Look alongside the highest shelf of the laboratory stockroom on the Med/Sci deck of System Shock 2’s Von Braun, the faster-than-light vessel named for the daddy of area journey, and you will find samples of varied chemical components, saved in tubs the scale of peanut butter jars. Lined up in roughly alphabetical order, there’s Antimony, Barium, Californium, Fermium, Gallium, and Iridium. And right on the top you may discover me, crouched tightly into the area between the shelf and the ceiling.
There are a few good causes for that. Firstly, up right here, I stand a greater likelihood of dodging the visible and auditory sensors of the hulking safety robotic patrolling the adjoining hall. Secondly, I am effectively located to learn the labels, and apply the suitable component to the psionic monkey specimen I am carrying in my stock. That manner, I can determine how the ape mind works—and know precisely where to hit its uncovered cerebrum with my wrench.
The factor is, I do know I will find yourself again right here, hours later. I am sure to seek out some viral weapon or hunk of annelid flesh that wants coating in Cf or Ir if I am to know it—and I am not prone to discover all the identical components on the Command deck, or Hydroponics, or Recreation. However there are too many jars right here to pack into my bag. So when the time comes, I will embark on a grand backtracking exhibition. And within the course of, the Von Braun will cease feeling like a collection of game ranges, and grow to be a three-dimensional place in my reminiscence.
That is the attribute that has most struck me whereas replaying System Shock 2—each in anticipation of the System Shock remake coming in March, and the extra distant prospect of BioShock 4. The latter is in improvement at a brand new 2K-formed studio known as Cloud Chamber, which is house to some former builders on the collection, and centered on constructing “yet-to-be-discovered worlds”. I hope that workforce feels empowered to create one thing really new to encourage the sense of surprise that got here with taking the bathysphere all the way down to Rapture, or the rocket as much as Columbia. However I additionally hope they give the impression of being again to BioShock’s roots, in Irrational’s very first game.
Ken and barbarism
System Shock 2 was Ken Levine’s debut as a lead author, and feels remarkably like his later work. As in BioShock, there’s an ideological battle—on this event between the AI dictator Shodan and a hive thoughts known as The Many, stand-ins for fascism and communism respectively. And this dichotomy is explored by the views of dozens of characters, captured in audio logs scattered all through the area station. The tight, dilapidated corridors are populated by haywire turrets, rotating cameras, and the moaning husks of former people, which you destroy or circumvent by guile, gathering weapons and instruments as you go. There is not any different possibility: area, very similar to the underside of the ocean or an infinite sky, offers no escape for a pedestrian.
But there is a pervasive sense of permanence to the Von Braun that Irrational left behind in its later initiatives. BioShock Infinite has distinct districts analogous to System Shock 2’s decks: the downtrodden Finkton, unnervingly idyllic Raffle Sq., and Battleship Bay, which evokes Brighton Seashore. However collectively they make up a rollercoaster experience, a collection of one-shot setpieces snapped collectively like items of monitor. There is not any turning again. In contrast, the Von Braun persists the entire time you are taking part in, from prime to backside—accessible through the elevator that acts as your portal between decks.
Returning to earlier areas in System Shock 2 is not only a enjoyable hypothetical—you are given many causes to retrace your steps over the course of the game. Therapeutic is dear, and may simply hoover up your provide of medical hypos, which is restricted by a good and punishing useful resource economic system. So you may need to make common use of surgical items, which refill your hitpoints, however are few and much aside. Their places shortly grow to be burned into your mind, uncommon buoys for a survivor adrift at sea.
Then there are the alien supplies, extracted from warped skulls and pulled from sacs where The Many’s larvae nest. These are what take you again to the chemical stockrooms—a part of a analysis path that Irrational dropped when it modernised the components with BioShock. And periodically, you may come throughout codes for the doorways of weapon caches on earlier flooring. Provided that your weapons deteriorate with out upkeep, an untouched stash of grenade launchers and EMP rifles is price any detour.
Even a nondescript room can grow to be a treasure trove on reflection. You would possibly properly drop a gleaming assault rifle as a result of it takes up three slots in your stock, and is unusable till you have totally developed your weapons capacity. However as soon as you have unlocked the requisite RPG abilities, that very same gun would possibly purchase new lustre. And, since a dropped object stays in System Shock 2’s world eternally, the one limitation on looking it down is your individual reminiscence.
Levine’s story encourages you to in the end wander the flooring of the Von Braun as should you personal the place. Earlier than you possibly can depart the ship, you must undertake a tour of its numerous decks, restoring energy and pushing buttons in places made acquainted by previous victories.
Individually, none of those concepts are killer options for an immersive sim or first-person shooter. They may even strike you as an annoyance, pushing you to stare on the standard bloodstained partitions quite than gambol by completely new environments. However collectively, they instill a strong perception within the Von Braun as a coherent area—not a residing and respiration world maybe, however one which’s buzzing and beeping in all the suitable locations. The truth is, the ambient noise adjustments convincingly as you ascend the ship—from the bassy throb of Engineering, to the polyphonic buzz of Recreation.
Cloud Chamber needn’t slavishly revive the mannequin Irrational laid down with its first game. There’s loads about the best way System Shock 2 works that may be thought-about obtuse right this moment—and a brand new BioShock should be daring, quite than nostalgic. But when the builders had been to backtrack to the Von Braun for only one factor, they need to deliver again that persistence, which lends the ship such a strong sense of place. In any case: what are the Shock video games about, if not the story of a spot?