The History of System Shock 2

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Matt Barton's picture

Irrational Games' System Shock 2 is a cult classic hybrid game that straddles several genres: FPS, RPG, and action adventure. It also boasts an amazing science fiction story and some seriously spooky ambiance. In this episode, I offer the history of the game, showing how it can trace its lineage back to Ultima Underworld, a game with which it shares some very intriguing parallels. Like UU, SS2 was not originally conceived as a sequel, nor did it sell very well despite becoming very popular and influential later on. See below for info about getting the game working in Vista 64.

Okay, so here's what I did to get it working in Vista 64. I doubt any of this is legal, so just hunt down an original copy and older PC (Windows 2000 or 98) if you're worried about such things.

First off, do a full install of the game from CDs. This can be tough because Vista will tell you the setup.exe file is not compatible, yadda yadda. So right click on setup.exe and select "run in Windows compatibility mode" and select Windows 2000. Then it should install.

Then download the System Shock 2 Patch from here or elsewhere. If that link is dead, try Googling "system shock 2 patch" and you should eventually find it. I have also attached it to this post, which will hopefully still be active.

Now you may be able to get the game working if you right click on the shortcut or system shock game file (shock2.exe) and do the Windows compatibility thing again. However, at least when I tried this, I was unable to view any of the cut scenes. So, the next thing I did was install this patch and following the instructions; it takes several steps but gives you some pretty cool options. I also had to go a step further and download the legacy Indeo codecs. With this I was able to see the cut scenes in the game and separately by exploring the install directory.

This is a lot of trouble to go through, obviously, so let's hope and pray that some service like Steam or GOG will eventually add this game to their catalog.

AttachmentSize
shkpatch.zip4.03 MB

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Bill Loguidice
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You should apply for a

You should apply for a director's account. That would be good to have in your back pocket and it might be a way for us all to collaborate on a 30 minute show or so in the future.

Books!
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[About Me]

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Rowdy Rob
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Joined: 09/04/2006
Great video as always.

This one had all the usual things I like (listed in another post on this site): the great commentary, the "precursor" games, the ending quip, the shirt, the production values, the in-game video, etc.

I would have liked to have seen more of the action of the game, particularly some of the nastier monsters or bosses (assuming there are any!).

Is this game still being sold somewhere? Just curious.

Gotta go. Great video!

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Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
I wasn't able to find it for

I wasn't able to find it for sale, and getting it working in Vista was a major pain. It's a real shame (travesty, really!!) that it wasn't released for a console. I read that there were plans in place to make that happen, but somehow it didn't work out. In my opinion, that's a big loss for everyone.

My guess is that there's some legal snafu with the "IP" that's holding this one back from Steam or GOG.

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Calibrator
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Joined: 10/25/2006
Mild but constant terror

Not really a horror shocker with extreme climaxes but the more you play it like a first-person shooter the more problems you'll get with the enemies. They will follow you relentlessly for a certain time (the timer in the corner of the screen adds to the tension) and, yes, the first few enemies are only cannon fodder to make you get acquainted with the play mechanics.

Apropos play mechanics: It's very close to it's predecessor - sometimes perhaps too close. Players of System Shock 1 will feel right at home and sometimes think that they play only a graphical update. Granted, they could've done many things wrong with this sequel but it really feels like they wanted to change as few things as possible.
Yes, the game now allows for three different character styles similar to RPGs to make different playthroughs a bit diversified but the game itself remains the same on all three. I doubt that this feature really adds much replay value.

While the game certainly is very atmospheric and dark, it sometimes feels too "clean" for the lack of a better word. The textures are sometimes too smooth for my liking and the monsters are fully 3D this time (in SS1 they were two-dimensional shapes like in Duke Nukem 3D) - especially so with modern fast graphics hardware. I didn't try the texture mods back then as they weren't available but I saw some promising pictures recently - perhaps this will bring some roughness back again.
This game uses the Dark Engine and it shows: While not exactly a polygon monster control of the player character feels very smooth and many things simply work (ladders, elevators) where other games stumble. This very versatile engine is also the basis for the first two Thief games and it's flexibility is surely one of the reasons there are still fan missions getting published for those two titles. Ah and yes - there are also a handful of fan missions for SS2...

The star of the whole show is once more the audio part, though. The whole array of sound effects and the bits and pieces "spoken" by the inhabitants of the two ships. What still puzzles me, though, is that the enemy A.I. still has it's problems to formulate a single, clean sentence in colloquial English - which pretty much any 8-bit computer of the eighties could with the help of a cheap speech synthesizer... ;-)

One reason the game supposedly didn't sell too well - according to critics and other experts - was the allegedly complicated game interface with it's many icons and controls. I vehemently disagree as it's very logical and easy to learn - provided you want more than a simple first-person shooter with WASD, fire and reload button.
The icons graphics are also very attractive and it's very consistent the whole game through - up to the screens & panels on board the space ships.

Altogether it's a very well made game that anybody with the slightest interest in playing a "thinking man's action game" should try.

take care,
Calibrator

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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
I remember quite enjoying

I remember quite enjoying this game but didn't finish it. I ended up with not enough health & weapons left. Didn't want to start over. But what I did play was pretty good. There probably still is a decent demand for the game today.

Rob's Laptop (not verified)
Similar to Deus Ex?

I think I've heard somewhere that SS2 is quite similar to "Deus Ex." Can anyone confirm this? I played Deus Ex for a while... but felt that it was just another FPS at the time. Watching the SS2 Matt Chat has actually made me want to give Deus Ex another go.... since it allegedly had similar role-playing features as SS2.

Calibrator
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Joined: 10/25/2006
Deus Ex 1

DE1 is indeed somewhat similar - it also has a shitload of player controls, weapons, ammunitions, gadgets and it certainly has a similar feel, while being a completely different scenario.
Categorizing DE1 as a pure first-person shooter misses the many different options this title offers. Did you try to put most of the enemies to sleep instead of killing them? How about some tranquilizer darts? What about circumventing most of the enemies like in the Thief series? There are often different paths to the same goal and in this respect it is much more versatile than SS2.

take care,
Calibrator

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Kolya (not verified)
Getting SS2 game to run

Complete instructions on how to get the game to run on modern systems + download of all available modifications for SS2 can be found at strangebedfellows.de

Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Indeed, Deus Ex is a great

Indeed, Deus Ex is a great game, too. I didn't manage to complete it (saved game corruption), but it was quite fun making decisions like whether to use darts and batons or kill. Naturally, being a "good guy" I tried not to kill anyone, which actually made the game considerably harder!

Thanks for the link, Kolya. That's where I got most of my info for running it on Vista.

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Kolya (not verified)
Getting SS2 game to run

Instructions on how to get the game to run on modern systems and all available mods can be downloaded for free, without registration, at the System Shock mod archive: http://www.strangebedfellows.de.

Regards, Kolya
Administrator of Strangebedfellows.de

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