The Quest for System Shock 2, Part One

Everyone has that piece of media, interactive or otherwise, that has always eluded them. We all have that one thing that we’ve meant to get around to experiencing, but for some reason never have. Usually the issue is a matter of time. We only have so much of it to dedicate towards our leisurely activities, so most of it gets occupied elsewhere. Over time it all builds up to create a backlog, as we get further and further behind on wasting our time. Beyond this, the media we never get to always maintain this certain level of mysticism, all because we aren’t really sure what it is we’re missing out on. For all we know, that little experience we’re missing out on could be something absolutely amazing, just waiting for us to dedicate some time to it. Of course, sometimes the actual experience can’t possibly live up to the hype that surrounds it.

One of the major deterrents that is becoming more prevalent is that of availability, especially when it comes to video games. For the majority of consumers, a lot of the titles that anyone wants to play are still easily obtainable, via digital download services or re-releases. Titles that aren’t available digitally are likely easy to find on eBay, although that may also require the hardware that game was designed for. Your mileage may vary. Digital distribution has made it easy to play a good number of the games you may want to play. Because of this, it becomes incredibly unfortunate when problems like licensing or rights issues hold something up. I’m looking at you, System Shock 2.

Before Bioshock came out and made people think really hard about their story based first-person shooters, there was System Shock 2, which was co-developed by Looking Glass Studios and an early incarnation of Irrational Games. Development was headed by Ken Levine, who later on would head development on Bioshock, along with the forthcoming Bioshock Infinite. Instead of taking place under the sea or in a floating city, System Shock 2 takes place aboard a large starship. Something has gone horribly wrong, and the ship is overrun with the outbreak of some sort of genetic infection. You play the role of a lone soldier sent in to investigate and curb the infection. What could possibly go wrong?

System Shock 2 was released in 1999 for Windows PCs to massive critical acclaim. The problem is that due to disputes over the licensing, it cannot be re-released, nor can any further entries in the series be made. To make the situation worse, the game is innately incompatible with modern systems. It is essentially stuck in limbo. Thanks to a dedicated fan base, mods have been released to not only run the game on modern computers, but new textures and models have been created to polish some of the game’s jagged edges. The game still looks like it belongs in 1999, but thanks to these updates, it looks much better than it previously did.

I’ve never played System Shock 2. It has been that game that I’ve wanted to play for years, but for various reasons, have never been able to. I’ve wanted to play it ever since I first finished Bioshock, but the barrier of entry with the modding has always kept me at bay. It wasn’t that it was complicated, but with every other game I wanted to play, System Shock 2 got placed on the backburner. I know a lot about it, and the game maintains this level of mystery and wonder in my brain. At a certain point, it becomes too much and I’m finally at a point where I’m making time to play this game.

Thanks to the crazed fans, I’m not only able to play the game on my 64 bit installation of Windows 7, but someone has actually managed to create a wrapper of sorts that’ll let me run the game perfectly on my Macbook Pro in OSX. On top of that, the wrapper came pre-installed with widescreen and high resolution texture mods. The game now runs at 1280×800 resolution, and looks as good as a 13 year old PC game is going to look. Just seeing the game running properly is a wonderful feeling.

Of course, what could happen is that I could play a few hours of the game and totally hate it. In fact, I feel like a lot of people who attempt to play this game now go through just that. Some people can’t get beyond the way the game looks. It’s nowhere near as scary as it was in 1999, and some of the gameplay elements just don’t hold up. Being played from the mentality of it existing as a complicated, story based first-person shooter from 1999, it’s a true sight to behold.

With all of this in mind, I’m actually pretty excited to dive into this game. I’ve played a small slice of it, and have loved what I’ve experienced so far. The atmosphere is decidedly creepy and a little unnerving. I’m really interested to see what direction this is going to head in. We shall see how I feel after finishing it, something I hope to accomplish before I leave for Washington next week.

Here we go!

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