Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"System Shock 2", Windows, 1999.

Hokay, let's end this cyberpunk game series on a high note -- here's an ad for Looking Glass' zenith, the second System Shock game, perfecting a series which cannily devised a perfect middle ground between telling the story of a ship's population of crew and avoiding emergent gameplay issues (whoops, a plot-essential character was just killed by a zombie while you were stuck in the elevator): have the entire story told through log entries found in various ship locations. (Apparently the approach was inspired by the Spoon River Anthology!) Most of the dialogue (one way or another) in this sequel was conducted with the big baddie, the malevolent AI SHODAN -- and here she is in all her glory, courtesy of World 1-1!
She doesn't need to use her body to get what she wants...
She's got yours.
Ultimate high-tech weaponry includes fully configurable, detailed equipment for amazing gameplay, depth and action.
Frightening 3D realism gives you an all too real first-person perspective. In fact, the environment is so true to life, your enemies are even sensitive to light and sound.
Intriguing character generation lets you choose from three distinct personalities, each with their own special weapons and abilities.

You awake aboard the Von Braun with a mind-altering implant in your brain and no memory of recent events. As you wander the dark, eerie decks of the derelict spacecraft, you discover an alien material is slowly taking over the ship -- feeding upon the flesh of your former comrades, leaving zombies and corpses in its wake. Behind the engulfing terror, you sense the presence of the evil cyber-being, SHODAN. She is seductive and sinister. And she pulls all the strings in the most chilling role playing game ever. Enter Shodan's terrifying world to discover her ultimate plan -- or die trying. For all the gorey details, visit

My recollection is that the reveal of SHODAN as the big villain, back from the first game, is somewhat of a spoiler, but here it is, the first thing you know about the game. The ad is really under-selling the game, with its boasts of "ultimate high-tech weaponry" and "special weapons". Not mentioned: you will spend most of the game swinging a crowbar because your ultimate high-tech weapons will degrade into high-tech slag, and you have finite ammunition supplies with which to dispatch infinitely-respawning opponents.
The "three distinct personalities" are worked through in an intriguing "basic training" sequence that owes a lot to Edu-Ware's 1978 "Space" for the Apple 2 or, let's be honest, GDW's Traveller RPG that they were both ripping off. Despite the scarcity of munitions here, the other two character types -- hacker and psionicist -- are ultimately underpowered. The hacker here is like the thief in Quest for Glory 3 -- just not much to burgle in the savanna. System Shock 1 has a much more developed cyberspace element, while here it is mostly reduced to playing mini rounds of Tic Tac Toe in order to open locked chests.
System Shock 1: what cyberspace is supposed to look like -- vector Atari arcade games, with transparent wireframe polys.

SS 2: hacking a Newton is lesser in scope.

Anyhow, there's nothing I have to say about this great and influential (hello, Bioshock) game that hasn't already been said by a thousand wags since the days when I watched my roommate (now a Google employee) tape up his curtains so as to ensure the darkest, most atmospheric environment in which to play this then-new game. It's recently become available for purchase and play on modern machines for the first time since the turn of the century, so do what you can to find your way to Good Old Games and get a copy if you missed it the first time around. (It was the most-requested game for addition to their catalogue, and years after wrangling with different rights-holders, they've finally been able to make it happen.)

There are so many other great cyberpunk games -- Beneath a Steel Sky, BloodNet, the Lawnmower Man, Johnny Mnemonic... (well, some of them were great!) but regrettably I don't have (and wasn't able to dig up with moderately casual searching) print ads for them to present and analyse for your edutainment. Fortunately, I do have no shortage of ads on other subjects, so do stay tuned for further great samplings of somewhat random materials.