Experienced Points: Why I’m Cynical About System Shock 3

By Shamus
on Jan 18, 2016
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is why I suspect that System Shock 3 isn’t going to have the stuff I loved about System Shock 2.

Honestly, if this industry was capable of making System Shock 3, it would have. Last time somebody tried we got BioShock, which was profitable, popular, critically acclaimed, and not at all what I wanted. It was a fine game on its own merits, but it was missing most of the major features that made System Shock special to me. It was just “pretty smart, for a shooter”. Replacing Andrew Ryan with Shodan isn’t going to magically transform BioShock back into System Shock.

This is not to say that System Shock 2 was a perfect game. This goes double for System Shock 1. It’s just that they represent a kind of game that nobody wants to fund, develop, or market in today’s AAA world.

I really hope that in a year or so I’ll get to write a column about how wrong I was about this, but this is how things look to me right now.

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2020209Sixty-nine comments, dude! Excellent!

From the Archives:

  1. Robyrt says:

    The real modern heirs to System Shock 2 are the Souls games. Survival horror with a unique atmosphere. Slow character progression with multiple different builds for replayability. Item scarcity that makes you want to search every cupboard of a mostly linear world which feels open thanks to excellent level design. An enjoyable but wonky multiplayer mode. Functional but infuriating menus to increase tension. Light story elements, mostly consisting of a couple shocking twists and memorable NPC voices. One major element that lands on “all-time best” lists (SS2’s villain, DS’ combat system).

    The major difference, of course, is that Dark Souls looks way better in trailers. The marketing team can take your roaring dragons, sword swings, PVP fights, etc. and set it to Carmina Burana with ease, but trying to sell SS2 without spoiling the entire first half of the game is tough.

    • Darren says:

      I was actually going to bring up the Souls games, but for a different reason: they are successful and well-known, despite eschewing all the mainstream features that we expect in AAA games.

      I doubt that a System Shock reboot will match up to the earlier games’ experience, but there are still games that are willing to cast off the yoke of catering to the mainstream. There also seems to be a growing trend among developers to explicitly eschew specific mainstream trends, whether that’s something like Techland’s extensive support for Dying Light, CD Projekt’s storytelling ambitions, or the nearly-experimental design of Amplitude’s Endless franchise.

      Is that reason to be optimistic? No, not really. But it’s reason to point out that a disappointment, if it comes, wasn’t inevitable.

    • Tsi says:

      “Real modern heirs” ?
      I wouldn’t say that. I can’t see anything in common unless you count the silent protagonist. Instead I’d suggest Dead Space (1), S.T.A.L.K.E.R, or Soma (haven’t played).

    • lurkey says:

      PvP multiplayer is to survival horror as loud fart is to date dinner with candles and quiet music, that is – embarrassing and completely ruins the mood.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        Most of the time PvP goes for the balance, where both sides agree to fight. In DS on the other side most of the PvP is unwilling, because you will be invaded unwillingly by someone probably much better than you. Thus it kind of fits the general DS theme of uncaring world.

      • StashAugustine says:

        I don’t know, being suddenly stalked by a silent red ghost of superior intelligence* intent on hunting you down and murdering you is pretty survival horror to me

        *intelligence may vary

  2. Nidokoenig says:

    There’s always the hope that the publishers are more realistic and are hoping for a safe return on A or AA money. You could pump out decent System Shock games to a smaller, more loyal audience on a lower budget but a higher profit margin. Hell, movie tie-ins and other licensed crap trade on exactly that, low budget with essentially free advertising. Not the best hope and has its own problems.

  3. Bropocalypse says:

    I mean… There’s really nothing to say that they’re necessarily going to attempt AAA production values, is there?
    I think there’s a market niche for retro-style shooters. After all, there are some pixelated 3D horror games that meet modest success.

    • Merlin says:

      I’d be very surprised if they didn’t, based on the success of the Bioshock franchise. I mean, people went ga-ga over Infinite as a masterpiece of sensitive- and/or thinking-man’s shooters, but ultimately I don’t think anything about it worked aside from the impressive art design & the graphical oomph backing it up. The very suggestion of intellectual depth combined with AAA production values was enough to get it showered in GOTY praise despite it falling more prey to Spec Ops’s “You Might Be A Heinous Piece of Art If:” cautions than official-critical-whipping-boy Call of Duty ever managed.

      Given that Bioshock was able to ride SS2’s coattails to success largely because of shnazzy visuals, why would you not turn around and take advantage of that the other way?

      • Geebs says:

        I stipulate that people got excited about Bioshock Infinite because the original Bioshock genuinely was clever, and it was only after the end of the game that the expectation that something Bioshock 1-level would happen wore off, and it became fully apparent that the plot of BInfinite was utter balls.

        • Merlin says:

          Maybe. I bounced off of Infinite so hard that I spent a fair bit of time thinking back on Bioshock and wondering if it was always that broken. I may never go back to replay it but I’m at least somewhat confident that it was, or at least was close.

          The presentation remains really impressive. The segue from the plane crash cutscene to post-crash gameplay is visually breathtaking, and I’m sure plenty of other players experienced the same moment of “Oh, I’m not in a cutscene anymore” that I did. And the path to Rapture is wonderfully theatrical. You’ve got the lighthouse itself peeking out of the darkness, the golden “No Gods Or Kings” banner, Ryan’s speech & accompanying video, and that same presentation syncing up with the swelling score as Rapture gets its big reveal. It is exactly what Andrew Ryan as a character would set up for the sake of his own ego and to tantalize his target audience, and it’s likewise a hell of an intro for the player.

          But is there any actual substance behind that all that flash? I dunno. The tale of Rapture itself has a few nice little details and benefits from some good voice acting on the audiologs, but overall it rehashes a lot of Brave New World-y dystopia standards and mostly amounts to “Objectivism is dumb.” Which… not exactly rocket surgery. “Would you kindly” was an big reveal for the in-story implications, but pointing out that linear games are linear is likewise less than earth-shattering. And “a man chooses” is completely shocking, but to what ends? Ryan only has a motive for suicide-by-player if you’re really squinting, which again feels like Bioshock spending a lot of time showing you exciting images in service of showing you something that is specifically not thought-provoking, because letting you think about things would dispel the illusion.

          Add in the weak finale, unremarkable gunplay, and what is probably the worst-implemented moral choice system I have ever seen, and the whole thing seems rather workmanlike in retrospect. I’m probably being too hard on it, but even if that’s the case I’d say that its legacy has been tarnished pretty significantly. If we must do nerd culture comparisons, B:I is akin to Star Trek: Into Darkness – somewhat interesting in the moment, but so bad upon investigation that it leads to unflattering reevaluations of Bioshock/Trek ’09 in hindsight. (Though puncturing Levine’s aura of brilliance does make me more interested in trying out Bioshock 2, whose biggest knock against always seemed to be his non-involvement.)

          “Would you kindly” was admittedly the industry’s first big exposure to meta-narrative, and I don’t want to completely throw that under the bus. But that Bioshock still is revered as great (as opposed to “great for its time” or just “first at its thing”) is honestly a little worrying to me, because it seems like a reminder of how easily we can be suckered in by nice looking smoke & mirrors.

          • Blovsk says:

            I think Half-Life and especially 2 did the meta-narrative thing just as well and years earlier. Personally I feel like 2 and Infinite were better games, as the original kind of had a load of hangovers from SS 2 but the gameplay and missions didn’t support them at all (open exploration but no reason to do it other than the few times the game obliges you to backtrack being my biggest gripe).

          • Geebs says:

            I’ve tried to play Bioshock 2 a couple of times, and I’m sad to report that it’s warmed-over tripe. The gunplay is even more floaty/bullet spongey than the first, and the maps are cramped and boring, re-using all of the assets without really understanding how they fit together. The plot and characters are all ham-fisted facsimiles of bits of Bioshock 1. I think Levine disowning it wasn’t 100% down to his massive ego; more like 98%.

            • Ringwraith says:

              I’d say it’s probably the consistently strongest of the three Bioshock games however.
              Combat forces you to you all your tricks in as many ways as you can think of, the plot doesn’t spiral out of control at the major climax, and you really feel like you’re clomping around in a diving suit.
              Even if you do need lots of buttons to switch plasmids AND weapons at the same time.
              The shotgun makes a ridiculously loud noise too, so that’s nice.

  4. Infinitron says:

    Shamus, it looks like you aren’t really familiar with the way Kickstarter RPGs have been made, having studiously avoided looking at the isometric ones (not to mention OtherSide’s Ultima Underworld successor).

    In short, oldschoolness is not a problem. This is a whole new economy.

    • Shamus says:

      If this game had been kickstarted, then that would mean something. Yes, there’s a whole new economy, but it doesn’t look like this game is a part of it. :(

      Again, I’m hoping to be proven wrong, but the odds are long.

      • Infinitron says:

        Well, it’s only just been announced. They’re not actually going to work on it until they’re done with Underworld Ascendant, which was Kickstarted. You might want to check that game out, BTW.

  5. AileTheAlien says:

    I think it might still be possible to make a SS game, without having to completely go against the norms of modern AAA game development. Like, we’ve got precedent for large worlds, non-linearity, sandboxiness, non-photorealistic aesthetics and graphics, and not having combat buddies. Fallout 4, Borderlands, and the Souls / Bloodborne games all have big worlds and are to lesser or greater extents are non-linear or sandboxy. Borderlands, Skyward Sword, and Fire Emblem Awakening have non-photorealistic graphics.

    I’d personally make SS3 with a visual style something like a mix between The Matrix (greenscreen / terminal) and Borderlands (rust punk / neon signs / toon shaded). Without photorealism bloating my budget requirements, I’d be free to make a large metroidvania-ish sandbox-ish world. Mechanics would be some kind of mix between SS2, Deadspace, Skyrim. Plus I’d have at least a dozen minigames in the GamePig item. Keep the ones they had in SS2, and add some more!

  6. 4th Dimension says:

    I know this might be common knowledge to others, but what happened to DieCast this week?

  7. Tektotherriggen says:

    I think I understand your worries, but being an optimistic Devil’s Advocate for a moment:

    1) SS1 and SS2 were both keen to economise on environments by sending you backwards and forwards through the same decks (SS1 did this more, I think, e.g. you try to jettison a virus-laden pod, but something’s broken. So you have to return to the maintenance level to find out where the fault is; take an item from the store to fix it; then find the correct place in a maze to apply the patch. Finally, return to the pod to eject it). Players might get bored of repeatedly visiting the same places these days, but a carefully laid-out plot could probably justify it, and also justify enemies getting more numerous and dangerous as time goes on.

    2) The inventory interface could certainly be modernised, and that would be a good thing. But the grid inventory isn’t totally obsolete – Terraria and Minecraft can get away with it, and doesn’t Diablo 3 still have it? And that’s still probably more carrying capacity than some modern shooters give you (wasn’t there a phase of only carrying two or so guns?).

    3) High quality environment graphics might be a lot cheaper than equal-quality character animations for a 3rd-person game, or one with lots of human NPCs. Most enemies are robots or mutants, so hitting the uncanny valley would be a feature, not a bug.

    4) The team can learn from a host of good (and bad) horror games, from Amnesia on. I bet modern sound engines can do a really good job of letting you know there are hideous monsters just out of sight.

    5) Hardcore modes are a well-known thing now, and would be perfect for a System Shock game. They already have respawning points built in (that you have to manually activate), which would stop this being unpleasantly punishing.

    And one additional worry: SS1 and SS2 could get away with very schlocky plots, full of nonsense tech and scientific implausibility. While modern game plots certainly aren’t perfect, they still seem to aim for something a bit more serious than System Shock managed (unless they’re deliberate spoofs). Is SS3 going to try for a serious SF plot (and risk being a dull mess when they fail to pull it off) or go for the schlocky sci-fi again (and risk falling into parody)?

    • AileTheAlien says:

      Not sure about SS1, but SS2 definitely didn’t feel at all schlocky to me. Sure, there was a tonne of hand-waving and technobabble, but it all tied in nicely into the plot, it took itself seriously, and the game itself was immersive. So I never felt that I was playing a cheesy game, in the way that Rocky Horror Picture show is a cheesy movie. I always felt I was playing a game that had a good plot, and lots of tension, but had cheap / bad / out-of-date special effects; Something more like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Andromeda Strain, or Le Dernier Combat for movies.

    • AileTheAlien says:

      Aww, man. My reply didn’t even have any links, and it’s flagged for moderation. :S

    • Matt Downie says:

      I’d also add that Portal demonstrated you could have “no friendly NPCs, just voice recordings and a sinister AI talking to you” and be successful.

    • Zekiel says:

      In reference to point 1, I’d just like to say that returning to locations is a really good thing if handled well (i.e. in a way that avoids tedious backtracking). It establishes a much stronger sense of “place” than always pressing on to something new.

    • Tom says:

      Modern sound engines? The original Dark Engine was already famous for that, though perhaps more in Thief than in SS2.

  8. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Rant canceled. I’m not excited about SS3, based on the substance of the Bioshocks.

  9. Starker says:

    Um… in what way is Otherside a AAA company? They are even less AAA than their previous company Looking Glass.

    • Supah Ewok says:

      Yeah, I came down to say the same. Otherside ain’t AAA. Their current project isn’t AAA. They haven’t announced anything about moving to AAA for SS3.

      I think Shamus is being overly pessimistic so he doesn’t get his hopes up since even if the game is simply good without being amazing it would crush him. Of course I can’t really know what’s going on in his head, but that’s what it seems to me. I could see myself doing the same.

      And incidentally, until the new Underworld is released that’s the most likely scenario I see for SS3. I think it’ll be like Wasteland 2: middling to good for fans of the (sub)genre, pretty good for fans of it’s old school predecessors who can appreciate the callbacks.

  10. Decius says:

    The Syndicate FPS is probably the best gameplay model for SS3. It didn’t work for Syndicate at all, but “I have a computer in my brain putting information in my perceptions and interacting wirelessly with other computers” works a little bit better.

    And that’s what System Shock was to me: a hacker who helped a stranger get into trouble, then cleaned up most of the mess by fighting a computer with their cyborg stuff.

    I’d be really interested if there was an inversion of the usual physical/cyber dynamic: the goal exists only in cyberspace, but some of the cyberspace barriers have to be subverted in meatspace. The great scene would be the decker arranging for the ‘net to be physically cut (by police, maintenance, criminals, or whatever) in order to separate an opposing decker from the battlefield.
    No, I don’t think anyone in the industry could actually pull that off. But it’s a good scene.

  11. XCOM remakes mentioned, I’ll say this: I was so looking forward to it. I bought it, then disappointment. Don’t get me wrong if I speak in next lines like I think it’s rubbish, because I don’t think so. I think XCOM on its own is decent and I could see me playing it again if I could see it as a totally different game. Among other differences, the one thing that really ruined it for me was the combat. It’s changed so it has nothing to do with the originals but in the very surface, when in reality, it’s not an XCOM remake, but a Fire Emblem game modded with X-COM themed units.

    While in X-COM you had your chances of hit or not to hit, that grew or increased accordingly with distance so a point blank shot was 99% chances of a hit even if the UI in the option said “35%”, you could get friendly fire (aaaagh, just remembered one instance that was so… GRAAAAAARRRRGGG!) or hit a different alien you maybe didn’t even see with a lucky miss at the intended target… And cover worked well with that. It was accuracy of the soldier, squares of distance, weapon accuracy and that gave a chance of hit, then if it rolled a hit, the shot went from weapon to target, if it was a miss, it chose a random direction more or less forward for the shooter and the shot flew and it’d hit whatever was in that random path.

    In XCOM you have “fixed” (maybe not the word to use, you’ll understand what I mean, I guess) soldier accuracy, weapon accuracy, cover protection value and square defence value to give you a chance of hit and it then will roll to that and hit or not hit. No friendly fire (other than the explosive weapons), no hitting a different alien with a miss that ended getting lucky, if the equation says you’ve got a 10% hit chance then you’ve got a hit chance, it doesn’t matter if your gun has the barrel against the alien’s skull. So it’s a system in which you place units on a map made of squares, with squares that have special bonuses to defence to give a chance of hit that’s what it happens with no uncertainty. And that’s the combat system of the Fire Emblem series.

    • Merlin says:

      I’m going to out myself up front as a big fan of FE and also as someone who never played X-COM and is not inclined to dig it up on account of all the bits that strike me as “fiddly ridiculousness.” So… grain of salt on this one.

      That caveat aside, those elements you mention aren’t totally absent from XCOM 2012. Friendly fire can happen via explosive misfires (like you mention) but also via squad members panicking. And distance does matter, just to a lesser degree than it does in X-COM classic. (The wiki has the full grisly details here but in short, shotguns get a penalty at long range and a bonus at short range, snipers have a penalty at short range, but it rarely turns a rookie into a killing machine or vice versa.)

      More in the spirit of the discussion of hitting wrong targets and whatnot, there’s still an element of “quality” to a miss, since the possibilities of either destroying the target’s cover or hitting a car/gas pump along the way exist and can work for or against you. XCOM cover being directional is also a huge point of difference from IntSys games, where a forest/mountain/throne/etc. tile means you’re safer against everything.

    • Chauzuvoy says:

      Until I played Xenonauts, I thought that XCOM was the best modernization we could get. Then I realized that most of the problems the original game had were with conveyance, not mechanics. Just being able to see the % chance to hit each obstacle in your shot or how many TUs a move will take before you make it lets you feel like you’re actually making informed decisions rather than just praying to the RNG. It’s still occasionally clunky, but overall it’s impressive just how well those systems were put together.

      • Decius says:

        Xenonauts, the UFO: Afterthought series, and the Jagged Alliance: Back in Action series all demonstrated to me that tactical shooting games were not entirely out. Door Kickers proved to me that the means for the tactical layer to be well-implemented is there.

        Give me Door Kickers level of tactics, UFO:Enemy Unknown/X-COM:UFO Defense worldbuilding, and XCOM2’s strategic choice layer. Ain’t no reason it couldn’t happen.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I’m in the same boat as you, XCOM had the D&D 4.0 problem: Maybe it’s a good game, but it was branded as a sequel to a thing I liked, so all I can see are the ways in which it fails to be the thing I liked. They stripped out so much depth and so many interesting mechanics, all while claiming they were being faithful to the original, and I hate hate hate that.

      It’s not just that they stripped out two thirds of the mechanical complexity to be replaced with nothing but perks and a snap-to-cover system. They changed the fundamental way the game plays. X-COM classic was all about controlling the initiation of combat, using scouting, blocking line of sight, squadsight, and reaction fire. The perfect battle is one where the enemy never gets to fire a shot, and that’s not impossible to achieve with skill.

      New XCOM dropped squadsight, actively punished scouting with its bizarre system of triggered aliens, reduced the value of reaction fire by eliminating alien patrol routes, and introduced a cover system that allows people to literally shoot around corners and generally tries its hardest to prevent you ever breaking line of sight with an enemy combatant. It feels like all of XCOM’s design is trying to force you into a “fair fight” where you shoot them, they shoot back, and the winner is whoever has the better stats and luckier dice.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        If it’s any conciliation, XCOM 2 seems to be moving back into the direction you described, with a concealment system and predictable enemy patrols allowing for scouting and ambushes, albeit still incorporating the ability of enemies to scatter into cover.

      • Merlin says:

        4E was best E. Edition waaaaaaaaar.

        But more relevantly, I find this interesting because it is almost exactly how I’d describe XCOM 2012 but actually doesn’t jive with my (second-hand) understanding of X-COM classic.

        …all about controlling the initiation of combat, using scouting, blocking line of sight, squadsight, and reaction fire. The perfect battle is one where the enemy never gets to fire a shot, and that’s not impossible to achieve with skill.

        In 2012, knowing how enemy pods move does mean that you don’t want to branch out and scout around, which I’ll grant is a little goofy. But the follow-the-leader movement pattern that results is done in service of managing line of sight so that you can control the initiation of combat. Do that effectively lets you expose enemies and kill them the same turn so that they never get a shot off. (And squadsight still exists for snipers, i.e. the guys who would actually be shooting at enemies from a mile away, so I’m not sure what that remark means.) The only thing missing from your description is reaction fire, which doesn’t completely fit with the idea of enemies never firing a shot and would make the game even more Fire Emblem-y.

        I’m not going to suggest that classic didn’t have any of that, but my understanding is that also involved a lot more “one sectoid is holed up in a farmhouse and killed 4 of my squad members before I could even get them off the Skyranger or see him.” Which isn’t bad, but doesn’t really sound like anything you’re describing aside from the scouting aspect.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          4E was best E.

          Thats like saying that horse shit is the best kind of shit.

          Not that shit…I mean,ad&d doesnt have its uses.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          “I’m not going to suggest that classic didn’t have any of that, but my understanding is that also involved a lot more “one sectoid is holed up in a farmhouse and killed 4 of my squad members before I could even get them off the Skyranger or see him.” Which isn’t bad, but doesn’t really sound like anything you’re describing aside from the scouting aspect.”

          Your understanding is poor, or comes from people who weren’t playing well. The first thing you should do is throw a smoke grenade to hide the skyranger ramp, then pass turn to power down their reaction fire.

          Reaction fire is used to ambush alien patrols, or aggroed aliens who turn the corner only to walk into your firing squad. With universal squadsight and no classes to say “Bob is a sniper, Joe is a heavy”, all your units can act as snipers. Managing line of sight isn’t just about trying to avoid seeing aliens which causes them to aggro. It’s about trying to end your turn with units hidden in alleyways instead of standing in the middle of the road where any old alien might find them, and it’s about taking a shot then ducking into one of those alleys where the alien doesn’t have LOS to shoot you, instead of just ducking into cover and praying that the alien doesn’t shoot around a corner and outroll your +defense bonus.

          In contrast, I found that XCOM wasn’t really about controlling combat, it was about praying you got to trigger one group at a time and kill them in one turn (often impossible, if group 1 triggered and immediately moved backwards out of LOS or heck, if you just rolled two misses while trying to kill them).

          Thanks to scouting, spring attacks and the inability to shoot around corners, X-COM could have a firefight that lasted multiple turns where through careful strategy, only one side ever got to shoot. In XCOM, if the alien positioning and accuracy dice didn’t work out in your favour, you failed to kill the aggroed group in one turn and you were going to have aliens shooting at you, at which point the inabiliy to break enemy LOS meant all the strategic skill in the world couldn’t save you from cover-penetrating instadeath.

    • Iunnrais says:

      Allow me to voice a dissent, just to prevent an echo chamber. In my case, I hated the fiddly bits of old X-COM. I never felt like I had enough information to make viable choices, and the randomness was a little TOO random, and not in a believable way either. I mean, I get missing your target and hitting someone else– but the kind of missing that X-COM soldier did was utterly ridiculous. Time Units were really futzy, and it was never really clear how much you could do in a turn unless you started manually counting, either on a pad of paper or in your head.

      The new system just made every choice much clearer. I can see, in game, exactly what goes into the percentage to hit I have, and each of the elements is discrete enough that I can estimate the numbers in my head before even checking the shot. I know how moving into half or full cover will protect my units, I know how smoke will help, I know how flanking will hurt, I know how debuffs will effect things, etc etc etc.

      Sure, I wouldn’t have minded having to find a clearer firing alley to avoid FF, but I can accept some rules abstraction for the simplicity of having accurate information that actually means something.

      (4e D&D was also better than 3.x in pretty much every conceivable way for similar reasons… but that’s a whole different grognardy fanwar we probably shouldn’t touch here, and I mention it more to allow you to discount the rest of my post than to actually start the argument :p )

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Oh yeah, X-COM was fiddly, hard to learn, and had an interface that was bad even by the standard of 90s PC games. There’s no defending those bad designs, and I know better than to ask people to get over them, but it was a really good game if you were able to put up with them long enough to figure things out. The accuracy formula, while weird and unintuitive, is actually simpler than XCOM, you’ll get a sense for how far units can move, and generally get past the issues you describe.

  12. Kieran says:

    “System Shock 2 was a slow-paced game of exploration, isolation, and resource management, with some survival horror elements thrown in. It was metroidvania in its approach to player direction and minimalist in its approach to storytelling.”

    So it’s Dark Souls? :P
    Anyway, people said we would never get another Baldur’s Gate, then Pillars of Eternity came out. You yourself just wrote a column about how you never thought that a game with the scale of The Witcher 3 was possible. So many different kinds of games are being made now that I don’t rule anything out anymore.

    • Shamus says:

      “So it’s Dark Souls? ”

      It’s EXACTLY like Dark Souls except for the innumerable ways in which it is completely different.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        So…Dark Souls then?

        Incidentally, have you tried Dark Souls? It’s really good.

        It seems like “just like in Dark Souls!” might end up being the anti-Shamus counter to “in the original Fallout/System Shock/Deus Ex/Mass Effect…”

      • Robyrt says:

        Sure, the games are different, but your article was about specific things you liked about System Shock that wouldn’t fly these days. Ironically, all those things are now present in a semi-major successful franchise, showing that they are achievable in the modern AAA game space. Of course, Souls games are action games with survival horror elements (especially Bloodborne, which ditches the survival elements almost entirely and doubles down on the isolation and horror), and System Shock is a survival horror game with action elements, so the feel is very different, but all those things are still there.

        • Shamus says:

          I didn’t claim those things NEVER exist. It’s that SS is a game made of rare ingredients. The fact that sometimes those rare ingredients show up in other games – which are themselves very niche – does not mean that the game doesn’t run counter to most gaming trends.

  13. silver Harloe says:

    “Why I’m Cynical About System Shock 3”
    Because “System Shock 3” refers to a computer game, and we have previously established that:
    Shamus is cynical about X is true for all X where ( X is a member of the set of computer games AND Shamus is aware of X )
    ?

    More seriously, I’m cynical, as well, because my list of favorite games of All Time starts with, in order: Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Thief 2, Thief. I’m sad SS3 isn’t being made as a AA game so it can cost less and thus need less audience and thus experiment more with the mechanics of yore :(

  14. Decus says:

    I wish AAA as terminology would just die. It has reached the phase of “just die”, having gone from something with real meaning to something used by marketing people with no real meaning to something used by people mocking the marketing people’s use of it which in turn has no real meaning.

    System Shock 3 is unlikely to have a grand budget, grand marketing or any of the other vaguely meaningful things associated with AAA. It will probably suck, but for entirely different reasons. Like Wasteland 2 or Pillars of Eternity.

  15. baseless_research says:

    I very much doubt that next year you’ll be bemoaning the abysmal failure that is SShock 3 for the simple reason that I doubt that it’ll be out by the end of next year. The developer doesn’t look like it’s a big studio, and they appear to be pumping all resources into their arx fatalis/ultima underworld spiritual successor. Furthermore they have released nothing relating to SShock 3 other than a brief audio clip that confirms they have Terry and Eric Brosius involved (which is awesome by the way).

    I have no doubt that the engine they are building/adapting (I find conflicting reports that they are using and heavily adapting the unreal engine or the unity engine for their purposes, I cannot figure out which) for underworld ascendant will be repurposed for a space station/starship game – but that involves waiting until the former has its design hammered out.

    @shamus, you say that SShock 3 is not kickstarted – I think they’re too early to kickstart. They did kickstart Underworld Ascendant though so I doubt that they are adverse to the system.

    It’s too late for me to be coherent so TLDR; wait and see, the project is probably far more in its infancy than the teaser implied, wait for Underworld Ascendant to estimate the qualities of this studio, after UA gets released they’ll boost SShock3 into overdrive.

    If you want to look in their headspace, go read the design news they post on their blog. They’re rpg designers and it shows in their focus.

    https://www.underworldascendant.com/news/index.php

    edit: here is a relevant tidbit from their december post:

    System Shock 3 is currently in the very beginning stages of concept development and we won’t be digging fully into game production for some time. Our studio focus today remains squarely on Underworld Ascendant. But we thought it’d be fun for our Underworld Ascendant fans — many of whom are fans of the System Shock series as well — to get a peek at what will be coming down the road.

    source

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Honestly, if this industry was capable of making System Shock 3, it would have.

    I disagree.Because sometimes a huge dose of luck is required much more than the technology,manpower and money.

    Also,modernization of ui does not mean the game will lose on its charm.Baldurs gate enhanced edition,wasteland and pillars of eternity prove that.

    Same goes for switching the genre.Fallout new vegas proves that.

    Thats not to say that ss3 will be just as good or better than its predecessors,but that its not impossible for it to be.Unlikely,but not impossible.

  17. Gordon says:

    I’m a little uncertain of your doomsaying. You mention a predilection for linear, tightly scripted environments in modern games, but we’re coming off of a year that had Fallout 4, the Witcher 3, Just Cause 3, Metal Gear Solid 5, Arkham Knight, Wasteland 2, and Pillars of Eternity. At both ends of the spectrum, indie to triple a, the market was dominated by open worlds. A couple of years ago, it was mostly linear, but the market right now is all about open worlds.

    Plus, having just played system shock 1 and 2, I’m not sure what makes you say that the depth and length of those is out of reach. Both of those games were in the 12 hour neighborhood and used a lot of backtracking to pad their length. Size-wise, alien isolation was bigger, and those open worlds I mentioned higher up were definitely bigger.

    • Zekiel says:

      Yeah actually open worlds are the Big New Thing. On the other hand (a) I’m not sure how you can achieve open worlds when you’re NOT an AAA developer and (b) I’m not sure an open world would really capture the spirit of System Shock either.

      Edit: Sorry just realised you said there were indie games that were open world which would invalidate my point (a) – but I’m not sure what these open world indie games were? I don’t think Pillars of Eternity qualifies since it had a publisher and wasn’t really open world either.

      • Iunnrais says:

        Pillars of Eternity can’t really be called “having a publisher” since it was 100% kickstarter funded. Having a publisher implies publisher input and control, and that was pretty clearly non-existent in this case. Paradox was basically hired as a marketing company, not as a boss/investor/director.

        It was also pretty darned open world, given that you could do almost anything in any order, skip quests, run around huge areas. Sure there were some gates locked by quests, but once a gate was unlocked, massive new areas opened up again, so… not seeing your argument here.

      • Pillars is about as open as System Shock 1 – maybe moreso, considering that there are so many sidequests and so much optional content. SS had levels that you unlocked in a more or less linear order, with a couple of trips back across levels you’d already “beaten,” like heading to engineering to repair a system or to the hangar deck to try and reach an escape pod.

        Ooh, actually, interesting note, what about The Magic Circle? That was a small indie game with an open world focus – not a long game, and not a big world, but very much in the metroidvania vein, and with big portions of it directly referencing System Shock 1.

  18. Incunabulum says:

    “I really hope that in a year or so I’ll get to write a column about how wrong I was about this”

    You won’t.

    For whatever reason devs keep wanting to take these old properties and ‘make their mark’ on them. And it *rarely* comes out well.

    Take Jagged Alliance. Its gotten *two* remakes. And they’re both mediocre. Because the devs wanted to do their own thing when all they had to do was take JA2 1.13 and give it a 3d facelift. Instead we got BIA (real-time with pause and very little environmental interaction) and Flashback – which, in another 15 years might be as good as 1.13 is *now*.

    They *used* to do that sort of thing – like SpaceQuest – nowadays we get

    Th4if
    Aliens Vs Predator
    Syndicate
    Tomb raider
    etc

    XCOM is a rare remake where everything came out good. Its its own thing but it stands up well against the original.

    Still wanted X-Com with better graphics though.

  19. Rayen says:

    shamus man, I may on my sixth quorum of vodka, but you gotta chill out. SS3 will be fine, you’ll see, it’ll be like system shock
    l2 you wanted only better. zLike I can see it now, all explory and isolating and stuff. Dude, though, finish good robot. I played descent like a mother Fulkerson and I wanna play that game so bad. it looks so Ohio good. damn I wanna be on the dicast. drop some hot takes on video games. no wait you’ll see SS3 will be the bomb.
    sorry about the bad spelling I’m 4elying on autocorrect, this is from my phone. Raven out!

  20. Duoae says:

    I think Alien Isolation is a pretty good counter argument to a lot of the points in the article (except for weight limit and inventory management) and is a good modern take on the type of game system shock 2 was. If Ss3 is like that but with more sci-fi stuff and inventory stuff then I think it’d be great.

    Isolation had been one of the most atmospheric games I’ve played in years – way more so than bioshock.

  21. baseless_research says:

    Also Shamus you should pull SShock down from its pedestal. It was good, but it had a lot of issues.

    • Shamus says:

      Oh no you insulted a game I like! I’m mellllting!

      I’ve talked about many of those very issues in the past. I don’t have the game on a “pedestal” in the sense that I can’t see its flaws. There were many things wrong with both games and many things that later games have done far better. It’s still one of my favorites, and I still enjoy thinking about / talking out it.

      The more important question is why you felt the need to point it out. Apparently you:

      1) Assumed I had some sort of incorrect appraisal of the game, which…
      2) you decided it was your job to correct…
      3) without actually articulating your point of view or explaining why I ought to change my position.

  22. Alec says:

    Shamus, thanks for saying this.

    For me, saying System Shock 2 wasn’t perfect is like Christians saying “Jesus was a man like one of us!”. It may be the case, but it’s completely irrelevant due to contextual factors and relative comparison. Sure, just a man like superman is ‘just a man’.

    The game was SO DAMN GOOD, and SO ORIGINAL, and SO MUCH BETTER than what anyone else was doing at the time that nitpicking it at that time was frankly offensive. Moreover, critiquing the game for ‘flaws’ from the present time (when if we’re honest, no one yet has actually done the ‘immersive simulator‘ better, save maybe Deus Ex itself) feels like mocking Sir Isaac Newton for his failure to develop nuclear theory.

    By all means analyse the game and see what could be improved on- … Actually, scratch that.
    Don’t.
    The time for that was 2000. Let’s now just try and rediscover the ability to do what it did well in any way. Bioshock was our best shot, and it was as far as Dishonored was from Thief.

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