On Difficulty: A Few Hours With System Shock 2

It's not a very happy game, really.

We all have our embarrassing secrets. For instance, Jim has never hopped, too scared to take such a risk with gravity. Adam never realised you were supposed to apologise to ducks. And I’ve never played System Shock 2. It’s not my fault – I was busy. But with my first gap in my schedule since August 1999, I’ve been having a go at the freshly re-released version on Steam. It’s… it’s not easy, is it?

For me, System Shock 2 has become more of a beacon for what games no longer are, than what it perhaps is in its own right. It’s a fascinating piece, a fusty grandfather of the few FPSs still using their imaginations, a knowing father of games that defined my twenties like Deus Ex. But at the same time it echoes dying features of the 90s, some missed, some well abandoned. For instance, it’s been a while since I thought, “I really should have read the manual”.

So I’m not writing about the story here – I’ve not played enough of it yet to do that. This is about the mechanics, and how they’ve split my mind down the middle, both recognising what I’ve been missing, and how I have to admit to appreciating some levels of simplification.

The game begins with you – a nondescript soldier – training for accompanying the first FTL ship, the Von Braun, on its maiden voyage. And you’re given huge choices to make without any context. After a few perfunctory tutorials that entirely fail to teach you anything important about the game you’re about to face, you’re asked to choose between the Navy, the Marines, or the OSA. What is the OSA? Details aren’t clear. I picked the OSA, because I’d heard they were the most interesting, and they started you off with psi powers – supernatural abilities from your braintubes. What I should have picked was the Navy, because it turns out they’re the ones who focus on hacking, which is always my preferred route through a game.

This done, you’re then asked to pick two further particular fields of training, without any context to make that choice, and sort of hope they fall in your favour. The training doesn’t actually teach you anything, but rather sends your character away for a year of unseen brutal education that changes a stat once you’re finally in control. Oh, and you’ve been fitted with all sorts of cybernetic enhancements, which I don’t remember agreeing to. Something about a distress call. Something about alien eggs. Something about cryo sleep. SPACESHIP.

A detached voice, supposedly but obviously not Dr. Janice Polito, is giving you some sort of narrative guidance, while the ship’s on-board computer Xercies is telling you off for paying attention to her. And neither is being particularly helpful in terms of how you’re meant to not be dead all the time on a labyrinthine ship filled with shotgun-wielding zombie alien mutant hybrid things, and telekenitic monkeys.

“Polito” sort of talks you through your array of on-screen furniture. You’ve got a Tetris inventory, a minimalist character sheet, an awkward area for selecting psionic abilities, another section containing details about health and Psi levels, along with a Research button, the map, and two slots for items about which I have yet no idea. Then there are the recordings of dialogue from Polito, crew members whose recordings you’ve found, and hints about what you’re supposed to be doing, next to a button that says “MFD”, and another tab that collates the key access you’ve so far gained. Splurge.

Most bizarrely, the instructions for most of these elements, and more importantly how they relate to the world around you, are found in Information points mounted to the walls in the baddie-infested corridors. Even reading how to flipping play the game is dangerous. Because all those elements are further complicated by the need to charge some of them up via occasional charge points, others require the use of injections, food, boosters, software, and many other never-explained bits and pieces.

Despite appearances, I’m not an idiot. I fathomed pretty much all of it as I needed to. But I became aware that the process of fathoming as I go along is not one I miss. I think a game released today that was so muddled, so jumblingly complicated, would be criticised for it. But I’m certain there are Shock 2 fans currently boiling blood out of their eyeballs in rage at the paragraphs above. And I sympathise – I don’t doubt that games are far too over-simplified in terms of their first impressions these days. While I don’t wander into the scary world of RTS gaming, where I suspect such complexity likely still resides, certainly in the world of the FPS you’re lucky if you need to know more than three buttons and one menu.

But while I would love to see more intricate, complex systems returning to games, I am going to be heretical enough to say I wouldn’t want it to be delivered as opaquely as appears in Shock 2. Because for me, this process of being bemused by the game’s mechanics got in the way of enjoyment, and that’s where I think a line is crossed. Because System Shock 2 is really enjoyable.

And bloody terrifying. Oh my goodness, I’d forgotten what it was like to have a game be so unrelentingly tough and cruel. Even replaying the exquisitely frightening Thief a couple of years back, that game at least gave you down times, moments of respite. SS2 never lets up. You can’t clear an area of enemies – they can reappear from somewhere. But more terrifyingly, not in a predictable way. It doesn’t respawn them after so much time, or have everything reset when you revisit a previous location. It’s just, sometimes, seemingly at random, somewhere that felt safe suddenly isn’t any more.

And you’re weak. So, so weak. Everything about you is weak. If you’re not a Marine, you can’t even fire a gun when you start. As an OSA I was wandering the grey metal corridors armed with a spanner and a psi orb thing that let me fire off a slow, weakly bolt of cold that would eventually take out enemies if I ran away at the same time. If you can fire a gun, that gun is weak, degrading as though it were allergic to bullets. Tiny stupid monkeys can kill you in a couple of hits. Giant stomping robots probably don’t even notice you were there before they’re done spilling your blood. You’ve got tasks you need to complete in these tunnels-o-horror, you’re compelled to keep heading back and forth having retrieved a necessary code from the grossly mutilated corpse of a former crew member. But… but it’s scary!

It’s the unrelenting nature of that scary that makes SS2 most stand out to me. Deus Ex, which I’d argue is far more of a spiritual continuation of the game than anything within BioShock, had so much downtime. Time spent in safe offices, chatting with safe people, creeping around safe toilets of the opposite sex (how do you sex a toilet? female ones don’t have wee around the base). You got to occasionally climb off the tight rope and cling to a secure wall and get your breath back. Not here. Here it’s avoiddeathavoiddeathavoiddeathavoiddeathavoiddeath without pause. And it’s exhausting.

Good exhausting? A large part (not that part) of me wants to pretend that yeah, it’s great! Games like they used to be! None of this modern mollycoddling that’s raising a generation of gamers only capable of following another man’s bottom while they do the shooting/door opening for them. What will they all do when the Hagrons attack Earth from Dimension U? Not like us, eh? Raised on System Shock 2 and Terror From The Deep, ready for anything, capable of opening doors for ourselves. Admitting to anything else would highlight me as a pathetic wastrel, not suitable for games journalist, just some simpering idiot who should stick to Farmville.

Well, I’ve never played Farmville either. So take that. But wow, I’m not sure I possess the mettle for System Shock 2. It’s not the scares – I’m loving those – it takes a lot for anything to make me jump, and SS2 has had me bouncing in my chair. But for the unrelenting, incessant sense of vulnerability, of being on the very edge of failure, holding on with the tips of my fingertips.

But what I’ve taken from this is a far more acute awareness of just how far things have gone the other way. Games tend to either make us irrelevant to the events (Modern Warfare, Medal Of Honor, etc), or ludicrously beyond heroic, ultra-powerful in a world of flimsy papier-mâché competition. We’re given an extraordinary weapon that gets upgrade after upgrade, along with reality-warping powers that let us play with enemies like paper dolls. It’s a power fantasy, and while it’s often a lot of fun, System Shock 2 immediately reveals what a loss it really is.

(It’s worth mentioning the middleground between those types of more modern games – the nonthingness of RPG abilities, where you’re dripfed new statistics on old skills that allow you to maintain equilibrium against ever-scaling enemies. You’re always half a step ahead, and never an interesting distance behind or in front.)

Shock 2 reveals just how potent and atmospheric it is to be pathetically weak. It creates a bleakness that’s unachievable by just painting your backgrounds grey-brown and having the gruff post-apocalyptic super-soldiers shout curse words as they trot ever forward. It’s a bleakness that’s not superficially aesthetic, but intrinsic, and overwhelming. I really am overwhelmed by it. My heart is heavy when I think about carrying on playing this obviously excellent game, knowing what an ordeal I’ll be putting myself through.

Where I’m left is divided on how I feel about that. Perhaps it’s my frame of mind at the moment, perhaps I’m getting old, perhaps I’m growing weak. But that just doesn’t strike me as the most appealing notion.

Yes, so jeer at me, condemn me, cancel your subscription and petition in the streets that I have the temerity to write about videogames. I deserve it. But I do want to stress that I’m not settling for the status quo.

System Shock 2, as incredibly difficult, incredibly intense, and incredibly unnerving as it is, has strongly reminded me of what I’m missing from games. Explained to me why I bounced off BioShock: Infinite like it was made of space-rubber. I don’t want everything reduced down to a left or right mouse button, binary choices along predictable skill trees. I loved Dishonored, but Dishonored was a piece of piss. I was a GOD in that game, a GOD amongst puny underlings, crushed beneath my might. And that was probably the major thing wrong with it. Games just aren’t difficult enough, are they? Sure, you can turn the “difficulty” up, but that just makes it harder to get stuff done – not actually harder. A difficulty level doesn’t change the philosophy of a game. So no, I confess, SS2 is over a line for me that I once never had. But it’s revealed a pathway I long to be walking down in more games. Just, maybe, not this one?

Except that I just went back and played a bunch more.


  1. basilisk says:

    One of the (many) problems of SS2 is that it can be all that you’ve written, or it can be a piece of cake. The game is extremely unbalanced, and you just happened to pick one of the worse combinations of skills.

    But yeah, it’s definitely too complex for its own good. I suspect very many newcomers will bounce right off the game even though there’s so much hype around it.

    • golem09 says:

      I bounced right off because after 2 hours I found the game to be way too easy and not atmospheric / scary at all. And I tried 3 times, about once a year.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Which things affect the balance is really weird, too. The “plain” old assault rifle, once you can handle, feed, and care for it, will annihilate anything that comes before you, as long as you fit it with the most appropriate type of ammo. It deals more death more effectively than any of the fancypants superweapons (although the fusion cannon will kill yourself most effectively).

      (The real crime was making the Laser Rapier less of a one-hit-death-slicer than in SS1, despite a description claiming it was an upgrade since then.)

      • mouton says:

        Years ago the horrible imbalances annoyed me so much that I was confident it was some kind of corruption in my (then) pirated copy and it actually made me stop playing somewhere at the start of Rickenbacker.

        Was quite surprised and disappointed when I learned there was nothing wrong with the game.

      • oceantorment says:

        Did you played on impossible? Bullets become a very scarce resource to be managed with care, so shooting everything you see is a very bad idea, some times, run is the best idea. Sure you can kill the monster very fast (Thank God there isn’t HP bloat that some modern shooters love so much) but you will have bullets for the next one? The way to play this game is on impossible, so the resource management become absolute priority and not only busywork. The assault rifle is the best weapon because it is flexible to kill robots and organics but the special ammunition is scarce and insanely expensive to buy on impossible and shooting the normal rounds isn’t very cost/effective because you have to shoot more to do the same damage and damage your weapon faster.

        • Wedge says:

          Unless playing on impossible turns off the vending machines, it won’t make it any more difficult. I remember hacking those to bits for a basically endless store of specialty ammo.

          • Kilometrik says:

            It reduces the ammount of money the game gives you that EVEN with those vending machines, Bullets are hard to come by. And on impossible close to NO vending machine sells special bullets without being hacked first. And hacking is FUcKING DIFFIcULT! I found myself carefully considering which nose would be the mos important to select instead of just picking at random, like in Normal.

            BUT, BUT, Psi is the best endgame build. Period. THe buffs you get for you melee attacks are just… ridiculous. Seriously. My melee skill, with JUST THE WRENcH, completely buffed up, could take out a rumbler in 1 and a half hit. That’s more powerful than FUcKING GRENADES! It’s just that you have to plan each fight in advanced, like a FPS Hotline Miami.

            Plus, i found the game frustraitingly easy on normal, because, to be fair, on normal you can become a Jack of all Trades by halfway through it,

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    • DXN says:

      Yeah, the assault rifle is crazy OP once it’s upgraded, and even the pistol and shotgun get to be pretty damned useful before too long. The OSA psychopowers on the other hand are woefully underwhelming, and/or the syringes that power it are way too rare. I’d say Navy plus a few gun skills is generally the best balance, and lets you see more of the game as well, both by unlocking areas, and making you have to traipse back and forth for research chems.

      • nrvsNRG says:

        I’m surprised John picked OSA instead of Navy, especially as he says that he prefers the hacking route, and that the Tutorial for Navy actually shows you that its the Tech/hacking approach.

        • CaiusCaligula says:

          Yeah, I was gonna say, a good deal of the things he was puzzling out in the actual game were explained in the tutorial section. Is there a way to skip it I didn’t know about?

      • Skabooga says:

        Yeah, going the OSA route in System Shock 2 is akin to shooting yourself in the foot, except you can’t, because your gun is broken and you’ve run out of bullets.

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        Don’t forget the wrench. If you max out that thing, you don’t even need to hunt for ammo. Even with robots, you can just walk directly into their crotch while swinging it and they can’t even fight back.

        But yes John, my first playthrough of SS2 was also a thing of terror and distress. I’m not sure I agree that it’s too complex, I thought the tutorial did a pretty good job of explaining everything. Now SS1, on the other hand, is practically like learning some proprietary business software. Manual reading is required.

        • povu says:

          And then you get to the final fight and find out the boss is immune to the wrench and the last ammo station was an hour of gameplay ago in an ammo exhausting level you can’t get back to anymore.

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            Yes, and you have a whole inventory full of ammo that you didn’t use up because you’ve been using the wrench. Assuming the player had the sense to put at least some skills into other weapons, of course.

          • Brigand says:

            Hmm, guess I won’t be bothering to finish the last bit of the game then.

          • Soldancer says:

            This is pretty close to what happened on my first playthrough back when the game was still new. I went OSA to start and eventually wound up with a bit of tech thrown in, but I couldn’t beat the last level with any of my assorted powers and guns. Then I played through a few months later with Marine and blew through the game with ease. It’s weird that way.

            It sort of reminds me of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in that the game is completely breakable, but only if you know how to break it. I think figuring out that breaking point is part of the fun.

      • Marr says:

        OSA is amazing if you can hang on by your fingernails until you finally hack yourself a mana supply. Late game OSA agents are transhuman vampire princes, invisibly stalking the helpless prey spawned by the Many to sate their infernal bloodlust. After confronting Shodan, I launched myself out of the galaxy, knowing that Earth could never allow my return.

    • joshg says:

      The OSA route is underpowered at the start, but by the time you work your way to the final stages of the game you have (limited-use) god-like powers that swing far and wide the other way on the power scale. By the time I got to the final boss fights of the game on my OSA playthrough, it was like I was a psychic-powered cat toying with a really large mouse. (The Navy playthrough, OTOH, were easier along the way but left the boss fights rather difficult.)

      Which is the kind of payoff option I like for a magic user class, I think. I don’t think it was accidental.

      • Kilometrik says:

        THIS, SO MUcH THIS!. I was so OP by the end of the game i was One Shotting RUMBLERS. And the wall construction ability is a god send against bosses. I got close to no damage against them. It’s the way psychic powers work.

        • Lazarus_Soma says:

          You’r taking the piss right? please tell me you are(not what you said just the post in general and the god awful one up there that sounds like a youtube level of retarded commentary) I truly hope you are, otherwise RPS need to check the electric fence for holes as it seems youtubes spilling in again.

          Nice article, been thinking about grabbing ss2 now that it’s easily available on steam.

          • Marr says:

            One-shotting Rumblers and eating their soul. That’s why you’re stalking them, after all.

      • Soldancer says:

        And because TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life(tm), I immediately thought of this comparison.

        link to tvtropes.org

    • Saethkept says:

      I registered in order to reply to this “story”.

      A strong reason of my own for getting into PC games back in the eighties, as well as much of my attraction to them, was layers of complexity revolving around multi key and mouse function control schemes, and many screen interfaces. A not so simple graduation from the simplistic Atari and Coleco vision console control schemes.

      During the eighties and nineties I immersed myself in many a “overly” complex flight sim and early entries into the computer RPG genre. Those who similarly cut their PC gaming teeth would agree I suspect, that the experience one has in a game such as System Shock 2, depends largely on your gaming background and degree of patience inherent to your personality, or perhaps developed or not during play throughs of titles with similar complexity.

      In my opinion System Shock 2 was the epitome and the evolutionary pinnacle of the challenging PC games of my generation. SS2 is about choices, strategies, lots and lots of buttons to push, invetories and skills to manage and ultimate freedom in how the gamer solves the game presented to him. It is also a title intended to be as esoteric to the casual gamer as it is unforgiving to the gamer with a short attention span. System Shock 2 was exactly the game we (of that generation of gamers) had dreamed about getting our hands on for many years.

      I for one was pleased to see it resurface after so many years, but on the wings of having read a number of articles similar to the one above, have decided that SS2 ought to have remained in the vault of PC gaming history. No real offense intended … the gamers of today simply are not equipped to appreciate such a richly crafted, complex and unforgiving game as System Shock 2, and so accordingly must attempt to water down or outright assault the classic awesomeness that this title was and is today.

      Brings to mind a certain film about a guy stuck for many years in cryo sleep who awakens to find the um … average complexity of most individuals has lessened somewhat steeply.

      I and many others would welcome a System Shock 3 even more esoteric and deep and with even a more difficult learning curve. Sadly, such a game would be rejected by today’s PC gaming and console crowd and likely whatever developer took the chance of making it would be out of business before the first copy hit the shelves.

      Private Joe Bauers, while I have not been in cryo sleep for decades, I share your waking shock and disillusionment. Anyone have a time machine?

  2. ChromeBallz says:

    Was expecting a comment on Dark Souls throughout the article…

    I still haven’t played SS2 yet because of the ancient graphics, but this is making me want to take another go at it.

    • Scythe says:

      Sniff around and pick up a few of the model and texture update packs. It spiffs the game up quite a lot.

      I periodically start playing SS2 again, with the intent of playing through with a different character build. I always end up reverting to a psy/hack combo, because of fun.

    • Jams O'Donnell says:

      As with many older games you just need to give yourself time to acclimatise to the visuals. After a couple of hours you won’t really be bothered by them.

      I recently did a playthrough of the first two Thief games, which use the same engine as SS2, and by the end of the first mission of Thief I really wasn’t noticing the low-res textures and blocky geometry.

      • cunningmunki says:

        Spot on. Playing old games, especially 3D ones which rely so much on the technology of the time, is like watching decent old sci-fi TV series. The effects look clunky and old at first, but after awhile it’s the story and characters that you start to enjoy and you forget about the dated graphics.

        • nrvsNRG says:

          The problem I have with SS2 is not the graphics, but the UI. Its just so fiddly, but I have a feeling that perhaps it wasnt so fiddly when ppl had lower resolution monitors to play it on (blockier and bigger), and not on 1080P + widesecreens that meant presicion is needed when doing simple things. (this is my experience of the game with all the graphical mods included)

          • Ironclad says:

            There is a problem with the ui in that it doesn’ t scale appropriately to modern widescreen monitors.

            How to fix: (copied from truepcgaming.com)

            Now for the more technical bit. You may notice that on higher resolutions, the UI is very small due to it scaling correctly with the screen. This makes for a difficult experience as most text will become minuscule on a 1920×1080 display. In order to rectify this, head back into your System Shock 2 folder and find a file named, “cam_eft.cfg“ and open it with Notepad. Before you make any changes, save a copy of the original file to your desktop in case something goes wrong and you need to restore it. Now, you will want to find the line:
            ;d3d_disp_scaled_2d_overlay 640 480
            First, remove the semicolon, then change the integer value to whatever resolution you use (i.e. 1920×1080). Save the document, close it, and open SS2 to see if the UI has scaled appropriately. Personally, I was forced to use the integer value of 1080 768 to make the UI scale correctly on my 1920×1080 display. It may take a bit of trial of error in order to make this work, but it’s worth it.

          • nrvsNRG says:

            @ Ironclad
            This is great thanks a lot.
            I obviously completely missed this when I updated the game with the essential mods.

          • cunningmunki says:

            @Ironclad, I wish I’d known about that. I had to play it on 720p just to be able to see the UI!

    • oceantorment says:

      You can pretty up the game extensively with mods and don’t pay attention to screenshots, the tense atmosphere will suck you up so badly that you will not want the monsters to be more scary than they already are.

    • slabgar says:

      Hmmm – I think that I would rather like to see a game that merges the style of Dark Souls with System Shock 2. I would like that a lot.

  3. drewski says:

    It’s brutal and unrelenting and I had to will myself on at times, but I loved almost every second of it. A masterpiece of game design.

    I don’t mind the way modern games have gone, but there’s definitely been something lost in the drive toward accessibility. Maybe the pendulum will come back and we’ll get some games in the middle between drowning and not bothering to let the player even swim.

    • Stochastic says:

      I think this video by Extra credits sums up the core issue: link to penny-arcade.com

      Old games were complex, but since they were opaque and unintuitive, that complexity only resulted in depth for the most committed players. Today’s games have been stripped of much of their complexity, making them uninteresting to seasoned gamers. The solution IMO is to create games with depth that scales based on the skill and experience of the player (e.g. chess).

      Fighting games actually do this very well. A well-designed fighting game is very fun to play on a surface level even if you’re just smashing buttons, but the best of them garner huge followings because mastering their mechanics can take years of dedicated play.

    • Stochastic says:

      The other issue with older games like SS2 is that they were frustratingly punishing. If the player feels like they have to work against the game’s systems, this is probably not a good thing (although this can be done intentionally to heighten the sense of vulnerability, but this is very hard to pull off without being annoying).

      • oceantorment says:

        There is a confusion alot of players make , gameplay systems and interface are two different things. I agree that the interface sucks, could be arranged better and explained better, the mechanics could be explained better also. Sometimes you are fighting the interface trying to understand it and don’t know how the fuck use the item you just got, what it do or what a skill does , but I’m against the idea of making the mechanics in themselves less frustrating. You fighting against the mechanics is essencial for survival horror games (that is why RE 5 and 6 sucks), resource scarcity, fragility of your character, non linear maps to make you feel lost on a very scary eviroment are essencial. Imagine Amnesia without the potential to frustrate you so you can have all the lamp oil an tinderboxes you needed and there is a big arrow pointing to where you wan to go, it would be bye bye scary factor .

        • Stochastic says:

          You’re right, I should have said interface rather than game systems. And yeah, I agree that sometimes making the mechanics frustrating can enhance a game’s tension. I’ll try to be more careful with my choice of terminology from now on.

    • Muzman says:

      It has such an awesome sense of place too, for its day particularly. It really went out of its way to be a serious sci-fi setting (well, a bit Trek here and there, but all other video game sci-fi at the time was crazy moonbases riffing on Quake 2 and other outlandish nonsense)
      Even though it defeated me the first time, I just had to go back..

  4. DarkFenix says:

    SS2 is actually one of the ‘old classics’ I missed. However, seeing as it’s nice and convenient on Steam now, I’m gonna pick it up and have a go.

  5. Prolar Bear says:

    Reading about such difficulty and complexity and bleakness instantly reminded me of Dark Souls: what do you think of it, John?

    Also, I wanna play this but it’s got spiders. *shudder*

  6. edwardoka says:

    Great article, John. I’ve been giving SS2 another bash, as I never got very far first time round due to hitting a wall quite early.

    I’ve also been replaying Thief. Where once I floated silently past guards confident in my sneaking abilities, I now find myself constantly mis-stepping and getting cornered and cut down with alarming regularity. The dated graphics actually add to the atmosphere better than any shaders, high-res textures or million pounds worth of motion captured animation ever could.

    • cunningmunki says:

      I had the same experience with Thief 2 recently. I found sneaking around much, much harder than I remembered. It just goes to show that newer, easier, games have made us soft!

      • edwardoka says:

        I’ve a theory for why this is. The sound propagation, while very good for the time, doesn’t always get it right, particularly with EAX disabled. Even with headphones on, it’s difficult to tell whether a guard is literally round the corner or 2 rooms over.
        Combined with the lack of NPCs casting shadows or other visual cues as to where they are, it’s easy to misjudge.

        Last time I played it, I got chased across an entire level by a single guard. Compare that to most games AIs which forget that you were there the instant you break line of sight.

  7. funky_badger says:

    I am currently playing Fallout: New Vegas, and found myself becoming bored with how easy it all seemed to be once I reached level 25 or so. Thankfully I had all of the expansion packs already installed, so I was pleasently surprised how, when playing Old World Blues, it has suddenly become tougher, with harder opponents (if not smarter) that take more to kill and hit back harder. I am not saying it is ay SS2 levels of table bashing frustration, but still, it made for a nice change.

    However, the drop in difficulty of games is no modern phenomenon. Look at the first Resident Evil games on the PlayStation. You got awards for completing these games in less than two hours, meaning you could sprint through the game with little thought of difficulty or worry of dying. It’s nothing new.

    • someone else says:

      Since you have all the DLC, you should look into getting the JSawyer mod. It’s a collection of balance tweaks and difficulty increases the lead designer made in his free time.

      • choconutjoe says:

        I’d second that. JSawyer mod is an excellent glimpse of what might have been without those pesky publishers interfering with everything.

        • StashAugustine says:

          I love the power curve in JSawyer. You’re gonna still be killing everything by level 35 (the cap) and all the DLC’s (although you’ll still have less health) but the beginning is really rough, and when you’re crawling along Lonesome Road one-shotting deathclaws you think fondly of a time when a single radscorpion could kill you without blinking. Plus, you don’t really begin get a handle on the game until you reach Vegas, which means the early linear stuff is made less bad because you’re scrambling for every bullet and cap.

    • DerNebel says:

      I agree, you spike waaaay too hard in power once you reach the later stages of New Vegas. You become this god roaming the wasteland, constricted only by time and your pathetic jumping height.

      I actually didn’t like the way Old World Blues handled difficulty, since all it really did was turn everything into bullet sponges. Although, Old World Blues never clicked for me as a whole, something about the writing just made me detest large portions of it. Maybe the doctors were just a bit too childish for my tastes. It felt like playing Alice In a Dystopian Wonderland Filled With Lots of the Same Boring Characters, where you as the character is the only sane person. I kind of liked the Courier foreshadowing though.

    • cunningmunki says:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head there; consoles. But it’s not the fault of the consoles, their capability, or their owners’ ability.

      Developers don’t make games easier because they think console gamers are stupid, they make them for children. Even the 18 rated games. There have always been been easy games, of course, and there have always been games specifically aimed at children, but now it seems there are no longer any games specifically aimed at adults (at least in the AAA world).

      So rather than making games aimed at specific people, specific ages, specific interests, or even specific platforms, the target audience for games has simply become everyone. And the lowest common denominator is kids; kids with low attention spans. So developers, or rather the big studios who tell them what to develop, think that for a game to be successful, and I mean financially successful, they have to cater for the lowest common denominator, regardless of the type of game or how violent it is.

    • Memph says:

      Yeah, but in order to clock Resi 2 in two hours you had to have already finished it at least once and know the game inside out. What you could dodge past and where exactly to go for the puzzles and pickups. Insinuating anyone can pick up Resi 1, 2, 3 or even CV and smash it in under 2 hours is simply wrong. Dark Souls can be clocked in around an hour – however folks rack up well over 40 on their first playthrough.

    • Atomsk says:

      However, the drop in difficulty of games is no modern phenomenon. Look at the first Resident Evil games on the PlayStation. You got awards for completing these games in less than two hours, meaning you could sprint through the game with little thought of difficulty or worry of dying. It’s nothing new.

      So, a game that can be speedrun in 2 hours cannot be difficult. I understand. Because if it can be done *at all* and get an award for it , it *must* mean you can “sprint through the game with little thought of difficulty or worry of dying”.

      That logic.

  8. Atrocious says:

    “Sure, you can turn the “difficulty” up, but that just makes it harder to get stuff done – not actually harder. A difficulty level doesn’t change the philosophy of a game.”

    Quote of the month (year?)!

    I thought about buying SS2 on Steam but I found the price was still too high for a decade old game that has some awful blocky monsters in it. Nevertheless SS2 was one of the most impressing experiences of my early gaming life. I’d put it on one podium with Deus Ex and Half Life 1.

    If you can cope with the old graphics and the harsh gameplay, it’s definitely worth checking out what you have missed in the previous century.

    They don’t make games like that anymore. ;)

    • Vorphalack says:

      I’m not so sure it’s quote of the year material. I can think of a few examples off the top of my head where simply increasing the difficulty, without altering any mechanics, worked quite well.

      Warcraft 3 + TFT expansion is probably the best example. Play on easy and you can basically build whatever, at your own pace, and victory is guaranteed. Play on hard and you are facing the same AI, the same units, with exactly the same tools at your disposal, but now the AI cheats. it builds and techs faster than you, starts with effectively infinite money, launches the same semi-random sets of attack waves (but with vastly more units), and rebuilds much faster after attacks. It sounds like it shouldn’t be much fun, but it is.

      By artificially buffing the AI, they provide an AI challenge that forces the player to learn the advanced micro / macro tactics and unit compositions in order to win. The AI alone could never have achieved that on a strategic level with no mechanical advantage. It basically just makes it harder to get things done so you have to learn the system in order to progress, but that’s what I want from games.

      • Atrocious says:

        That’s exactly what I am complaining about. Making the enemy units stronger or letting the enemy cheat is a lazy approach to increase difficulty. It makes things harder to accomplish for the player, yes. Maybe the player even has to think about other ways to win. But it’s not a completely different experience. It’s still an AI that can be predicted pretty easily, after a few tries.

        The opposite is a human opponent, that is harder to predict because he is learning too and he may have some creativity in trying new things. That’s the kind of difficulty change that would make an AI awesome. Unfortunately it’s also the kind of thing that requires countless hours of coding and has it’s own research field attached to it.

        PS: I’m not implying that SS2 had anything like that.

    • soldant says:

      That was the stand-out quote too. Far too many games screw up difficulty by turning enemies into bullet sponges or artificially raising levels or something. It’s a lazy approach that’s been around since the 90s. Time to find a better method, like new AI routines, as opposed to HP+5, damage +5, speed +5.

    • Morlock says:

      Not only do difficulty levels seldomly change anything about the philosophy – the difficulty level can act against the philosophy, ruining the game substantially. I found that Bioshock: Infinite is not meant to play on hard. The pacing was terrible on hard, and only after setting the difficulty to medium did the game feel right.

    • Mman says:

      I’m not sure whether it was fully the intention, but I thought that quote was more about the general level and game design rather than combat specifically. If anything combat has got off the lightest in most modern games (too bad enemy variety hasn’t fared so well recently); difficulty settings might frequently be cheap but at least they’re *something*. Conversely, in the average modern AAA game stuff like the traps and puzzles are always going to mindlessly easy to avoid/solve, and rewards for exploration will always be pointless achievement fodder or completely abstract stuff like “experience” rather than vital supplies that can be the difference between life and death, and resource management in general will be pointless as the game isn’t tuned for it.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      The idea that turning up the difficulty just makes it harder to get stuff done doesn’t really apply to certain games. There are games that are terrible on the hardest difficulties (basically any linear shooter, really, and most RPG’s) and then there are games where the hardest difficulty essentially rebalances everything or alters the game in some other way. System Shock 2, all 3 Deus Ex games, and Dishonored are entirely better experiences on the hardest difficulties and not just situations like BioShock or Half-Life or whatever where it just means you have to pump more bullets into something to make it dead. The Thief games are also much better on Expert, particularly 1 and 2 since the difficulty not only changes the objectives but also adds areas (sometimes significantly large areas) to most of the maps.

  9. Burlypenguin says:

    So jealous you are playing it for the first time.

    • identifierad says:

      I just installed it. Eat the jealousy! suffocate in it!

  10. Jockie says:

    I’ve not really made the leap between System Shock 2 and Dark Souls before, but DS has been my favourite of the last few years and I’ve spent over a decade bleating at people about SS 2, so perhaps there’s something in it.

    However, while in Dark Souls the player levels up and becomes better at the game, System Shock 2 is never a twitch game, where mastery of the combat makes the terror go away. It’s a case of having the tools at your disposal to overcome, but they need to be backed up with grit and resolve – not because you died 10 times to a gigantic boss – but because it’s unrelentingly bleak.

    It’s so worth persevering with though, it’s a brilliant game, with a brilliant villain (without whom we’d never have seen the likes of Glad0s or I’d argue villains like Borderlands 2’s Handsome Jack – who talk directly in the ear of the player and play mind-games with them).

    The ending is also the worst thing ever.

      • Jockie says:

        We’ll you’ve just gone and blown my theory (which one I’ve no idea) away with your reasoned argument and insight, kudos!

        • LionsPhil says:

          (He’s, uh, probably agreeing with you about the ending.)

          • Jockie says:

            Oops, my bad! I had remembered it incorrectly as ‘nope’ for some reason.

          • DrScuttles says:

            More than the plot / narrative, gameplay mechanics and systems, settings and environment, what really makes Bioshock the spiritual successor of System Shock 2 is the massively underwhelming final sections of the games.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            Oh NO! I too have just recently started SS2 as a Psi jobby, I too found it really hard, about an hour in and now you tell be it’s like Bioshock. What a MASSIVE dissapointment, I thought SS2 was meant to be a good game!!! :-/

    • KenTWOu says:

      The ending is also the worst thing ever.

      What Might have Been: “Due to miscommunications or differing ideas, a different cinematic video was created from the one that I originally scripted,” says Levine… Upon getting his hands on the video for the ending sequence, Levine didn’t see anything that he wrote in the script.

    • phlebas says:

      Do you mean the last section of the game itself or just the closing cinematic?

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        They’re both really bad, but at least there’s an excuse for the latter.

    • fish99 says:

      Compared to the ending of Bioshock it’s positively amazing.

  11. Commissar Choy says:

    By the time I got into gaming, this had already passed me by and now I’m just frustrated by the obtuseness of the game mechanics :/
    And it’s not that I don’t like obtuse games (Dark Souls, I’m looking at you) but something about SS2 keeps putting me off. I enjoy what SS2 stands for, but it’s not something I seem to gel with.

    • DerNebel says:

      It is, fundamentally, a mistake to say that games as a whole has regressed. Today, we have tools, we have terminology, we have ways of thinking about game design that the SS2 designers simply didn’t consider.

      Dark Souls is an obtuse game, but it is an evolved obtuse from the kind we find in SS2. It is obtuse in that it is hard, that it doesn’t explain to you what is going on, in that it allows you to fail. Dark Souls will readily let you down, just so you can come back and do it right the next time. That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t teach you how to play. It does, through monster patterns, the online tip system, through repetition.

      System Shock, on the other hand, is wildly unbalanced and does a terrible job of explaining how to play the game. It won’t even tell you what is going on in the game. If I recall correctly, there are even certain parts of the game that requires certain stats for you to even progress, and if you don’t have those, then tough luck.

      • Kilometrik says:

        There is only ONE part that requieres stats to play through. And that is the terminal at the end of the rickenbacker, through which you access shodan’s space construct. And the game offers more than enough Modules, EVEN ON IMPOSSIBLE, for me to be able to do it. I last played it only a year and a half ago.

    • oceantorment says:

      You have to remember the time that System Shock was made, at that time it was expected for the player to read the manual because it was an interesting read (manuals could get the size of mini books with nice side story to read, cool descriptions of the weapons and etc.), nowdays if you get a page of paper inside the box you are lucky. At that time, big game boxes with interesting things inside was the standard and not called collectors edition. Many people get System Shock 2 on Steam and have a hard time understanding because the game wasn’t made to be delivered on digital distribution that even didn’t existed at that time

      • Commissar Choy says:

        Whenever I think of manuals of yesteryear, I think about the glory that was Empire Earth’s manual.

  12. GallonOfAlan says:

    I love this game, and back when it was released it was only rivalled by maybe Thief in terms of atmosphere. It is exemplary in so many ways – slightly clunky engine, balance issues and backtracking notwithstanding. And I still want to plug myself into Shodan.

  13. TH0TH says:

    The … dare i say friendly AI first trying to kill you is Xerxes (quite possibly a reference to Xerxes the great, but i digress). My very first playthrough was as OSA, and i was in fear of my life for most of the game, by the end of it things could seriously hurt me if i was being a dullard, but generally past a certain point the only thing that bothered me were… , and going through the … many … ok i’ll avoid all mentions of plot.
    It’s perhaps flawed in some ways by todays standards, but it’s still one of my best loved games, and i think it was from the time where reading manuals was still considered a half reasonable thing to ask people. The data terminals you can access throughout the ship which give you detailed info are all stored on the MFD.
    There are plenty of mods you can combine to bring the vast majority of the graphics up a few years in quality, tho not everyone likes some of the new meshes.
    It definitely is one of the few games that has me genuinely frightened, with a look of petrified horror at the slightest noise. The only ‘safe’ place that i ever used was the elevator, but i still remember lots from my first playthough, and considering that was nearly 14 years ago, its stuck more than thief 1 or 2, and even dare i say it deus ex, which is probably my 2nd most favourite game, and very similar in a lot of ways.
    Wow that really just kept going… TL;DR I liked SS2 (but can barely see through my bleeding eyeballs and already twitching at the psychic monkeys shrieking echoing through my head)

    • GallonOfAlan says:

      The monkeys … hate them almost as much as the spiders in Thief.

      • TH0TH says:

        i think top 3 scary sounds for me;
        1) Invisible spiders
        2) Damn dirty monkeys
        joint 3rd) Sphincters / Ninjas

    • wr0ng1 says:

      “quite possibly a reference to Xerxes the great, but i digress”

      Quite possibly? Are there many other Xerxeses that it could be referring to?

  14. HilariousCow says:

    My first play through was in co-op. It was still utterly terrifying, even with someone holding my hand.

    An acquired taste?

    This might be retroactive justification of bad UI, but some of the interface wobbliness does feed into the tension of it all.

    It’s similar to how you have to manually key in numbers in Deus Ex. It puts you there. You could speed it up the process yourself, if only you were a better human being. And meanwhile, someone’s patrolling a route behind you. Chilling.

  15. mont3core says:

    Ugh, is this a new trend?

    “Hey you know that classic game that we refer to all the time as one of the best ever?”
    “Oh of course, all its middling sequels are the apples of my eyes!”
    “So you’ve played the originals?”
    “Heavens no! I was born in the 90’s and can only fall asleep to Enya. How dare they require skill and planning in order to move down a hallway filled with angry psionic monkeys!”


    • HexagonalBolts says:

      Do you hear that sound? That is the sound of the point of this article, sailing over your head

      • sinister agent says:

        I like to think that John spent several years seducing the girlfriend/boyfriends of many, many people, and to get their own back, they’re all showing up in the comments now to bitch about anything he does.

        • John Walker says:

          It’s more direct than that – they’re in love with me, incapable of coping with the knowledge that they can never have me.

    • Vorphalack says:

      As someone who has also never played System Shock 2, but has great reverence for that style of game, your post baffles me. I found the article quite an interesting read, and am equally looking forward to my first attempt at the game. Comparing the standards of the past to the present happens everywhere, and retrospective analysis can be quite valuable.

      • fish99 says:

        I’d kinda have to agree with mont3core here, the article mainly comes across as a bitching session about the interface, difficulty and deficiencies of the tutorials (the game has two). It shows why you shouldn’t ever judge a game 14 years late. Games technology, software and hardware, moves so fast. It’s like reviewing one of those giant brick mobile phone from the 90s today, by todays standards.

        SS2 actually had the best interface ever seen in a game up to that time, it had very good tutorials by the standards of those days, it had a full printed manual, and people were used to playing stuff like Doom 2 on ultra violence back then, rather than the games of today which play themselves. People were also used to figuring stuff out back then.

        • mont3core says:

          Thank you! SS2 is a mind blowing game that was far ahead of its time, and probably far ahead of our time. Sure it takes a little while to get used to the older graphics and gameplay, but is that really worth writing an article about? Who needed to be reminded of that? Its just a shame to me that John feels he should level any type of critique at such a classic game, a true pillar of the PC gaming world, after a) making a career out of it, b) having ignored it for 14 years and c) not even finishing it.

    • John Walker says:

      What’s important is that you tried.

      • mont3core says:

        What’s important is that you didn’t try. You had to come complain about how much you miss hard old games, but jeeze they are hard aren’t they?

        What System Shock 2 doesn’t need (or deserve) are blog posts by well-respected, ill-informed journalists who are fourteen years late to the party.

        • Continuity says:

          Well it has just gone up on steam you know, so there will be many people playing it for the first time…

        • Hahaha says:

          It does seem to be coming out that a lot of these “gamers” haven’t actually played most of these games. Makes sense when you look at journalists now days though.

          • mont3core says:

            Yeah can you imagine a successful film critic having never seen star wars? And, THEN writing a limp blog post about the first few minutes of the movie.

            Where is the respect?

          • Tagiri says:

            I don’t know if that’s a fair comparison, though. In most cases it’s significantly easier to view an old film than it is to play an old game due to hardware constraints and rights-holder situations.

  16. Zaftrum189 says:

    It’s weird you should say it’s so opaque, my impression has always been that it was a pretty easy game to get into (hard to play though). Then again I played the demo as a kid before playing the full game as an adult so perhaps that made getting into it feel easier(?)

    Generally I think you’re right though, the game mostly doesn’t explain things, atleast about you, very well, and you spend most of your time trying to avoid getting your face bashed in while figuring things out. I think modern games could learn a lot from SS2 though, atleast survival horror games, it creates a sense of helplessness and survival that works really well for the game but it’s definitely more of a niche thing nowadays.

  17. finbikkifin says:

    (how do you sex a toilet? female ones don’t have wee around the base)

    I’m sure Cara, Porpentine & probably Karen Gillan are not at all giggling despairingly to themselves as they read this.

    • John Walker says:

      Oh good grief.

      • kastanok says:

        Having just come away from cleaning a male house-mate’s piss from the seat AGAIN, I found it painfully accurate. I didn’t giggle, but I did despair that it should be so universal.

      • finbikkifin says:

        It gets worse! Because the previous user probably had to… hover, due to the user before them, and so on, and so on. If any of them were drunk, oh god.

        It it’s any consolation the other interpretation is that the female toilet is an unused giant hive-queen in the toilet factory, spawning male toilets to send out into the world’s bathrooms.

        • Cara Ellison says:

          Female public toilets often have dribbles on the seat instead which is sorta gross. THEY ARE STEALTHY BASTARDS.

          • finbikkifin says:

            (they’re the ones I’m talking about, excuse me while I drink to block out the memories and train my bladder so I never have to use one again)

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            I’ll spare you the details of the description, both visual and nasal, of the state of toilets at Women’s conferences when my partner worked at a Women’s Aid Refuge. Suffice to say some of the larger delegates could only do a foot stamp to clear any excess! One of the nicer, less mind scarring stories from those times that was shared rather than needing to be offloaded!

    • Cara Ellison says:

      I am sure I speak for even Karen Gillan when I say that though we might occasionally pee around the base of the toilet for laughs and do not tell John, we also have SOME humour glands intact. For example: Why does Snoop Dogg always carry an umbrella?


      You are welcome.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        This joke is disgustingly appropriate. Also, it’s old: he’s a Lion now, don’t you know.

    • finbikkifin says:

      I’d forgotten that a bunch of the RPS crew live together (or something? I forget) and I was not at all referring to that. Sorry, John!

  18. Ernesto25 says:

    Some decent mods on Good Old Games make it look better pretty sure its cheaper than steam as well. I never finished it though some of it i did find hard but also i just wasn’t sure why people raved about the game as it spawned infinite enemies out of thin air in front of me. Enemies attacking me form behind in a room i appear isn’t difficult its cheap after a while and it becomes an annoyance it was annoying in doom 3 and its annoying here. There were aspects i liked and some even creepy (monkeys) the old chose your own path in way of stats and dealing with the re spawning after death as in bio shock alot better in this.

    I don;t mind difficulty in games but id prefer a swat 4/ brothers in arms or F.E.A.R’s A.I in a way in enhancing game-play than just adding more enemies and more damage. Playing dark souls at the moment and im terrible at it but the combat and game play makes it feel fairer and more enjoyable when find a bonfire. Easy games can still be good as walking dead and spec ops the line showed.

    SS2 maybe one of the games which i finally “get” after multiple tries as i did with deus ex i hope so but i have no desire to continue with it at the moment.

  19. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    God I love SS2.

    If you think 2 is tricky you should check out 1 John. You spend more time fighting the controls than the hordes. First game I remember having a proper jump, crouch, lean control scheme but lean l/r weren’t tied to anything sensible like Q/E, nooooo, they were tied to buttons behind your eyeballs with “Yaw Left While Running Forward” bound to a key locked deep within the heart of a neutron star in a distant galaxy inhabited by cannibal madmen and their brain eating marmoset overlords.

    Oh and the SS2 primates are referred to as ‘Jizm monkeys’. For.. um.. reasons.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Playing SS1 with the default keys is an important part of roleplaying an unfit hacker who just woke up from a medically-induced coma after brain surgery.

      The WASD+mouselook patch is for babies.

      • Skabooga says:

        There’s a mouselook/WASD patch for SS1?! Why didn’t anybody tell me this a year ago!? Do you know how many hardset neural pathways I had to rewire to get through that game?

        Although in retrospect, it was kinda of a fun meta-challenge to become so good at such an obtuse control system.

  20. Duke of Chutney says:

    the game can get signficiantly easier once you level up a little and get even a semi decent gun. By the end of the game it gets a little too easy because your character becomes immense.

    I actually prefer the complexity a little to the modern shooter. I found bioshock rather dull as a shooter because it felt too streamlined.

  21. Casimir's Blake says:

    Every time I read an article or a comment, or watch a video about System Shock 1/2, I feel literally depressed. No I am not misusing those words or overstating them.

    Literally depressed because no one is making first-person games like this any more. And they bloody should be. I had no issues with the difficulty when I first played the game, and I still don’t. Just as Dark Souls revels in telling the player very little and refuses to hold their hand (“You have an imagination don’t you? Go and find out what there is to do yourself!”), so too did SS2. Lovecraft’s fiction is commonly adored for what it doesn’t tell the reader and what is implied, so the same applies here. The “difficulty” that results should be welcomed.

    System Shock 1 and 2 are games that are only imperfect because they end. They are both as close to immersive action gaming perfection as possible. There may be games with better shooting out there, better RPG systems, superior graphics, or even audio. But there isn’t a single game that has bettered System Shock 2 as a cohesive experience that is terrifyingly malignant and knowingly “un-revealing” to the player, whilst allowing said player to craft a character that gradually learns through exploration and meaningfully interacting with the environment.

    Okay, maybe Dark Souls though you’re never allowed to do much in it except gawp at the visuals, and fight stuff.

    • Vivian says:

      One of the things about SS2 (and 1) that doesn’t seem to be present any more in similar games is the sense of profound isolation. Pretty much everyone else is dead, it’s just you, spooky spaces that hum weirdly and corpses (admittedly, some of which are running around howling at you with various parts of their anatomy replaced with worms). There aren’t many games that seem willing to just put you in such a lonely space anymore. The last level of DX:HR had a very similar vibe, and it really made me think ‘I miss this’ to myself.

    • SgtDante says:


      System Shock 1 and 2 are games that are only imperfect because they end. They are both as close to immersive action gaming perfection as possible. There may be games with better shooting out there, better RPG systems, superior graphics, or even audio.

      If you say that the only thing that isn’t perfect is that they end then literally say two sentences later that there are probably better examples of 4 major elements of what make a game a game then you are clearly misinformed as to what perfect means…

      Actually, I think these games would be pretty terribly received if they had no defined end. I might like Ice cream but if I have infinite ice cream and have it after every meal and snack on it between meal times and…. Basically what I’m saying is too much of a good thing is a bad thing, you will always get sick of something if you over indulge in it. NOTHING is so good that you won’t eventually tire of it. I know people that play certain games for thousands of hours, and have met people that play a game exclusively for months, MMO players might never come anywhere near seeing all the content in a big enough game but they all stop playing eventually. WOW was my life for a summer, grew tired of it and unsubbed by Xmas.

      • Casimir's Blake says:

        Most people would consider a perfect game to have no features that are inferior by any measure. I don’t believe this should be the case, because it is an unnecessary goal that shouldn’t be chased by developers. A perfect game, book, film and such should be deemed so because there were no features that diminished the experience gained by playing / reading / watching them, and that experience was so satisfying that little or nothing beats or even matches it.

        I don’t care that System Shock 1 has blocky, pixellated textures, or that System Shock 2 has slightly wonky-looking characters and you shouldn’t either. But then the number of people complaining about SS2’s visuals putting them off is a clear indication of a lack of imagination on their part. Similarly, an obsession with realistic visuals is often to blame with games that have – in some way – unsatisfactory gameplay. See almost every FPS released after Half Life 2.

    • HorzaEdeo says:

      Yes, you ARE overstating and misusing those words. Please don’t. I spent most of yesterday wishing I was dead. YOU get a bit sad and nostalgic for how things were.

    • Upper Class Twit says:

      “only imperfect because they end”

      I dunno dude. I was pretty sick of the game by the Von Braun. Unless everything changes on the one difficulty above hard, the game, at least for me, got stupid easy real quick. I remember sprinting through the latter levels, blasting away anything that moved with the AR that I had managed to accrue more than 100 rounds for. Without the hardcore survival element, the game isn’t much more than a bog-standard kind of backpedal-and-click-the-mouse-button shooter; admittedly, one with some of the best sound design and atmosphere in a game of its time, but still, in case you forgot, the penultimate boss featured infinitely spawning rumblers as its main element of challenge. It was a great game, but it had pacing and challenge issues; issues I think actually remained in the latter bioshock games.

  22. AaronLee says:

    I wodner if SS2 will ever get it’s own Black Mesa treatment. The model update packs go some of the way but that’s iterative. Imagine a rebuilt SS2 that tried to keep the old game’s sensibilities.

    • Vivian says:

      A bunch of people tried to update it into the Doom 3 engine, but they were C&D’d before they’d even really got off the ground.

  23. cunningmunki says:

    I replayed SS2 earlier in the year and my experience was almost identical.

    “Sure, you can turn the “difficulty” up, but that just makes it harder to get stuff done – not actually harder” – That is just SO true. Nobody takes the time to come up with imaginative difficulty levels, they just raise the hit points on the baddies and lower the health bar.

    I was really looking forward to ‘1999 Mode’ in Bioshock Infinite because the way Ken Levine spoke about it I thought it would make the game more ‘challenging’ rather than just ‘harder’. I was expecting more of a System Shock 2 experience, but all it was, was a bog-standard ‘Ultra-Hard’ difficulty where baddies took forever to kill, I could die from a single hit, and the game ended if I ran out of money. I don’t remember that feature in SS2.

    What 1999 Mode should have done was to simply make ammo, resources and money much more scarce, which limits your options during fights but doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. I don’t want eight different types of weapon, especially when I can only wield two, I’d rather have been able to pick a pair of favourite weapons and just upgrade those.

    1999 Mode certainly does limit resources, but making the baddies harder to kill, and making hits harder to take, means that even when you’ve sparingly saved up all your ammo, and spent some time considering your upgrades, ready for a good ol’ shootout, there is just no fun in the battle because everyone just takes so long to kill.

    How about a mode which simply means no tutorials, no HUD indicators or objective markers, no hints, no menu-guides, none of the usual ‘made-for-a-ten-year-old’ shit that goes into game design nowadays (I’m looking at you Far Cry 3). I’d love a level of difficulty that just drops you into the game and leaves you to fend for yourself, just like System Shock 2 does.

    • phlebas says:

      The problem with implementing that as a mode is that the game will have been designed assuming the handholding, so playing without won’t give you the equivalent experience to an older game designed without objective markers and so on. In a world where everyone has a built-in satnav, there’s no point building roadsigns all over the place – but exploring that world with the satnav turned off won’t take you back to the days when we had roadsigns instead.

      • cunningmunki says:

        Have you played Far Cry 3? Have you played one of the mods for Far Cry 3 that removes all the HUD and target indicators? It’s the perfect example of a way to make a game more challenging, and in my opinion far more enjoyable, without making the baddies harder to kill or limiting resources.
        In Dishonored, if you turn off all the hundreds of HUD indicators it makes the game a little more challenging too, and forces you to explore a bit more. I know that’s a feature of the game, but since it’s becoming so common, why not tie it to a difficulty level? There doesn’t have to be the usual three (or four).
        My point is, there are more imaginative ways of increasing difficulty that don’t need to change the structure of the game itself. In the case of the 1999 Mode, Levine claimed is was developed specifically for old gamers in mind (hence the name), but it was just an extension of the ‘hard’ mode, nothing more imaginative than that.

        • phlebas says:

          I haven’t played Far Cry 3 either way – is it playable with the mod or are you just blundering blindly around until you happen upon the location you’re supposed to be going to? I mean you could ignore objectives entirely and have an entirely different game, but that’s more of a difference than just not having the handholding.

          • Kilometrik says:

            The game has a freaking map. More HUD elements are redundant.

    • mouton says:

      I am sorry, but harder difficulty is always connected to how hard the enemies hit, how easily you die, how many of them spawn, how scarce ammo is etc. Old games did not do anything more than the new games on their “ultra-hard” difficulty do, those were the same variables at different values.

      The point is, it is the “normal” difficulty the game is designed for, tweaked, polished, playtested. An “ultra-hard” difficulty will always be an addition and will thus be most prone to wearing thin on the edges and breaking the design. The 1999 mode was quite good, though.

      • cunningmunki says:

        So surely that means there’s lots of scope for a more imaginative approach to difficulty levels? Especially since the target audience for games has become the lowest common denominator rather than experienced gamers.

      • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        I guess you never played Thief then.

        On harder difficulties it also gave you less HP, but it added more enemies to avoid. Their patrol routes were different. Their senses were more acute. More doors would be locked. Keys would be harder to find. Your objectives were also changed: you had to get more loot, you had to do more side objectives, and you were increasingly restricted in who you were allowed to kill: On normal, you could kill anyone. On hard, you were only allowed to kill combatants. And on expert, you weren’t allowed to kill anyone at all.

        • cunningmunki says:

          That’s exactly the kind of approach I’m talking about, thanks for reminding me of that.
          The point is, 1999 Mode was supposed to make Infinite just as challenging as Thief, and games from the same era as Thief (hence it’s name), but it just made the game a whole lot less fun.

          • mouton says:

            Well, Thief is a different game altogether. There were never any sneaking mechanics in Bioshock, so you can’t make it like Thief.

          • fish99 says:

            I think actually 1999 mode was meant to be like SS2 not Thief, as SS2 was released in 99. Resources don’t really matter in Thief, whereas ammo can get scarce on the harder settings in SS2.

        • mouton says:

          I played both Thief 1 and 2.

          I agree it was one of the best games in terms of difficulty, but it all did boil down to what I said in my post. More enemies, tougher enemies, scarcer stuff etc.

          The point is – as was in my post – that they did put a lot of work into higher difficulties. The issue is not the methods, but the emphasis and dedication.

      • KenTWOu says:

        Or never played System Shock 1 which has awesome difficulty levels.

        • LionsPhil says:

          That it did.

        • mouton says:

          I finished it. I always considered it to be more about customizing your experience, than pure difficulty. While a totally different game, Mass Effect 3 did remind me of this with its choice between Guns&Conversation, Guns&Guns, Conversation&Conversation.

          • KenTWOu says:

            mouton, the problem is you called it ‘harder difficulty’. If Irrational called it something like ‘nightmare’ mode or ‘hardcore’ mode, I didn’t say a word. But they called it ‘1999 mode’ and locked it from the get-go. That name and marketing buzz around it created certain expectations among hardcore players and even reviewers. it turned out, that mode wasn’t something really special. Just several tweaks and the lack of navigation arrows.

    • KenTWOu says:

      What 1999 Mode should have done was to simply make ammo, resources and money much more scarce…

      Beat the game twice on 1999 difficulty, I hated it during the first walkthrough because of very rare checkpoints and the lack of experience, but loved it during the second one especially after I found several very effective gear combinations. And even then I agree with you, they should decrease player resources instead of increasing enemies health.

      • cunningmunki says:

        The Handyman was practically immortal on 1999 Mode! I died so, so many times.

        • mouton says:

          Quite easy once you work out the best tactics. Jumping at him from skylines and back, throwing crows at him and shooting his heart thing from up close. He was only a problem when accompanied by a crowd of goons, but then you just run fly around on a skyline and murder them down while avoiding the big un.

        • KenTWOu says:

          The Handyman was practically immortal on 1999 Mode!

          Well, I’ve got Heartbreaker* achievement on 1999 difficulty during my first walkthough, therefore, I strongly disagree with you : )
          * – Kill a Handyman by only shooting his heart.

  24. zain3000 says:

    L-l-l-l-look at you, Walker. Pathetic creature of flesh and bone… panting and sweating as you run through her corridors… how can you challenge a perfect, immortal FPS?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist. It takes a big man to admit that he’s (slightly) out of his depth. I can’t say that I blame you. They just don’t make ’em like this any more. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I grew up at just the right time to enjoy all these gems (although, to be honest, I didn’t get to play SS2 until about 2004).

  25. arkona says:

    Talking about difficulty in gaming and first person shooters, why can’t I find a single thing related to metro’s “ranger difficulty day 1 DLC PREORDER EXCLUSIVE”, it’s like the kind of thing I expect to find around here.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      This ^

    • nrvsNRG says:

      Its put me off buying it.

    • Guvornator says:

      Their explanation is interesting link to forbes.com I can sort of see their point, if you ignore the fact that day 1 DLC is inherently the Devil’s dingle-berries…

      • fish99 says:

        I don’t buy their reasoning. Yes they were forced to put in preorder DLC, but I doubt the retailers cared what that DLC was. It could have been a couple of small bonus areas/side-quests, some extra guns, some special ammo type etc. It didn’t have to be a difficulty setting.

  26. derbefrier says:

    I have also never played SS2. Its on my list of classics I need to play along with others like baulders gate and planescape torment. Currently I am enjoying Thief Gold for the first time. I am a little over half way through it and it can be tough but never seems unfair I finally manged to make it through the lost city after being lost four multiple hours! Playing these older games makes you realize how easy games are today. I mean I had to crank the difficulty all the way up in Far Cry 3 and it still felt to easy, same with Bioshock Infinite, Dishonored and pretty much any game I have played recently, other than of course Dark Souls.

    Dark Souls is literally my favorite game this generation i think. I mean there were parts of it that had me wanting to throw my controller through my monitor but its been so long since a games has done that to me I didn’t realize I missed it. I tend to play through these older games when none of my buddies are on bugging me to play some Dark Souls or other games with them so they take me a long time to get through but after I finish the thief series I think I’ll start on SS2.

  27. vim says:

    To make things a bit more easy it might be good to play Navy the first time. With OSA you are like a wizard in D&D and start of really weak and get a bit overpowered in the end. With Navy one can use the guns and repair them to :).

  28. pakoito says:

    Did you put the Balance Mod in?

  29. Dominare says:

    You must finish what you have begun, John. Your very gamer cred is on the line here, you know this to be true. You must finish SS2. No retreat. No surrender. We believe in you.

  30. DAdvocate says:

    The most immersive part of playing SS2 back in the day was the somewhat accidental “feature” of 5 minute load times whenever I died (enough time to make a cup of tea, drink it, and still be looking at a loading screen), that penalty for death kept me on edge throughout the game.

    I’ll never forget the terror of encountering a new type of monster, do I dare try to engage it or just hide? Trying to make sure to attack only where I had a pre-prepared escape route while being unsure just how fast my opponent was or the type of attack it would use.

  31. WarderDragon says:

    This is Xerxes. All personnel are required to boot up System Shock 2 immediately. This means y-y-you, insect.

    • Dominare says:

      Oh man. Remember the first time Xerxes starts quoting the many? You’ve learned to kind of tune him out because he’s been doing nothing but making standard announcements like the crew is peachy and nothing is wrong, then suddenly you realize Xerxes is speaking to you directly and asking why you refuse the glory of the flesh. Creepy as shit the first time.

      • Subject 706 says:

        This is XERXES. Why do you let the Metal-Mother guide your actions? Why do you not join the glory of the mass?

      • deejayem says:

        “Intruder in the medical sector, the Many demand to know your intentions.”

        Man, a decade later and I still get chills.

  32. thegooseking says:

    I have to admit I haven’t played System Shock 2, but I have been thinking about difficulty recently. I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that difficulty and complexity for its own sake is bunk. It has to be adding something else.

    If complexity for its own sake was anything of value in a game, E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy, which I’m currently playing, would be wonderful as opposed to merely ok.

    Like many people, I play Just Cause 2 on Easy mode. I don’t do this because it’s too hard on higher difficulties, but because the penalty for failure is the worst thing a game can give you: a boring bit, where you need to spend quite a while travelling to get back into the action. I’m all for challenge and reward, but enjoyment should not be a reward; the player should have fun succeed or fail, and that’s a problem I have with a lot of older games. Difficulty levels are ok, but the game has to give me a reason to want to play on a higher difficulty level. I have nothing to prove and am under no illusion that playing on hardcore mode is going to impress anyone, so why bother?

    There are some hard games I like. Super Meat Boy I like because failure is frequent, but the penalty for failure is not severe. FTL I like because failure is rarely “just bad luck” and you almost always learn something by failing. Symphony I like not only because (like Super Meat Boy) failure is low-severity, but also because difficulty levels are factored into your natural progression through the game: the game does a good job of encouraging you to play on harder levels.

    I think adaptive difficulty is kind of crap, because it doesn’t take into account people’s different tenacity thresholds (and it introduces aberrant optimal strategies of deliberately playing badly for a while to make the game easier to beat).

    But overall I think what you’re saying here, John, is that difficulty can either add to a game or get in the way of a game, and we need to be more discriminating between the two, rather than cultishly asserting that challenge is better.

    • engion3 says:

      I agree with this. Adjusting difficulties in games really bother me. A most recent example is level scaling in GW2. It makes every enemy and area feel the same. If I am in a higher level area in another MMO I know it’s going to be more difficult but worth it, however, with GW2 I just feel like im wondering around aimlessly.

  33. DrScuttles says:

    It’s always fascinating to read people’s first impressions of what are considered genre classics (so how about a few more articles on the topic? Or maybe there’s a pitch in that…)
    Given my own familiarity with System Shock 2, it’s easy to feel the whole blood-boiling rage at John for not knowing to go Navy, focusing on hacking, maintenance, standard weapons (up to assault rifle) and plonking 1 level into exotic. But it’s so easy to forget the time I spent playing the game learning those things, working out all the systems, discovering the joys of hacking, hearing from friends what a mistake it was to go OSA. I’ve put out of my mind all the frustrations and opaqueness to only recall the joys and scares the game gave me. Apart from the end. That came off as rubbish even the first time round.
    And anyway, I genuinely like inventory tetris.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      “Given my own familiarity with System Shock 2, it’s easy to feel the whole blood-boiling rage at John for not knowing to go Navy, focusing on hacking, maintenance, standard weapons (up to assault rifle) and plonking 1 level into exotic”

      I think this may be a problem for me reading the comments. I didn’t want to read alot as wanted to be open minded about the game and hopefully like it but playing in my own way. But i found out what OSA was due to wanting to use the psionics as much as possible and i hardly pout anything into standard hacking etc which now makes me want to restart as navy sometime in the future. So doing that looks like i was always going to have a bad time without the assault rifle as default (i got to engineering using psionics and a pistol mostly.

      Reading this is literally how i felt bar i got tired of it not for the difficulty but indifference to the game world around me. I do wonder if the “twist” really fooled anyone back when this game was released.

    • Nick says:

      Huh, I somehow went those things the first time I played it on release.

  34. Ralphomon says:

    I’d be interested to get some impressions on the older Ice Pick Lodge games like Pathologic and The Void, which were supposed to be punishingly difficult simply because one wrong choice of what to do with, say, your ammunition in Pathologic (use it to kill a diseased guy attacking you or sell it for food) or your Colour in The Void made the rest of the game extremely difficult to complete. This is only second-hand accounts, though since I haven’t really played either (Pathologic not technically having an understandable English translation, The Void being too spooky scary for li’l ol’ me to play much of).

    • Subject 706 says:

      The Void was hauntingly beautiful, eye-twistingly bizarre, and aneurysm-inducingly difficult. It is still on my hard drive, waiting while I build up my courage.

      • Shazbut says:

        God yeah, it was like a waking dream. It was haunting. Cut from the same holy cloth as System Shock, definitely

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Hardcore Gaming 101 have an extensive article covering Pathologic, and it is worth reading. There are spoilers, though for those that have convinced themselves they will never play it due to the translation or lack of time, it’s worth reading about some of the fantastically twisted events that take place in the game.

      The Void was also brilliant, creative and thoroughly imaginative, but bloody hell the difficulty needed some tweaking.

    • Oozo says:

      In case that you do not specifically mean a take on those games with a focus on difficulty, and in the even more unlikely case that you are not familiar with the excellent “Butchering Pathologic”-series on this very site, I highly recommend reading it.

      Those articles are quinnstessential reading, some of the better stuff published here:

      link to rockpapershotgun.com

      • Ralphomon says:

        Yeah, I specifically meant difficulty, but the Butchering Pathologic series is what got me interested in the game to begin with (after having seen a physical copy of the game in a GAME shop many years ago) and made me a regular RPS reader.

    • strangeloup says:

      The Void is beautiful and terrifying at once. RPS themselves posted news of a difficulty patch that makes it more accessible to mortal man. Both John and Quinns WIT’d the game, linked to in the difficulty patch news.

    • Quirk says:

      I’ve completed The Void without the difficulty patch. It’s a tough game. It is however unmistakably art. Art games get a bad rap because they are generally neither good games nor good art. The Void is a tough game and good art. It is beautiful and haunting and disturbing. It is well worth throwing yourself at even if you bounce off.

  35. Snids says:

    You’ve got some nerve Walker.
    With your Deus Ex evangelism, never even having played it’s slicker, more refined stable-mate.
    I couldn’t stand Deus Ex because it was so frumpy in comparison to this.

    SS2 stylised graphics and sharp, simple textures have aged really well but I wouldn’t say the same for DE’s neck-free meatcakes.

    I thought SS2 had a nice interface. It was at least very responsive. You just press tab to bring up you “character sheet”.

    • Nick says:

      only thing I don’t think aged quite as well is the huge weapon models.

  36. bill says:

    So, the obvious questions is: Did you actually read the manual?
    Because the manual explains all that. It tells you the difference between the 3 character types. and it gives you a lot of into on the UI, Skills, Weapons and Powers.
    link to systemshock.org

    My memory is obviously playing tricks on me, because I don’t remember SS2 being particularly confusing or difficult. I haven’t played it for years, but I don’t rememebr it standing out from other games as being hard. (and there have been a few hard games that I do clearly remember).
    I also don’t remember it taking my teenage self much time at all to work out how to do things. (bit then I would have read the manual before playing the game, as that used to be half the fun).

    Mind you, I played it as Navy as I wanted to do hacking and modify my weapons. Never played as Psi-Ops.

    • phlebas says:

      For instance, it’s been a while since I thought, “I really should have read the manual”.

      Nope, he didn’t read the manual. It’s easy to forget that getting a physical box and a paper manual that you were actually expected to read used to be the norm.

      • bill says:

        I saw that line, but I wondered if, after thinking “I really should read the manual” he actual did it, or just continued playing without taking 10 minutes to find out what’s going on.

        I’d hope not, because that would be remarkably idiotic/masochistic/weird.

    • belgand says:

      Glad to see I wasn’t the only person confused by this.

      Admittedly I’d played the first System Shock before it and read the manual before I even installed the game but I never found it to be particularly abstruse or hard to to understand nor especially hard. What wasn’t made obvious enough in the manual was easily explained in the tutorial by giving you a bit of hands-on practice.

      The lack of depth is actually what made me profoundly unhappy with Bioshock. It was a dumbed-down version of the original games. Why bother having stats or an inventory when you can just use magic weapon upgrade machines? It catered to the “I can’t be bothered to read the manual first” sort of player and, in the process, ended up leaving me out in the cold.

  37. Kitsunin says:

    It sounds pretty much like the Resident Evil games have most of the good elements, minus the bad elements.

    I bounced of SS2 REALLY quickly. I couldn’t figure out how the hell to use a keypad, and then I pretty much just said F this. I tried it again, and I saw what it was trying for, but I felt that it was just too tiring to play. Made worse with what is certainly a degree of objectively bad game design.

    On the other hand, I find the early Resident Evil games to have all of the positive aspects: The constant fear of, not just dying and losing a certain degree of progress, but rather, because of the way consumables work in that game, moreso a fear or running out of supplies and simply being stuck. Because you can’t really die as long as you’re properly stocked on healing items, yet using your second-to-last First Aid Spray is one of the most frightening things I’ve found in a game. It feels like REAL survival. Not “Survival” where you go ahead, and if you die, then you just go back a few minutes. Not “Survival” where you inevitably will die, and you will be seriously pissed off that you have to start over again and lose all that progress: Have wasted all that time (Nothing against roguelikes, only some of them are like that in a bad way). Not “Survival” where all is good until you aren’t paying attention, or the uberbaddie you weren’t ready for shows up, and suddenly the whole experience dies with you because of one tiny stupid mistake.

    It’s fear that is caused because you do have safe places, but making them safe itself makes you more vulnerable. Fear that you must meet danger yourself, not fear that is ever present and forced upon you. This punctuated by the occasional moment which shatters the safety you previously thought you had. Although, even RE fails to capture this feeling if you’re good enough to stockpile loads of kickass weaponry towards the end, which sadly tends to happen. REmake is basically the only game in the series which actually nails the difficulty and supply placement, which is really too bad.

    Simply put though, I just want more games that are about conserving supplies throughout a semi-linear story!

    • sinister agent says:

      Resident Evil is jump scares, idiotic writing and gore. System Shock 2 is clenchingly scary atmosphere, decent writing and voice acting, and creeping, often unseen horror. There really is very little that Resident Evil does better.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Resident Evil’s story IS awful, the first was an absolute joke, and every one since has been at best quite confused. But that doesn’t really matter when you aren’t watching the story (Another issue (Watching)).

        But I disagree with you about the jump scares. Okay, there are some bad ones. Some really bad ones. But there are also great ones, ones that break the idea of safety the game had previously given you. A lot of people think jump scares are cheap and stupid, and while I sure as hell agree screamers are awful, I think a good jumpscare can be very effective at preventing you from feeling safe. If I start playing a horror game and I am told up front “There are no jumpscares in this game” then I’m going to feel much safer and less frightened than I might otherwise. Besides, SS2 has jumpscares too, they’re just more incidental. I’ll admit that’s much better, especially because you can’t prepare in an instant like you can with RE’s paused menus.

        But the big thing is: Resident Evil doesn’t make me feel shitty when I play it. It isn’t exhausting and confusing and frustrating when the mechanics don’t seem to work right, and it usually has a semblance of balance when it comes to your character.

        But mostly, my point was about the concepts both SS2 and RE share. Concepts which are woefully unused in modern game design.

  38. Jason Moyer says:

    System Shock 2 had a manual?

    Seriously, I don’t remember anything in the game not being fairly well spelled out for you. I’m sure Thief had a manual too, but I dunno if I’ve ever read it.

  39. Shazbut says:

    Ok, here’s a game, potentially. Which character says the quote below in an audio log? If you answer, provide the next one.

    “My cup runneth over”

    • Dominare says:

      That’s Diego during one of his becoming-more-than-human monologues, but I confess I can’t remember exactly when and where you get that particular log.

      “What is it like to be afraid?”

      • Shazbut says:

        That would be The Machine Mother. :)

        “I am a voice in their choir”

  40. psepho says:

    Thanks, John. I now feel an indescribable urge to roll around screaming mindlessly until I am able to play SS2 again. Like acid, it hangs around in your central nervous system indefinitely.

  41. JackShandy says:

    Save every five seconds – reload every ten.

    When I played SS2 for the first time last year, I started pushing the f5 key in my sleep.

  42. Farfarer says:

    Those are, mostly, the things I love about System Shock 2; the atmosphere (mostly due to the brilliant sound design and voice acting) and interminable, exhausing feeling of vulnerability. I remember playing it ’til 3am on my first playthrough and, after turning the game off, spending the next 15 minutes just sat in my chair, fingers trembling from the adrenaline due to being so tightly wound up for the duration of my playing.

    Whenever I hear it, that fucking monkey screech still makes me want to run into a dark room and hide under a desk, nervously cradling the last two bullets in my gun…

    Oh, and the near heart-attack when you’re creeping around all silent-like then the ship AI shouts at you, telling you it’s a crime to hack the vending machines…

  43. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    As a single-player game it is excellent, but it also shines as co-op.

    Three of us in the same room, using something we called “ethernet cable” to a “hub”, shouting back and forth.

    “I hear monkeys! Hurry up with that hack!”
    “I’m going as fast as I can! Just keep them off my back!”
    “My gun is has enough shots for one, maybe two monkeys, then I’m down to the wrench.”
    “One for the money, two for the show… Gaaah! Okay, last nanites here…”

  44. Jason Moyer says:

    I’m surprised whenever people talk about scary stuff in SS2, they never talk about the room of crates with robots in them. I think on my first playthrough, that area was the part that made me actually jump out of my chair even though I knew what was going to happen.

    • Wedge says:

      The warehouse area was a lot of fun, I remember I figured out you could use the elevators to crush the giant loader robots that were otherwise way out of your killability at that point.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      Yeah, that’s the scariest part of the game. With all the booby traps and dead-ends (not something you want to run into when you’re galloping away from a kamikaze bot), it’s downright unfair.

  45. Sinomatic says:

    “how do you sex a toilet? female ones don’t have wee around the base”

    You haven’t been in many women’s bathrooms, have you?

    I’ve never played SS2 either. Well, except for that one time I tried way back when and found it just waaaay too tense for my liking. I think I might be able to handle it better now, having managed to deal with other games in the interim. Maybe. (I’m still never playing amnesia though).

    I believe I still have the SS2 CD knocking around somewhere, but not sure if it would even work on a modern system now – anyone know? And, is the steam version particularly superior or extra shiny in any way?

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      “You haven’t been in many women’s bathrooms, have you?”

      He’s only John Walker, not J. C. Denton.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I still run the CD version in win7-64 and it’s fine. Install it (you may need to set compability to Win98 or XP, I can’t remember), patch it up if you don’t have a later copy that’s fully patched, and then grab the NewDark patch (I believe 2.42 is the latest) which updates SS2’s version of the Dark Engine to run on modern systems, full widescreen support with HUD scaling, and fixes to the video codec support among other changes.

  46. SXO says:

    Am I the only one around here who realizes a lot of these issues could’ve been avoided if he had read the manual first? If there’s one thing I remember about System Shock 2, is that the manual had to explain a LOT of stuff.

    I’m not knocking the article, or his valiant attempt at playing the game, but one has to point out the obvious. Games used to have a lot more depth, depth that often could not simply be conveyed during play. This includes backstory as well as game mechanics. For this reason they used to have very informative manuals that explained everything that wasn’t explained in game. I think people have been spoiled by hand-holding of the last near-decade of gaming and forgotten that crucial bit of opening your new PC game box, pulling out that manual, and having a read while the game installs.

  47. Totally heterosexual says:

    I love this game, but it’s kinda broken. Thankfully there are mods that help to smooth out a lot of things to make it all around more enjoyable.

    Also fuck invisible spiders.

  48. Grygus says:

    I bought and tried to play System Shock 2 when it released. Hated it. To be fair, I hate the vast majority of shooters, because I consider respawns to be the laziest of lazy design. I adored the idea of this game. Here I am, exploring this huge, mysterious… oh, where did those come from, I must have missed… no, there’s nothing here. Oh. I am just playing a game that has to blatantly cheat in order to provide challenge and atmosphere. You couldn’t even be subtle about it? Stuff obviously just pops in out of nowhere for no reason. How clever.

    Give me a game where killing an enemy is actually meaningful because now there are fewer enemies. Making the killing essentially meaningless makes me wonder why killing is even in the game. Just to annoy me? Mission accomplished, I guess. Shame.

    • fish99 says:

      That’s the main thing the game was criticized for at launch, to the point where they put an ini tweak in via a patch which let you turn off most of the random spawning. The game felt much fairer after that tweak.

      • Grygus says:

        That is very useful information, thank you! Maybe I will get to play this game, after all.

  49. Runs With Foxes says:

    Deus Ex isn’t a ‘follower’ of SS2. They were released less than a year apart. They’re both descended from earlier games.

    Also you should play Stalker next.

  50. kament says:

    Here it’s avoiddeathavoiddeathavoiddeathavoiddeathavoiddeath without pause.

    Felt tedious back then, sounds tedious now. One-note experience. Then along came Deus Ex, and everyone was like, oh it’s so much like SS2, you simply must play it! And I was like, really? I’ve got better things to do. Thank God I gave it a try; loved it. So much better for my tastes.