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System Shock 2 Marathon Comparison Episode 1B
Posted By: Lion O CyborgDate: 6/9/23 11:21 a.m.

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

Episode 1: Arrival (part 2)

Welcome back. I hope the other parts don't need to keep getting broken up like this though I guarantee I'll have to do that for the final level and final Marathon similarity tally up.

Act 2: Bigger Guns Nearby Ė MedSci: Medical, Crew and R&D sections

Polito assumes Grassi is in the biopsy lab and that he might be interested in joining me if the hybrids didnít butcher him yet. Spoiler: they have. That or he just isnít there as Iíve never actually seen him, just his card. As before, we have a PID ladder system separating maps except this time thereís only 1 central elevator (still no stairs though). Each level is split into sections via airlock bulkheads. Down the hall a little is the pattern buffer and a surgical unit. That was easy!

Surgical units are similar to the ones in the first game except they require nanites to use, basically functioning like Bioshockís health stations but cheaper and they canít be booby trapped against hybrids. Polito then explains I was not imagining it earlier: Iíve started seeing ghosts. Ghosts! She explains itís to do with my cyborg augmentations:

ďYou might witness some strange phenomena. Your R-grade cyber-rig has an experimental perception enhancement that can theoretically detect residual psychic emanations. These emanations traditionally come from the recently dead. Literature might call them ghosts. I call them self-hypnotic defects in the R-grade unit. Donít let it distract you from the job at hand.Ē

Radiation leaks, mutants, rebellion. And now, bleeding ghosts. Ainít life on the Von Braun grand?

This isnít the first RPG to have psychic monkeys but the African squirrel monkeys and chimpanzees here arenít our friends. They were targeted for vivisection and experimentation on psionics and other stuff. The PSI they learned let them fight back. Silver monkeys use PK Freeze on us.

***INCOMING MESSAGE FROM XERXES***

ďPotential threat detected! Potential threat detected!Ē

Unlike the first game and its remake, security cameras work like they do in Splinter Cell or Deus Ex (other stealth games are available): they pan back & forth over a given area looking for intruders similar to SS1 except this time when they see you their green light turns yellow, meaning itís trying to focus on you. If you donít hide quickly, they fully see you and turn red, triggering an alarm. Bioshock cameras work the exact same way except you can hack cameras to work for you and they have visible line-of-sight cones.

Alarms are similar in both games but with slight differences: as seen above, System Shock alarms last a very long time and they make all enemies on that level constantly respawn and bum rush your exact position. You can barely see a security terminal in the screenshot above: using those disables the alarm at no cost and once itís safe, you can hack them to disable cameras and turrets for a short time. They still activate (outside mods) but they wonít see you. Donít trigger an ICE node when hacking the terminals or youíll set off the alarm yourself. Polito warns about this when you see the first camera in the last map. ďYour corpse is useless to me.Ē she says. Itís the exact same alarm system as Perfect Dark on Xbox 360/Nintendo 64 and Goldeneye before that.

Bioshock alarms instead spawn flying security bots that whistle and fire machineguns at you constantly. They remind me of the ďDad BotsĒ from this old cyberpunk kids book I read in primary school about a very WALL-E style city (with some minor Silo themes) starring a kid named Bean. I really canít remember the title. You can shut them down by using a Bot Shutdown panel but this requires a 20 dollar fee. The bots become dormant and can be hacked to work for you. Hacked security cameras trigger alarms that send the bots after enemies. Thereís also a mostly useless plasmid called Security Bullseye/Command that makes unhacked security target enemies instead of you. We get none of that in System Shock, but we can hack turrets. Hacking minigames also have obstacles that set off alarms if triggered and unlike System Shock itís not unique to security mechanisms. Unlike Bioshock, System Shock 2 alarms do not automatically end upon death.

Leadhead hybrids. Often carrying shotgun shells and alcohol you can loot. Sometimes their shotguns are loaded and they can be unloaded to steal their shells. Unlike their splicer counterparts, they canít carry any other gun and we canít use them without repairing them first: the guns have been modified to fit their new hands in such a way the gun is counted as broken. Stealing and repairing their guns isnít worth it, especially if you have the skill and tools to maintain a shotgun of your own.

Radiation returns! It functions just like the original game except it and regular poisoning require separate antidote hypos instead of the first gameís all-purpose detox pills. This time we donít get static interference but instead a Geiger counter ala Half Life. The counter sounds identical to the realistic one in Black Mesa as opposed to the compressed clock sounding one in the original Half Life Iím more used to. Thereís loot in this irradiated room (maybe an X-ray lab?) including cyber modules. I still canít hack the security crate. Beside another radiation filled lab (this one with a handy decontamination shower) I see another ghost, this one of a man looking for everyone when they disappear. Inside the lab is a log, some rad hypos, nanites and a pair of cyber modules.

If I had the hack skill, thatíd be worth it. In a bedroom or patient ward nearby is a bottle of champagne on the floor and a log from Grassi on a shelf, complaining about the monkeys.

The chimps gained sentience with their PSI expansion so theyíve likely found ways to avoid shitting everywhere. If only they found ways to give them those augmentations without harming them so much, perhaps they wouldnít have gone Durandal on their asses. In the first irradiated room is a log I missed in a desk from Dr Watts.

Watts Re: Patient Watson

ďSince returning from the surface of Tau Ceti V, patient has experienced numerous novel phenomena, evidenced by inflammatory nodular growth and the presence of a large wormlike parasite. This morning, the parasite penetrated the subjectís chestÖfrom the insideÖand attached one end of itself to the subjectís forehead. If I remove it, I could kill the kid. If I leave itÖ(sigh) Final diagnosis: beats the hell out of me. Iíd love to refer this to Madorsky at CDC, but unfortunately heís 67 trillion miles away.Ē

***INCOMING MESSAGE FROM XERXES***

ďThis is Xerxes. Why do you persist in your loneliness?Ē

***END MESSAGE***

I ask myself that same question every day and I have no good answer, if any. A pair of Leadhead hybrids ambush me after he finishes speaking. A small room nearby has some light combat armour. We have no energy shield aug this time but we do get power armour later and PSI shields exist.

A bottle of bubbly

Champagne is a popular drink enjoyed on the Von Braun (and smuggled onto the UNN Rickenbacker), both in its lounges and Replicators. However, since the entire liquor concession is run by TriOptimum and all champagne is replicated from the same Nanite archetype (due to limited database storage), there is only a single brand available. Fortunately, the vintage is excellent.

The vanilla game calls it by its nickname of bubbly but one of the mods calls it champagne to match the description. Every time I hear ďbubblyĒ in reference to wine, we use it to refer to Moscato Spumanti and Prosecco, not champagne. Grassiís biopsy lab is at the end of the hall guarded by a turret and thereís a camera inside.

Turrets are basically defence drones from Marathon but they canít move. We do get more literal defence drone counterparts later but theyíre too bulky to be considered drones. Bioshockís steampunk style jerry-rigged turrets are weird, existing only because this game has them. Like that game, we can hack all 3 kinds of turret and make them fight for us, but we need a hack skill of 4 to do it. Disabling security by hacking security computers makes turrets dormant. Destroying the camera, a very creepy mixture of 2 female voices and one male voice speak in harmony in disturbingly similar ways to SHODAN, but itís not robotic at all.

ďWhat is a drop of rain compared to the storm? What is a thought compared to a mind? Our unity is full of wonder, which your tiny individualism cannot even conceive.Ē

We will get to know the owners of those voices intimately in deck 1 onward. The fishbone ladder on the wall leads upstairs to what looks like a bubble machine from a special schoolís ďsnoozelynĒ/quiet room. Thereís another one in a room behind the camera that looks like itís full of orange gas.

At the bottom of the fishbone ladder is the main biopsy lab with another bubble machine on the desk by a log.

Sure enough, Grassi is dead on the floor here with a bloodied face frozen in fright. Polito sends me some more praxis software for picking up his card. The log is from Dr Watts again talking about Watson and his worm.

Watson is technically still alive despite the apparent zombie state. His mind is just being kept elsewhere other than his own brain for safekeeping. Itís unclear if heís one of the willing hybrids or not. I backtrack to the crew quarters bulkhead door and check out the other hallway.

***INCOMING MESSAGE FROM XERXES***

ďIntruder entering Medical Sector A. Intruder, the Many demands to know your intentions. Are you allied with her? Do you not know of her intentions, of her history? She once tried to destroy your species. And now you do her bidding. Intruder entering Medical Sector A.Ē

***END MESSAGE***

Gee, thanks for the spoiler Xerxes. This makes me think of Neptuneís Bounty in Bioshock where Peach Wilkens turns on you, thinking youíre now working for his old evil boss Frank Fontaine and you have to kill him in a boss fight. With Peach, the foreshadowing was very subtle as he was a splicer himself and likely insane. Itís only later you find out he was right after all. Here, Xerxes tries to spell it out for us. Weíre meant to be confused and wonder what heís on about butÖyeah, thatís all Iím gonna say.

At the end of the walkway is the cages for the monkeys and one poor guy dead on a surgical unit for experimentation.

Nearby is a surgical unit activation key you can use on incomplete surgical units you find around the ship to make them work. Donít waste it here as thereís a working one downstairs. In the room below are more monkeys but glass covers their cages instead of forcefields. They break out as I enter. Thereís supplies, XP, another PSI amp, surgical units and a log talking about Watts having the code to the maintenance access way.

I check out the sleeping quarters in the crew section for supplies. I find a magazine, art terminals displaying digitised classic paintings (usually renaissance), pistol ammo and a log from Anatoly Korenchkin, smug about the fact his company made first contact with alien life and planning to privatise Tau Ceti f. He mentions a ďMiriĒ but I donít know if heís talking about Dr Delacroix or not.

Even moreso than the first System Shock, this is the kind of thing Marathon is sorely lacking in its level design. We donít really see much of the crewís amenities and any ship machinery is superfluous at best. Outside of Episode 1 of Eternal, we didnít really have any crew quarters, toilets, or meaningful entertainment areas anywhere. All decks except Hydroponics have sleeping quarters in them for the crew.

Using AI to simulate real peopleís voices and generating AI art sounds like the sort of thing this magazine would talk about.

In the snack bar, I find a lot of cola, some vodka, champagne and a bottle of liquor as well as some crisps.

Next to the crew lounge is a security station with a log from Turnbull complaining about Sgt Bronson changing the armoury code and she has to go all the way up to deck 4 again to find it out. The crew lounge has more alcohol, houseplants and cigarettes. The description of the latter has some lawyer guy denying they cause cancer when itís already been proven factual for about 40 years.

Drinking cola & eating crisps heals you but drinking alcohol not only heals you, but takes 3 PSI points away, possibly to simulate drunkenness without an actual intoxication effect. Bioshock did the same but included such an effect too, and one of my favourite gene tonics let you gain EVE from drinking instead of losing it. System Shock 2 doesnít have that, rendering alcohol practically useless unless you donít use any psionics.

In vanilla, smoking drains your health with no benefit whatsoever, just like real life. In the mods I have installed, it now gives you a PSI point or two in return, matching how they work in Bioshock. I learned from a fellow watcher of Onolumi in one of her stream chats that apparently the Steam version has such a mod installed by default, but as I play the GOG version and use the Steam one for my deck, I canít check if thatís true. Thereís some upgrade units here but Iím still a little sceptical about levelling up yet. There is something else here too: an OS upgrade station.

There are only 4 upgrade stations in the game and they give you a permanent passive upgrade. They shut down after you choose your upgrade and thereís no picking a new one without reloading. In practice, they are basically this gameís counterpart to the Power to the People stations in Bioshock.

Since I am playing as a psychonaut, I take the cyber assimilation upgrade, allowing me to scavenge diagnostic repair kits from destroyed robots (not counting protocol droids) to use as big first aid kits. OSA class donít get any decent weapons to fight robots off the bat and getting weapon skills and ammo may be tricky. PK fire does nothing to them and both PK freeze & the wrench do pitiful damage.

Robots also explode when destroyed so if you play the PID Ghoul combat route, you need those repair modules to undo the damage. I head through the bulkhead/airlock to drop off my crap at the elevator. Thereís a reason Iím keeping it and caching it there instead of just leaving it. I also head to the chemical storeroom for some fermium to keep researching that monkey brain. I come to some storerooms, toilets and more sleeping quarters near the crew lounge. Xerxes messages me again, telling me security forces have been alerted to my presence and that the Many demands my capture or death. The lower floor here is flooded.

Monkey Brain

Analysis: The Monkey is genetically normal, an African Squirrel Monkey. However, it appears to have been subject to a large number of chemical and surgical procedures, both before and after birth. These procedures have enhanced brain size and connectivity, as well as enhanced the myelination of the central nervous system. The skull of the creature has been surgically removed, presumably both to prevent cranial pressure and to allow quick experimental access.

Recommendation: The neural construction of the creature is similar in nature to psionic human neural structure - the Monkeys are likely to have psionic capability. They are vulnerable to all attacks which affect standard organic creatures.

Speaking of the monkeys, Dr Watts has a log recorded to a woman named Angela that I missed in the vivisection area in a crate that I go back for:

Watts Re: Nonsense

ďAngela, while it may appear that the lab monkeys are communicating with each-other, I assure you itís quite impossible. You claim that one monkey signed the passcode for a supply closet to another, and the latter proceeded to open it. As Iím sure you know, there have been literally tens of thousands of studies of primate intelligence and there is no evidence of behaviour even remotely that sophisticated. So either youíve single-handedly trumped the entire field of animal behaviourists, or youíre badly in need of a vacation.Ē

Whoís going to tell him that prior to the time the game takes place in (but after the game came out), there have been a lot of studies that have seen primates display the exact same or at least very similar behaviour Angela saw?

I havenít played vanilla System Shock 2 in a long time but I donít remember sink taps & showers working or toilets being flushable. I think the mods I have added that to be similar to Deus Ex & Bioshock after it. It serves no purpose but itís still cool.

Donít step on those worms: they poison you if you touch them. Unlike the last game but just like Pathways into Darkness, biohazard poison never wears off on its own, forcing you to either use anti-toxin hypos, respawn at a pattern buffer or reload. Thankfully, hazard suits reduce the risk of being poisoned and there are PSI powers that can prevent it completely. Said power can come in handy later. Normally those worm piles are collected in beakers to use as ammo for exotic weapons.

There is also an alien implant that lets us eat them for health. Mmm. Meatnoodles. Downstairs I find an audio log from fellow soldier Tommy Suarez to his girlfriend Rebecca Siddons.

Weíll be seeing more of him and Rebecca later. Next door is a log from Dr Polito. She sounds more shy and a lot less rude and antagonistic than she does in her radio messages.

The audio file she provides is full of static and other noise. I can barely make out the words ďcyborgĒ and ďdivertĒ. HmmÖ

I find a brawn boost implant (increases strength by 1 while it is powered) in the bathroom next to the culprit of this flooding: someone broke one of the toilets. In a pump room at the back I find nanites and cyber modules up a ladder after turning on the lights. Dr Watts isnít in his room so Polito suggests I take his card and return to the R&D section to find him in his lab. She gives me more modules for taking his card from the desk. I return to that first keypad in the cryo section after the airlock to open it. The game never tells you this as you are supposed to hack it but the code is all 0s. Thatís something Kontaru would have on his luggage! Inside is the first brawn boost implant we can find and a pair of speed boosters.

Down the other path I didnít take near the elevator is the first camera you can find and the hallway where I saw a leadhead hybrid shoot a nurse earlier. A hybrid and monkey attack in a lab nearby, turning off the lights and locking the door. If you arenít careful, itís possible to get locked outside. A button in the monkeyís room turns the lights back on and unlocks the door. Thereís a security crate, anti-toxin hypos and a log from Grassi about the monkeys. Angela isnít the only one who realised they were getting smarter.

Down the hall I blow up some explosive barrels to kill a hybrid and find some nanites in the trashcan next to them. Thereís a window looking into Dr Wattsís lab down here: heís on a surgical unit wounded but he wonít actually die until we talk to him. Climbing back up, I press past a replicator and enter the research section. Dr Polito warns that Watts has been badly wounded and not to let him die before he tells me the code. In another lab with a recharge station is a log from Captain Diego to Korenchkin.

Diego is an example of what a government official should be: doesnít take no bribes or no crap from private corporations and aims to better the people heís supposed to serve. If only it were that way in real life.

Having played this game quite a few times, Iíd say this ghost and body is the woman that huge mutant killed in the last FMV. Dr Wattís lab is down the hall. He warns me that the people the hybrids were are not dead and that the Many want me as a host. He says to stay away from him but unfortunately he dies right after without telling me the code. Thereís a disembodied stomach and heart here too.

Good news is he has a log that tells me the code, which is 12451. He also has another log about Patient Watsonís autopsy.

It isnít clear if this is how he got wounded now or if this happened in the past. His death triggers an ambush by some leadhead hybrids who come charging in on the catwalk above. Bioshockís hospital level was a similar idea to this one but was themed around getting new plasmids to help you. The doctor carrying the key you needed was a splicer and served as the first boss. His final victim had a log about the exact moment he flew off the handle.

As I return to the hatch, I see the maintenance robot inside has gotten loose.

In System Shock 1, maintenance or rather, repair bots were spiderbots ala Deus Ex. Actual maintenance bots were the black bean robots but I swapped their names around in the write-ups as I think they suit them better that way, matching Deus Ex.

In System Shock 2, maintenance bots are now based on the loader mech from Aliens and recycle robot animations from Thief. Like the spiderbots, they use their spark welder as a weapon. The best weapons to use against them are armour piercing bullets which I have but lack the talent to use them, and energy weapons which I donít have yet. If I was a navy man, this wouldnít be a problem. The next level also has a lot of maintenance bots in the cargo bays you have to get past. You see now why I need that diagnostic kit upgrade.

Unlike PID, we canít freeze any enemies to stun them nor light them on fire. Offensive PSI powers donít seem to work that way. The plasmids in Bioshock didnít make the same mistake. A ton of thuggish and leadhead hybrids constantly respawn when I destroy the robot, making it hard to keep up.

Dianostic/Repair Module

Advanced models of robots contain self-modification circuitry and special Nanite stores for repair and replacement parts. After the Dubuque Autodoc Scandal of 2025, programmed failsafes were implemented to prevent robots from ďaccidentallyĒ generating new functionality, such as weapons. Additionally, the D/RM can be used by hackers and other heavily modified humans for their own healing, leading to slash-and-run robberies of unaccompanied robots such as Protocol Droids.

I return to the 4 upgrade units at the start to level up my tech skills. I take 3 points in hacking and 1 in both maintenance and research. Iíll need them later. Next port of call is to save up enough XP to learn energy weapons and level up my agility. I do a victory lap of MedSci to find and hack all the security crates I couldnít open before. Failing an ICE node on those destroys the crate so you want to save scum. I find a good supply of nanites, ammo, hypos and even a full first aid kit and extra armour from a forcefield guarded armoury in someoneís quarters.

Polito isnít very nice once I open the maintenance access way. ďDo not waste time patting yourself on the back! Get down to that shaft to engineering and get into the engine core. That will restore power to the elevator and you will be able to get up to deck 4. Get going!Ē

Jeez, calm down.

The ladder presumably leads through a winding shaft to a different room a fair distance away from the elevator, masked by a loading screen. Itís like the ladders leading down to Watch Your Step in PID.

This concludes episode 1. Next time we explore the engineering deck and try to restore power to the elevator.

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