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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: August 27, 1999
We were living on the corner of 14th and Oak in a small three bedroom home built in the 1920s. It had hard wood floors that creaked in harmony as you walked over them and the cold, swirling winds would waltz the entire structure back and forth during the cold winter months. Like most Friday evenings, I had arrived home from work after dark. Dinner had been cold for over an hour before I got there, but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t interested in anything that would delay my objective. Without bothering to change clothes I made my way to the study in the back right corner of the house. It was a secluded room at the end of a hallway with only one light source that had burned out weeks ago. I was confident this would be the night, the night I finally defeated the rogue AI Shodan and saved Citadel Station. This had been my nightly routine for the past three weeks; playing System Shock like a religious ritual, without fail and without interruption.
The last thing I remember after booting up my Pentium 60 and returning to Citadel Station was releasing the Grove on Deck Seven and running into my first Advanced Cyborg Guard. The events that transpired after that are hazy, but with the help of a certain key witness I’ve been able to piece together the frightening details. I was making my way to Deck Eight when I first heard it — something menacing advancing toward my position. Small beads of sweat had begun to form on my forehead and the fingers griping my mouse were stiff and cold like icicles. I was also short of breath. The awful screeching sounds were getting louder and, although I could see nothing, I knew that whatever it was, it was close.
And then, unexpectedly, it spoke. I could not discern what it said at first so I fired my Assault Rifle a few times in random directions. Nothing. I peered around the next corner and it spoke again, but this time the orator was clear. “Can I get you anything dear,” my wife repeated as she stood in the doorway. “Shut Up!” I gritted. “They’ll hear you.” As soon as I had uttered those words I knew my mistake. Making her way over to my surge protector, my wife terminated my System Shock session in a manner worthy of a Cyborg Assassin. I spent the next few nights on the couch.
In the long run, it was a small price to pay for the most glorious computer gaming experience I’d ever had. Like no game, movie or book, the original System Shock immersed me into its world so deeply that I still consider it the single greatest achievement in digital storytelling. Nearly six years later, the sequel has finally arrived. Admittedly, I’m never apprehensive about starting a new computer title, but I was with this one. Playing hundreds of titles each year, the process of moving from one to another is usually nothing more than routine — but something was different this time.
Preconceptions are the bane of bad reviews, but nonetheless, I had them. Before I had even played Shock 2, different parts of me were arguing about its greatness or lack thereof. On the one hand, I believed it could do no wrong, possibly shielding myself from the potential disappointment I would feel were the game to be anything less than the original. And on the other hand, I was ready to crucify it no matter what it did, firmly believing it could never live up to its legacy.
If you’ve not played the original, my apologies. While it is not necessary to play or complete Shock 1, it will make the experience of Shock 2 infinitely more enjoyable. And since the original is no longer being manufactured and is nearly impossible to find in bargain bins, the Adrenaline Vault is putting together features on both, to be published soon. Our Retro Review will take you through a graphical presentation of the original, and will be instrumental in gaining a perspective for those playing the sequel — so stay tuned!
Shock 2′s story picks up 42 years after the disaster on Citadel Station. Since that time, much has changed on Earth. The once all powerful TriOptimum Corporation was hurt badly by the catastrophe, but survived and prospered well enough that with UNN sponsorship managed to build the first ever inter-galactic starship — the Von Braun. Acting more like police than a sponsor, the UNN’s objective is to ensure the safety of the ship and its personnel. Veterans of the series will recognize the name Diego, as Edward’s son is Captain of the UNN Rickenbacker, the security ship attached to the Von Braun during its maiden voyage. But things aren’t quite as prosperous as TriOp would want you to believe. TriOp doesn’t welcome the UNN sponsorship. In fact, they detest it. Within the first few moments of playing, you learn that the Von Braun wasn’t quite as fit for space travel as TriOp wanted everyone to believe, and neither was her crew. You play the role of the new recruit aboard the Von Braun. Having spent three years in one of three branches of service (Navy, Marines or OSA), you wake from a cryogenic sleep to find the ship and its crew in chaos.
The folks at Looking Glass are well known for writing a series of successive scripts and then developing multiple titles from them, much as they are doing with Thief. I’m not sure if the scripts for Shock 1 and Shock 2 were written simultaneously, but regardless, they sure appear to have been. The story flows from the original to the sequel like a raging river, packed with moments of unbridled action, utter fear and, above all, an ominous sense of the unknown. It is from here that one of the greatest epic story lines in games continues.
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