System Shock 2 Marathon Comparison Episode 0
Posted By: Lion O CyborgDate: 6/9/23 8:28 a.m.

System Shock Marathon Comparison & talkthrough Season 2: System Shock 2

Forward: Episode 1 on my log is originally one long part including the training and first level. I know in advance it's gonna be too long for one post here so I'm splitting the training level and main game here ahead of time. As before, this was written in spring and Viking Boy Billy hadn't played it yet. Once I finished the source word documents, he did but I couldn't talk with him about it until he reached the penultimate level because I had computer problems that took weeks to fix. As also previously mentioned, the System Shock remake is now out.

Episode 0: System Shock 2 Tour of Duty (not that one)

Welcome back to the System Shock Marathon Comparison & talkthrough. This time we cover System Shock 2, the one more people are familiar with and the actual inspiration for Bioshock. I was surprised at the amount of similarities to Marathon in System Shock 1 but they could easily be written off as a coincidence. System Shock 2 doesn’t have the same excuse, especially if like me you played Bioshock Infinite first and saw how both it and this game seem to share a lot of the same themes.

Unlike System Shock 1 which was a Metroidvania with a Pathways into Darkness style GUI, System Shock 2 is a full-fledged FPS RPG like PID before it. Those used to Bioshock are in for either a nasty or a pleasant surprise as System Shock 2 is way more complex in its mechanics than that game. The “Shoot Mode/Use Mode” method from the Enhanced Edition of System Shock 1 comes from this game and unlike the first game the tone is very much played for horror. Compared to PID, Marathon didn’t really have any horror in it until Marathon Infinity and it was a slightly different flavour than this game.

Using a fan patcher called the System Shock 2 Tool and the Blue Mod Manager it installs, I will be using a couple of mods to make the game better, mainly Rebirth and Beta SCP to improve the quality of the models, several objects and parts of the level design as parts of the game without them feel pretty unfinished and empty. A good example of where to see the vanilla game is Onolumi’s streams and Psychedelic Eyeball’s Let’s Play. The SS2 Tool also lets you enable co-op multiplayer like in Marathon: some earlier versions of the GOG and Steam ports had this by default but according to Viking Boy Billy (who hasn’t played it yet at time of writing), they seem to have removed it, requiring the patcher to put it back. The SS2 Tool does say the multiplayer is buggy though which is likely why it was removed and some reviews I’ve watched confirm this. I remember playing a bit of co-op with my brother in 2013/2014 but we didn’t get very far.

It’s also getting an Enhanced Edition as a pre-order bonus for the remake of the first game but I don’t know what it actually adds apart from HD FMVs (using the TV term for “HD” where you can’t tell the difference without a side by side comparison) and better models. Like the first game, it’s worth rebinding your controls after starting it up because the defaults are weird. Again, beware of spoilers for both System Shock games and Bioshock. Halo 2+3 as well while we’re at it.

The difficulty selection screen is a lot simpler this time. Word to the wise: play on Easy or Normal the first few times until you get used to the game. Impossible lives up to its name: it’s like PID A1 played Vidmaster style. Worth saying now this game runs on the Dark Engine like Thief: the Dark Project before it. Movement physics and animations make this quite obvious if you’ve played both games.

Act 0: Holo Auditions – Story comparison & Ramsey Centre UNN Training facility, Earth. Location Unknown.

Marathon’s story has our cyborg protagonist Marcus Jones being stowed away on the titular colony ship to Tau Ceti e for use in a MIDA rebellion by Bernhard Strauss. There are 3 AIs running the ship; Leela for general tasks and crew help, Durandal who controls doors, elevators, stairs etc. and Tycho, the science and engineering AI. We covered the gist of what happens in Episode 1 of Season 1. The Marathon was just a regular old ship as we know them today. It took 300 years for it to reach another star and the crew who weren’t put into cryosleep raised families who grew to run the place and had never seen the surface of the Earth.

In System Shock 2, we get a brief recap of the first game (really brief) before we see it’s dealio with interstellar travel is a little different. SHODAN’s installer dialog/SS1 Portable “Cast SHODAN” option from the first game plays over the start of the opening too.

OK, that’s a little too on the nose but the box art of the game and the intro isn’t very subtle about it either. Neither is the game itself when you realise it later. We know she’s coming back but I am not spoiling how. So in future episodes I will be using that alternate art plus the sneaky Mother 2 reference I added to it (not the static beforehand) as it looks cooler and is closer to what we actually see in the game. The AI in the middle is not SHODAN but Xerxes, the AI of the ship we are going to who is a strange combination of Leela and Tycho.

Awesome alternate box art (without my text edit) idea courtesy of Dakota Lee via Mandalore’s System Shock 2 video.

The actual intro start just says SHODAN went rampant, saw herself as a goddess and was killed by the hacker though the narrator (who sounds exactly like non-rampant SHODAN from the first game) claims the hacker created her when he didn’t: he just removed her ethical constraints.

42 years later, astrophysicist Dr Marie Delacroix discovers the secret of faster than light travel and is contracted by the TriOptimum Corporation to build the world’s first FTL ship, the Von Braun. Tripling as a science, colony and corporate ship, the Von Braun will undertake her maiden voyage to Tau Ceti f. Hmm…

“Imagine, being able to travel to distant star systems in a period of weeks!” The ship is packed with over 1.8 billion flight, scientific & security systems built by the company and their subsidiaries, or so the cheery Cave Johnson esque news narrator says.

Unlike Marathon, military presence and tension among potential rebels is well known: Captain William Bedford Diego of the UNN, son of antagonist from the first game Edward Diego, isn’t about to let his evil dad’s old black company risk ruining other worlds so he insists on providing protection (and chaperoning) the Von Braun with his own ship the UNN Rickenbacker.

The Von Braun and Rickenbacker are connected to each other by an intricate series of docking mechanisms that allow the latter to hitch a piggyback ride into null space. Notice I didn’t say slipspace ala Halo or subspace like Freespace like you’d think. There’s a very good reason for that, but that would be telling…

No sooner than the screen fades to black, Dr Delacroix radios Earth, warning that they have been hijacked by an unknown force, security has been compromised and to not allow the ship to leave before getting cut off by static. Before we play the training level, let’s look at the manual again shall we?


In 2072, Earth and the colonies elsewhere in the solar system are governed by vast mega-conglomerates, the largest of which is the TriOptimum Corporation. Most people have little to complain about, though there are rumors of strange research projects on mutated humans locked away in corporate labs. However, when a TriOptimum employee named Edward Diego, with the help of a hired hacker, released the ethical constraints on a powerful AI named SHODAN (Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network) on Citadel Station, everything changed. SHODAN went rogue, killed most of the Citadel inhabitants and transformed many of the rest into cyborgs. Only the actions of the hacker, overlooked at first by SHODAN, were able to avert the destruction of Earth by one of SHODAN’s many plans. The hacker destroyed a mining laser aimed at Earth, jettisoned a group of biological “groves” (laboratories in which SHODAN was developing mutagenic viruses for use on Earth), blew up a set of antennae through which SHODAN planned to download her code into Earth’s computers, and finally, destroyed the space station and SHODAN herself.

Earth’s close call sent shock waves throughout the world, and disturbing indications of similar rogue activity were discovered in several other corporate AIs.

The events on Citadel station have led to a general unrest and rebellion against megacorporate government. The previously-ineffectual governments of Earth’s nations were now banding together to form the Unified National Nominate (UNN) and stand up to the suddenly defensive corporations. Governmental controls over business were stepped up, and national governments instituted severe political controls, using newly built-up military forces and secret police to force control over society and business. Bureaucracy became the watchword of the day, and technological development slowed to a crawl as everything had to be signed and countersigned in triplicate.

Attempts were made by the UNN and national governments to take over megacorporate holdings completely, but the corporations were not yet powerless, and they made a stand. An ever-widening rift between the public and private sectors developed, as governmental attempts to shut down non-compliant factories were met by well-armed TriOptimum soldiers and other mercenaries.

A wary truce settled between governmental and megacorporate forces, and things became stable… for a while.

Now, thirty-five years later, with technological advances considerably slowed, the world has devolved further into a group of heavily armed rival regions. The UNN maintains strategic control, but has failed to win the hearts and minds of the lower classes. The unsteady truce between the public and private sectors holds shakily in place.

Then, UNN Nobel Laureate Marie Delacroix, working under a grant from the dwindling resources of the skeletal TriOptimum corporation, publishes preliminary research findings of a Faster Than Light (FTL) mechanism. The device works by bending and warping space around the device. However, Delacroix herself has serious concerns about the reliability of the device and its unexplored side effects.

Once the rumors of the device are leaked out, the UNN is unable to control public enthusiasm. The UNN allows TriOptimum to develop a prototype, which tests successfully. TriOptimum begins production of an FTL starship, the Von Braun, but the UNN refuses to let it out of the naval yards, citing various regulations about tests that must be done before approval can be given. Popular opinion is that the UNN simply doesn’t want to let TriOptimum gain the amount of power that the only working FTL ship would grant it.

By 2111, it is clear the device performs as advertised. However, the potential side effects of its extended use remain unknown. The device has caught the imagination of the public. With the conditions on Earth worsening and the disappointing results of the in-system colonization, hopes are high for brighter pastures outside the confines of our solar system.

However, the UNN is loath to allow TriOptimum to be the principal beneficiary. Months of debate, negotiation and threat-making ensue, culminating in the mysterious death of one of the most vocally anti-TriOptimum UNN officials. Before the government/corporate split comes to open war, however, a compromise is reached between the UNN and TriOptimum, brokered by William Bedford Diego, a UNN Navy captain, husband of a TriOptimum board member, and the son of the infamous Edward Diego.

The Von Braun will be allowed to make a maiden FTL voyage, but with a UNN escort. The military heavy destroyer Rickenbacker will be tethered to the Von Braun for the FTL journey, via a complex set of interlocks between the two ships’ systems, and UNN personnel will be stationed aboard the Rickenbacker, ready to deal with any hostile aliens. A fanciful news video shows hypothetical footage of the two ships facing a fleet of menacing “alien” ships, and the Rickenbacker detaching to fight while the Von Braun escapes. The excitement once again fuels the talk of discovering extraterrestrial forms of life, a topic nearly forgotten since exploration of the solar system only turned up a series of barren, lifeless landscapes.

Anatoly Korenchkin, a brutally effective TriOptimum executive, is chosen as the captain of the Von Braun, over Captain Diego’s objections. There are strong and fairly substantiated suspicions that Korenchkin ordered the assassination of the UNN official some months earlier. Marie Delacroix is appointed the Von Braun’s chief engineer, tasked to keep her nascent FTL drive functioning. Dr. Delacroix is vocal about preferring a longer period of testing for the FTL drive, and goes on record as saying that the ship is not ready for the field.

However, pressure to launch the mission is growing daily, and the Von Braun/Rickenbacker mission embarks in early 2114.

A few months into its historical journey, the situation has begun to deteriorate. Tension is running high between the civilian elements of the Von Braun and their military counterparts on the Rickenbacker.

In addition, Delacroix’s predictions prove to be accurate, as the Von Braun is plagued with numerous malfunctions. The coolant tubes on the engineering deck are constantly leaking, the scrubbers in the air-recirculators on the hydroponics deck have a tendency to pump out pure carbon dioxide, and the integration of the core computer system, XERXES, is buggy and inefficient.

These events only exacerbate the tension between the military and civilian elements of the expedition, though there is limited fraternization between the crew of the Von Braun and that of the Rickenbacker, as a complex web of interpersonal relationships begins to form. Still, after four months in space, it becomes clear that something is going to come to a head. The exact timing and severity of the conflict is all that remains to be determined.

And then, the remarkable happens. On June 10, 2114, the transceiver onboard the Von Braun begins receiving fragments of a distress beacon emanating from the Tau Ceti system, billions of miles outside the borders of colonized space.


Anatoly Korenchkin: Chief Executive Officer of the TriOptimum FTL research ship Von Braun. Appointed for political and public relations reasons, Captain Korenchkin has little command experience or space training.

William Bedford Diego: Captain of the UNN Rickenbacker, a heavy destroyer piggy-backing upon the Von Braun. A popular military hero after the Battle of Boston Harbor, Captain Diego has evidenced no patience for TriOptimum political maneuvering. Captain Diego is also the son of Edward Diego, the TriOptimum executive partially responsible for the SHODAN incident.

Dr. Marie Delacroix: The principal designer of the FTL drive and the primary investigator on the Von Braun, Dr. Delacroix is outspoken and frequently at odds with Captain Korenchkin over appropriate safety precautions.

Melanie Bronson: Security chief on the Von Braun, Bronson takes her job very seriously and is considered by some of the TriOptimum crew to be a hard-liner. The Rickenbacker military, on the other hand, doesn’t take her very seriously.

Dr. Janice Polito: Senior Systems Analyst aboard the Von Braun. Her book, “Emergent AIs and Ethical Constraints” was the premier philosophical work on AIs in the post-SHODAN era. She was brought onboard to help monitor the Xerxes system and make sure it was respecting its protocols and functioning within specified parameters.

XERXES 8933A/A: The operating system responsible for the primary data loop onboard the Von Braun. Xerxes allocates the billions of onboard subtasks, delegating them to hundreds of thousands of individual systems. However, the computing power aboard the Von Braun is not completely under Xerxes’ control. Clever hackers can bypass the Xerxes system and gain temporary control of certain critical sub-systems. This was implemented as a safety feature (on the recommendation of Dr. Polito) and is intended to prevent a repeat of the SHODAN disaster of 2072.

You(AKA Goggles as the fans call him): A soldier assigned to the mission, you wake up to find yourself with a military grade set of cybernetic implants and no memory of the last weeks events. It’s your job to find Dr. Polito and help get things back in order…”

So to summarise a bit, Earth is a stand-in for Mars in that post a cataclysm, it becomes a war torn hell between the Earth governments and radical groups, in this case rebelling mega-corporations as opposed to MIDA. The ship (actually 2 ships) the game takes place on sets off to explore the cosmos and set up a colony, eventually discovering a distress signal on Tau Ceti f AKA Tau Ceti V. This time, we are the ones being called to Tau Ceti by the bad guys instead of the other way around. The Von Braun itself is basically the Marathon designed by committee: it’s a rusty bucket in space with the Galaxy Quest hallways and lava replaced with leaking radiation tubes, easily clogged or reversed AC units and an AI that isn’t rampant (and technically never becomes rampant) but is so buggy and exploitable by hackers, you’ll wish he was.

But first, we flash back to 4 years prior to the ships taking off, where we arrive at the Ramsey Centre UNN Recruitment & Training facility somewhere on Earth though it doesn’t say where.

After riding the metro here, the trainer’s voice echoes through the station, welcoming me here and to proceed to the gravity lifts at the far end. All grav lifts are now in shafts and there’s 2 per location, one going up and one going down. Some guys in the offices by the tracks are working nearby and there’s a payphone I can look at by the door. Someone also knocked over one of the two trash cans, spilling what looks like a cup of vomit and some cigarettes all over the floor.

Prey 2017 fans will recognise this style of grav lift as will fellow Halo 2 fans. I wonder if the security level in System Shock 1 had ones like this before SHODAN removed them.

The city on Earth is very Deus Ex like which is fitting as that game has elements from this one such as the GUI and skills system but is the goal of what Warren Spector originally wanted System Shock 1 to be. Get used to this as this is the last we see of Earth. No surface breaks to remind us what the sky looks like. I can’t read the Japanese sign outside the Happy Noodle ramen shop very well, but I can make out “Suta” (katakana) and what looks like “Nen” (the bottommost kanji character that looks like a hat stand)

Besides the text and model of the phone downstairs in the metro station, this is one of the first areas you’ll recognise as being changed in the mods I am using (can’t remember if it’s Rebirth or SCP the level design tweaks are from). In vanilla, the Happy Noodle is really bland and empty inside with only a rudimentary counter and some drinks. Here it has a proper counter with bar stools, a drinks cabinet nearby, some kitchen equipment and a menu. Most of the food looks more Chinese and Thai than it does Japanese however despite the sign above me. The ginger chicken and thai peanut noodles sound yummy. No lamb or beef satay with noodles though. Dr Noodles this is not.

Mantling/vaulting in this game still works from the first game and I do that on the right hand support strut (when facing the training centre) of the metro entrance. Up there is a basketball, sitting all on its own in the darkness. This is part of an Easter egg in Looking Glass & Ion Storm games involving basketball courts. In Thief, it was a modern basketball court hidden in the training level. Here, it’s a sort of “little rocket man” from Half Life 2 Episode 2 or “rare specimen” from Black Mesa sort of deal except it isn’t shit: we need to take that basketball with us for about 2 thirds of the game for the Easter egg to work.

Inside the training centre, a protocol droid with the voice of the trainer directs us to the basic training cyberspace VR unit and after that, the 3 advanced training VR booths. I won’t show the Homer Cubed clip again but yes, it’s still like Tron.

The trainer explains what Shoot Mode and Use mode is. Use mode is a little different this time around as it’s much easier to navigate.

It’s comparable to PID Aleph One if it kept some of the GUI style mouse interface from the original Mac & OSX versions. If PID ever gets remade, I want it done in a similar style to this, same with the Mother Trilogy too, the latter being straight System Shock 2 & Deus Ex clones instead of merely inspired by it like said potential PID remake.

Unlike PID and the first game where the GUI cluttered up everything, you can open your menus individually as needed. Currently I have my Multi-Function Display (MFD) for my skills open as well as my PDA. The PDA basically stores radio messages (still erroneously called email), audio logs and this time any notes we decide to take. A UNN soldier’s goals are logged electronically so he or she can stay on task at all times.

No longer do we need to take notes manually on the automap but we totally can still do that if we want. System Shock 2 is an RPG in the traditional sense: our XP taking the form of small devices that look like Metroids called “cybernetic modules” are earned by completing objectives or finding loose ones hidden in the levels before spending them on skills and PSI powers. Currently I have the window for weapons skills open to compare to PID, but we have technical skills, basic player stats and PSI powers too. Cybernetic modules are presumably the gizmos that praxis kits in Deus Ex: Human Revolution contain which allow us to upgrade skills and augmentations.

Pathways into Darkness on the other hand as I recently realised is more like a JRPG but made in the west: we gain XP we can’t actually spend and we level up stats or skills automatically though the only non-skill stat XP improves in PID is our health and weapon skill XP is tracked separately.

After learning to pick up items, it’s worth saying we have a PID style Examine button. The “?” button in Use mode (not the key) lets us query any items we have on us including the nanites and cyber-modules. The basketball is pretty tame but we get some good explanations. I won’t cover them all as there’s too many but I will show off some of the good ones. I can’t use screenshots all of the time as unlike PID, there’s scrolling required so it would take too long, and there’s no way to resize the PDA window.

Bag of Crisps

Crack-O’s Potato Chips, voted the UNN’s national food product in the early 21st century, are made from slices of common potatoes deep fried in hydrogenated oils. This treat is often supplemented with vitamins to boost its questionable nutritional value. “When you need a tasty treat, Crack-O’s are the chips to beat. Eat ‘em by the bunch or by the pound, new improved Crack-O’s won’t let you down.” ~ Crack-O’s “Neuro-Net” Promotion 2111

The orange juice description says the fruit was grown in hydroponics tanks, mainly as these items are intended for once we’re aboard the Von Braun which has such tanks on deck 3.

The elevator platform is just a hologram for demonstration purposes. The button on the left repeats the instructions like in Half Life’s Hazard Course. Around the corner I learn about Medical Hypodermic Needles or Med Hypos for short. They are basically the medipatches from the first game, now in syringe form instead of dermal patch or pill. The description is quite funny as it implies the only downside is that the hypos really hurt but TriOp sued critics into silence like the black company they are. (They’re worse now that Anatoly is either CEO or a high ranking board member. The days of Rebecca Lansing and her representing a nicer side of the company are gone)

After I learn how to search containers, I get my first log, teaching me to use them.

After I learn to mantle, the trainer teaches me about ladders: “To climb a ladder, simply walk into it and look upward. You’ll automatically start climbing the ladder. To wipe your ass, first orient your hand behind yourself, then move it forward. Or backward.”

I know it’s for gameplay purposes but the Tomb Raider tradition of having characters in-game explain the controls for us like they know we’re controlling them never ceases to be amusing. Black Mesa’s version of the Hazard Course in Half Life 1 finds interesting ways to avert this trope and even pokes fun at it a few times including the bit you climb ladders.

This concludes the basic training. The 3 advanced training VR booths have a different trainer for each, who will be our CO when we actually enlist. A gruff American for the Marines (regular FPS kind of focus like PID or a Fighter in fantasy RPGs), an Asian-American or British sounding guy for the Navy (both guns and hacking focused like Thief class) and a mystic sounding woman for the OSA (psychic secret agents).

In the Weapons training booth, the sergeant says they’re looking for a few good men. Personally, I’d try the nearest HMV, Blockbuster or Amazon. Learning to use the pistol, they’re equipped a similar way to weapons in PID and the newer Aleph One builds of Marathon. Drag to the weapon slot in your inventory in Use mode or press the hotkeys on the keyboard in Shoot mode also like most Tomb Raider & FPS games.

Like System Shock 1 and PID, standard and heavy weapons can use alternate ammo with different properties which are color coded for our convenience. Standard is blue, Anti-Personal is red and Armour-Piercing is green. Remember that for when we get into the game later. Bioshock uses a similar system except its standard ammo is gold and armour piercing is grey. They also have alternate fire modes like in Marathon but they must be switched either in use mode or a keyboard shortcut. The pistol has burst fire but it puts serious wear on the barrel.

Recharge stations return but augmentations for the most part do not: they’ve been replaced with skills. Deus Ex has both but the former suck in that game. Charging stations are now used mostly to recharge energy weapons and power armour as well as any implants you find. Implants are similar to augs but they can be swapped out as needed and they’re passive abilities now that can be discarded instead of permanent Metroid items. Basically they’re like the gene tonics in Bioshock or the Biobus Chips in Marathon.

The laser pistol is based on the Sparq pistol from the first game but the description says it uses “coherent light instead of electricity”, meaning it behaves like a bog standard sci-fi laser gun now instead of System Shock 1’s realistic laser beams, the hand wave apparently being it fires bolts of hard light now? Energy weapons have no alternate ammo for obvious reasons but I can turn on charged shots for the laser pistol like the fusion pistol in Marathon or the Overload setting on the first game’s energy weapons.

Maintenance tools or multi-tools as I call them after the real thing, are used to repair our guns. Melee weapons don’t break but guns wear down over time until they jam like Far Cry 2 made popular. They don’t misfire however, they just break and force you to repair them or toss them. Multi-tools prevent that but you need to know how to use them i.e. you need the maintenance skill level required for each weapon. Knowing this and making sure to find a lot, the actual repair skill is kind of useless, especially as you find auto-repair kits occasionally you’ll be saving for your best guns or broken vending machines.

In the technical training booth, the programmer guy explains that nanites are money but you also use them to “pay” for hacking computers, security crates, keypads etc. Nanites in case you don’t know is a cyberpunk nickname for nanobots: microscopic robots designed to do all sorts of things from bolstering the immune system with conventional weaponry, building any item at the atomic level as seen in replicators both in Star Trek and this game, making humans into cyborgs without need for prosthetics or implants as seen in Deus Ex or the same augmentation technology being repurposed as the Grey Death i.e. Mecha-COVID also in Deus Ex, being its answer to System Shock 1’s biological mutagenic Orange Death.


Efficient Nanite based technology was introduced after a series of radical experiments at the University of Masala in 2078. Nanites are sub-atomic machines that are capable of being programmed to perform a nearly infinite variety of tasks, from forming themselves in a replication grid to form into arbitrary objects, to fighting bacteria and viruses in the human bloodstream. In other words, Nanites (combined with replication tech) created the “every material”. The UNN Currency Redefinition Act of 2082 opened up the door for moving financial transactions to a strict Nanite basis.

I’m just gonna say it now: the hacking sucks balls in this game compared to the first. The original had fun if difficult cyberspace 6DOF dogfights with AV software and encryption given visual form. This is just a tacky Xs & Os or Connect 4 game where only straight lines are allowed. Click on a node and hope it turns bright. If it turns dark, try again elsewhere. Run out of space and you lose, forcing you to pay nanites again. Red nodes are ICE but as there’s no drill software, we have to hope they don’t turn dark: if they do, we critically fail the hack which breaks or outright destroys the device we are working on (most machines) or at worst triggers an alarm (security computers, not sure about turrets).

Say what you will about Bioshock’s Armitage Shanks framework for hacking (as opposed to real life’s Armitage framework), at least with the right gene tonics it relied far less on random chance you could actually win it without save scumming! Some skill actually was involved, especially with the faster method of Mouse & Keyboard. You don’t get a lot of autohack tools (ICE picks) in this game either compared to Bioshock so you WILL be save scumming when you hack. I should consider myself lucky because Deus Ex’s hacking was even worse. Human Revolution had an upgraded version of System Shock 2’s hacking with elements of System Shock 1 like a 2D version of cyberspace which was much better. I hope the Enhanced Edition of SS2 has something like that or if not SS2 EE, then a full SS2 remake. That or something like Prey 2017’s hacking.

Inside the virtual cupboard is more nanites. Next the instructor teaches us about vending machines. Vending machines as discussed before are Replicators like in Star Trek. I’ll discuss them further once we get going as the one here is too monochrome to screenshot. Too boring. Repairing weapons & machines as well as modifying weapons is identical to the hacking minigame except a lot more useless as we get two tools that do those tasks for us that are a bit more common than ICE picks and we’ll be saving them for our favourite weapons anyway, respectively auto repair kits and French-Epstein devices.

In the Psionics training booth, the mystic woman tells us not to let fear block our path. We are first taught about PSI Hypos, the equivalent to Bioshock’s EVE Hypos and EVE Salt Bottles from Infinite. The description says they contain a mixture of tension relievers, dopamine inhibitors and circulatory stimulators. I say they contain a potent solution of Psitanium from Psychonauts and Mother 1, that’s more believable given this is Sci-fi and all.

Interestingly the Surgeon General warns that PSI hypos are addictive, kind of like ADAM from Bioshock though the reason is simply because they’re chock full of drugs. They also say they did something to prevent them being duplicated by a psychic 3D printing power to protect their monopoly. I get it’s to stop PSI build characters cheesing the game but I’m calling bullshit as such a process would never, ever happen. If you could psychically duplicate objects, nothing could stop you.

Next we’re taught how to use PSI Powers. This is the equivalent to the plasmids in Bioshock as well as the Isfet Crystals in Pathways into Darkness except unlike either game, we aren’t required to use them nor do they have a particularly big impact on the story other than the bad guys using telepathy and mind control. We get a Sci-fi equivalent to a magic wand in order to use our powers: the PSI Amp. It’s a large metal ball with a wire plugged into our skin, possibly linked to our nerves? It kind of resembles the pustule balls certain plasmids gave you like Enrage or Hypnotise Big Daddy. So far we have 2 powers we can use: Cryokinesis and Telekinesis, known in-game as the bland and boring “PSI Pull”. Use the ~ key to equip the psi amp.

You can go into Use mode and click on the arrows to change the powers. When you think you’ve found the correct power, click on the ladybird…wait no, wrong game and wrong genre. Shout out to the single other person who gets that, if any. Anyway, this is slow and inefficient in combat. Just click the function keys to cycle through each PSI power in a given tier, it’s faster.

When you use a PSI power, there’s a bar at the bottom of the screen that fills up. This is like the power bar in PID but it works a little different, the actual PID Crystal Power bar being our PSI points. The power bar has a yellow section that makes the power more potent by 1 point of PSI skill. If you let the power bar fill up completely, you burnout and get hurt. There is a powerup that prevents burnout damage happening which will come in handy.

Unlike all other games that have this PSI power in it like Psychonauts, Bioshock, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, New Sonic (2006) etc. Telekinesis in this game fucking blows. All it does is pull objects out of reach towards you very. Very. Slowly. You can speed it up by spamming the power but there’s no way to actually carry and throw them.

Once you’ve completed training (or skipped it if you’ve played before and don’t want to bother for a change) we get to the juicy bit. Unlike most RPGs, System Shock 2’s character creation is baked into the gameplay itself, predating Fallout 3 by at least 5 years. We choose our class by enlisting in one of the 3 UNN branches through those hallways. After initially doing an OSA run for my very first time back in 2013 I pick Navy and use PSI powers too, but this time I’m doing an OSA run again as I’m playing Mother 2: Gyiyg Strikes Back between write-ups. When the Enhanced Edition comes out or I play this game again offscreen, I’ll do Navy again (I’m not doing SS2 Enhanced Edition write-ups).

How long was I in that training centre? It was sunset when I entered but it’s night time now.

Character creation time! Through the hallway outside the hanger is a protocol droid with the mystic woman CO’s voice. We’re doing a Tour of Duty (not the Marathon Story Page kind) for 4 years and this is year 1. The CO says there are 3 shuttles nearby to the posting of our choice. All 3 branches reuse the same station geometry despite being different locations but the hallways provide different starting skills tailored to each, with fun little stories to go with them explaining how we developed those skills.

The CO is still rather mystic sounding so I’ll put her intro in words us Bungie fans will understand: “You shall engage the enemy in his own mentality! You shall chase his dreams! You shall fight his demons! You shall live his nightmares. And those of you who fight well, you will find yourselves on the path to becoming international secret agents. In other words, PSYCHONAUTS!”

Year 1 of our training is hell. Remember the sensory deprivation tank in Never Burn Money that can only be escaped via grenade climbing? We have to spend a year in one of those to master both tier 1 & tier 2 PSI powers, cryokinesis and one other tier 1 power to help us. I always take the telekinesis one when I play as OSA and I even still take it as a sailor.

The other 2 years start in the vestibule before the 3 hallways. In year 2, the CO says we came out of sensory deprivation terribly undernourished so we get to face off against marines and navy men in a survival training course on Io. This option is given to all 3 classes and it gives us 2 points in endurance i.e. max health. We don’t have to take it. Interestingly, the Marines & Navy skill gained screen for the Io Survival Training says we were hospitalised by a descendent of a Gorilla-Tiger mutant from System Shock 1. How any mutants survived the destruction of the Space Colony Citadel I don’t know. We can also get 2 additional Psionics skillpoints if we learn how to interrogate people by mind raping them and taking the information directly out of their noggin. I prefer to become a lab assistant for a point in Research skill. TAKE THE RESEARCH SKILL! You need it.

I don’t know why but this always reminds me of the scene in Star Wars and Family Guy Blue Harvest where the two imperial soldiers are watching the millennium falcon get carried into the death star, except the ship is going out, not in.

As soon as year 3 starts, look out this window and you can see a robot do The Robot. It’s funny. Now we get the chance to get points in cybernetic affinity (i.e. how well hacking and other technical skills go), strength, agility (speed) and one extra psi power. I like to pick the one that lets me psychically prevent gun recoil as I will be using energy weapons (PSI users want those or standard weapons, trust me) but so long as you don’t take the power that shortens alarms, it’s any pick you want. Interestingly, the story behind my third choice implies the OSA are psychic versions of the popular depiction of the Illuminati i.e. chessmasters who perform strategic killings, kidnappings and other crimes to control the public.

I have to say, the 3 year military course thing reminds me of Project SEARCH I went to back in 2017/2018 which is why the PID Tour of Duty on the Story Forum took so long to finish. I had 3 internships at university sites over a period of months in a single school year instead of 3 years per internship. I can relate how it fits into System Shock 2 quite well: the classroom time between the actual work parts sure as hell felt like sensory deprivation. https://youtu.be/obAmtqSMwuw?t=149

Episode 1 (the rest of Episode 1 log version) to coming immediately. Time to return to an old colony friend.

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