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Have You Played... System Shock 2?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

“Hello, may I be of service?” chirps a Protocol Droid and I bolt, finding a safe spot in a nest of crates and clutching my wrench tight. “Aww I’ve driven a client away,” I hear echoing after me, “I’ll likely be downgraded.”

I am a big enough babby that I’ve never finished System Shock 2 properly, only in its tension-defusing co-op. Even then, Looking Glass and Irrational’s FPS-RPG left me chilled by something as cheery as the greeting of an exploding robot.

It’s difficult to briefly sum up one of the finest games from one of the most fondly-remembered studios. Heck, Kieron spaffed several thousand words simply on wanting to ‘do it’ with the game’s antagonist. So, ah, System Shock 2’s pretty great, isn’t it?

Aboard a revolutionary new spaceship, everything’s gone a bit Pete Tong and your soldier wakes up mindwiped in a cryotube. Creeping through claustrophobic corridors, you find the crew’s mutated and murdering everyone else, friendly AIs are turned against you, and… there is entirely too much meat for a spaceship. It’s a battle of wills between a parasitic hive mind and their metallic mother who so loathes having to rely on you, a pathetic creature of meat and bone, as her agent.

The slow discovery of what happened – and continues to happen – is chilling. As you see more of the ships, travelling through living quarters, social decks, and labs, it only becomes clearer how doomed you are. Storytelling relies heavily on audiologs, but they’re largely solid and paint a rounded and eerie picture of things falling apart, rather than simply serving as the exposition bombs they’ve since become in games. Some enemies tell awful stories too, like the medbay nurses twisted into cyborg midwives to care for parasitic eggs. “I worry so about my little ones,” they’ll sigh when no one’s looking. The story is all around you in a town-sized ship gone to hell.

And the small things! Picking through chemical storage closets to find substances you need for research, picking a room for a persistent stash, all the interestings corners to explore, all the different ways to play, the video games to collect and play, that sound, that music!

Memory will want to smooth off rough edges. Its RPG side is largely filled with useless options, the weapon balance is wildly off, and its UI feels messy in the modern day. Some sections drag. A platforming section was made so much worse by the incessant grinding of giant gut teeth that… maybe that’s just wickedly clever design. I’d put up with far worse for something so splendid.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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