I still don’t like it very much. It’s not the graphics — that didn’t stop me from devouring Thief and Thief 2, not to mention Deus Ex. I like the RPG element, the horror is relatively well done and sparse. It’s just not sucking me in. I think I know why, too.

The story.

Let’s consider the games of the System Shock 2 dynasty. Direct successors include Thief (2/3 — haven’t played the new one yet), Deus Ex (Invisible War/Human Revolution), and Bioshock (2/Infinite). The first Thief aside (which was all kinds of weird), they all deep, fulfilling plots. System Shock 2 just doesn’t resonate in the same way. Maybe if I played the original System Shock, I’d care more about the plot. I doubt it, though. The problem is you’re never really introduced to the people you’re supposed to be caring about. You just get the audio logs. Audio logs, done right, are very effective at story telling (witness Bioshock: Infinite). These are just insignificant details of insignificant people. SHODAN is properly impressive, but without a reason to care about the humans on the Von Braun, you kind of want her to win.

I do think I’ll finish it. It’ll just take some time.