Tag Archives: System Shock 2

System Shock 2 (13 Years Not Too Late)

It may seem strange to review a game from 13 years ago, but just because it isn’t the latest and greatest doesn’t mean you should ignore an old game. These underrated gems still offer unique gameplay, and System Shock 2 shaped FPSs and RPGs for years to come.

Level Design: I’ve played a number of sci-fi shooters before, but none with such a clearly laid out ship design. Instead of being shepherded down a single path, each deck is arranged functionally, with many different paths and countless nooks and crannies. This is one thing I love about game engines from this period, big open spaces with admittedly less detail but greater scope and less load screens. Authenticity of experience is more important than intricate detail in my view. And the environment changes around you, it really is a living ship (at least in one sense of the word). There’s a nice nod to the first game in the last level which shows the love the game designers had for this material.

Levels

Enemies: There’s a nice mix of biological and technological opponents as well as things in between. The game has been criticized for the hokeyness of some enemies, including psi-monkeys and cyborg ninjas, but I don’t think this takes away from gameplay. Rather I think it adds a little humor to what is otherwise a serious story. Difficulty rises nicely with ability, but even grunts are not routine (those monkeys can be hard to hit)!

Story: This is by far one if the most unique features of the game. Rather than telling the story in cutscenes, bits and pieces are revealed through log entries, commuications with unseen helpers, scripted events and ghostly encounters. The logs especially add to the feeling of a living ship, portraying more than a dozen perspectives on the grizzly events. The story itself is pretty straightforward, a ship is in deep space when they are hailed by a nearby planet. Those that land bring back a hostile alien lifeform which infects the crew, turning some into zombie hybrids and others into far worse. But something else came onboard, a hostile AI with delusions of Godhood. She created the aliens and she wants you to destroy her rebellious children.

SHODAN: Easily one of the best villains of all time, with a creepy distorted voice, and no desire to hide her disgust for a worthless bag of meat such as you. And yet she needs you, at least for now. Her reveal in the middle of the game is a great twist and makes you see the game you’ve been playing in a whole new light. She’s not just evil, but lacks moral constraints of any kind, and has a great and terrible vision for humanity.

Shodan

Content: Shock is gory at times but not to the degree of one of its contemporaries, Half Life. It’s more scary than gross, but the second to last level is disturbing, you enter “the belly of the beast” literally. Fortunately this section is short, though I wish they had called doors something besides sphincters.

RPG:A good blend of skills and weapons. It emphascizes hackers and psi-ops but that’s better than plain soldiers anyway.  Weapons degrade when used but I think maintenance is a better skill to emphasize than repair. Psi abilities are the most stable and have more ammo. You can change your strategy without restarting the game, which is more flexible than the upgrades in Deus Ex.

Overall a game you should definitely get your hands on, even at closer to a premium price. If you do get a copy you can use my guide to getting it up and running and enhanced. This is one I’ll probably be replaying in the near future (okay already am).

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AGFV: Shock to the System

“Look at you hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?” ~SHODAN

And so begins one of the most legendary sequels of all time. Unfortunately, due to the copyright hell of law firms buying up expired contracts from defunct gaming companies, just getting a copy of this game is more than half the battle in getting it running in Windows 7. To those of you who were fortunate enough to buy a copy back in the day (or those willing to shell out beaucoup dollars for it later), these tips and tricks should not only help you enjoy your investment for years to come, but experience it in a new light.

Step One Install the Game: Hey, for once this actually works in a fairly conventional manner! Since this is a 16-bit installer, you’d expect it to have trouble in a 64-bit operating system, but fortunately compatibility mode for XP seems to solve this problem. (Alternatively you can just copy the contents of the “Shock” folder on the CD, but why not enjoy antiquated Win 98 style install screens!)

AfterInstallScreen

Choose the FULL install, as we’ll eventually be running this program without the CD (wouldn’t want to damage it J). Don’t install DirectX or register the game. The version of DirectX you have is far better, and no one’s at home to take your registration anymore L. For now hit quit on the front screen (I promise you’ll be playing soon enough)!

Step Two Download SS2Tool_v3.6: Fortunately, in the 13 years since this game was first released, a dedicated community of fans has worked on a number of tools that fix bugs, and help System Shock live on modern systems and resolutions. This patch also prepares Shock for the mods we’ll be installing to bring the game up to 2003-2004 quality! You can download this patch from here.

 

Step Three Install the SS2Tool: Copy the tool into your game directory and double-click to launch it. The default component options should be fine, though you can always uncheck undesired capabilities. If you copied the tool into your System Shock directory, it should recognize the correct location of “shock2.exe”. If this location is correct click “Install”.

SSToolInstall

BeforeDirectoryStructure

You’re going to see a lot of quick pop-ups. DO NOT BE ALARMED. Most of these are scripts to move files into the modded configuration. You may get an access error on some files including the EXE. Retrying seems to get past this problem. When installation is complete your folder structure will have significantly changed.

Step Four – Check your resolution: The cam.cfg file contains resolution properties of the game. These should have copied correctly, but if not you can change them by adjusting the “game_screen_size” line. Width is first, then height.

Step Five – Set compatibility mode to XP for “shock.exe” and check “Run as Administrator”: Right click at choose “PropertiesàCompatibility”. At this point the game is playable in all its 1999 glory, but there are some things we can do to further enhance its appearance. When you play the game for the first time it may take a while to load (don’t be alarmed!).

CompMode

Upgrade your textures: All mods for the game are placed in your “DataPermanentMods” folder. Typically these come in zip files which you can extract the contents into this folder. The first we’ll apply is SHTUP, short for Shock Texture Upgrade. You can download it from here. Full details on this mod can be found here. To install the mod, copy the zip file into your “DataPermanentMods” folder and “Extract All”. Select “Yes” for any overwrites. Once the zip file is unpacked, you can delete or archive this file. After SHTUP is installed you’ll have a folder structure like this:

ModDir

Upgrade your character models: SS2_rebirth_v02, or System Shock Rebirth, upgrades the character models with smoother curves, and modified character designs. Some of the designs suffer a bit from typical male tendencies (over accentuated proportions), but on the whole this model is true to the original. Of particular quality are the horrified expressions on the model’s faces *shiver*. You can download this mod from here, and install in the same fashion as SHTUP, copying the zip file to “DataPermanentModes” and extracting the contents.

Upgrade your music: The sound and music are pretty high-quality in the original, but you can always have higher fidelity. Download SHMUP from here, and install like the other mods. If you just want to download the soundtrack for your non-gaming listening pleasure, try this link.

These three are the mods I have installed on my current game. All three are compatible with each other. Not all mods will be cross compatible so be sure to check and save backups of desired configurations. You can download these and other mods from here.

This is one you may want to start on easy. With a variety of different skills and tactics, this is one you’ll be playing for another 13 years (now if you’ll excuse me…)

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