System Shock 2 Marathon Comparison Episode 8
Posted By: Lion O CyborgDate: 6/9/23 3:44 p.m.

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

Episode 8: Cortana

Act 1: Where Only Fools Dare Tread – The Body of the Many: Beware of Low Flying PSI Reavers

Welcome back to the final episode of the System Shock 2 Marathon comparison and the System Shock Marathon comparison as a whole (unless I decide to cover the remake which I might). It’s finally time to kill the Many for good and rip out its insides. The force of the impact knocked me out and I come to in the lifepod I used to enter the Many.

The lifepod is looking a little worse for wear and the entrance wound I inflicted has healed somewhat super-fast. There’s a little hole in the pod into the body of the Many proper. It’s all wet and soft and slippery in here. Really warm too.

Don’t stand under that snot! It’s acidic. God help anyone if the Many sneezes. Next to a small membrane is the first log from Prefontaine since we left the Von Braun. The only audio logs from now on are from him, documenting the Many’s insides and how they work.

“We welcome you to our biomass. We invite you to spread yourself out on our warmth. One of our Many will be there to help you before long.”

Considering they said they were going to kill us and that they planned to rip us apart if we sided with SHODAN back on Engineering, I doubt any rumblers, spiders or PSI Reavers will actually be helping us at all. There are sections of the Rickenbacker and/or Von Braun that have been crushed and intruded upon by the Many’s biomass. One such area is nearby with worm & wasp eggs. 2 more swarms of wasps burst out of a corpse when I search it for cyber modules. Some worm noodles on the floor fix the stings.

Fun fact about this level: In response to an urban legend in System Shock 1 about being able to go outside the Space Colony Citadel and fly around in a space suit, Ken Levine wanted there to be a zero G flying section in this game where we’d don a spacesuit and make our way through the outside of the two ships and their “intricate series of docking mechanisms” mentioned in the intro FMV to reach the Rickenbacker, instead of the simple gravity lift it is in-game. Due to time and technology constraints, this was cut and the level was repurposed as the Body of the Many as you see here. The concept lives on in Prey 2017 where not only can you go outside the station, but you have to travel a similarly intricate cargo system in zero G in order to get past the elevator before you can turn it on. For bonus points, zero G areas in Prey handle a little like System Shock 1’s cyberspace hacking, only much easier.

Also, fun fact about the textures: when developing this level, Josh Randall, one of the producers had to get a colonoscopy and asked the doctor for a copy of the film so he could use pictures of his insides as flesh, nerves, blood vessel and sphincter textures. Yes, the climax of this game was literally pulled out of the developer’s ass.

Tomb Raider 1 did something similar with its Atlantis flesh textures and that of the Atlantean mutants and their meaty sacks full of caesium bones: according to the book The Making of Tomb Raider, the developers sourced and digitised photographs of autopsied cadavers from a coroner’s office. It may not look like it due to the 1996 cartoonish graphics quality but the meaty Atlantean textures are pictures of actual human flesh and other body parts. I wonder if the cancelled remake, Tomb Raider 10th Anniversary Edition did something similar as its flesh textures are even more realistic.

Back to the game, there’s a small pool nearby with a PSI reaver in it. Its brain is on the bottom of the pool and above is a nerve cluster. I need to blast this to open a sphincter ahead but I’ll show it before I find the other one I need to destroy.

What’s the crunching room? We’re just about to find out… Those bubble jets blow you into the air, which usually doesn’t hurt you but makes navigation difficult. In vanilla, they’re actual bubbles but the mods change them to look like steam jets.

That’s the sphincter I need to open. Given the textures are from someone’s actual colon, I wonder if this is what an actual interior sphincter looks like. I don't know if this is a Rebirth & Beta SCP mods exclusive thing or not but get up close and you can even see it pulsing in and out Marathon Pfhor & lava hotplate textures style like it’s winking. Yuck!

Speaking of shitty things blocking the way, there’s a narrow passage with wasp eggs and farting eggs in it nearby in this flooded square hallway. Behind them is another piece of the Rickenbacker with a full chemical storeroom and all upgrade stations. Wasp eggs and worm eggs are on the ceiling and there’s worm piles under the water on the floor.

I backtrack to the hall with the bubbles in it and take the second of the two passages (when entering from the start) to a large irradiated pool. Before in my vanilla games I hoarded a hazard suit for this purpose but the PSI Radiation Shield power helps out too. Just remember to have a ton of rad hypos. I thought this might be the Many’s stomach but that appears to be later.

“The Machine Mother cannot help you inside the biomass. Her coldness is not welcome within the warmth of our flesh.”

For some reason, this area reminds me of the shallow sewage areas in Bob’s Big Date in Marathon 2. I don’t know why as they have nothing to do with this level’s themes.

“You tear our very flesh with no thought of compassion. Do you think we will sit idly by while you corrupt the very womb of our existence?”

No, I don’t think they will and they prove it later.

Act 2: You’re wormfood, dude – Body of the Many: Welcome Tasty Primate

“You seek your associates. But you cannot find them. You are so very alone. How does it feel to be one against the infinite?”

Prefontaine RE: Grinding Noises

“There’s some kind of horrible grinding noise coming from the next area. It sounds like…chewing! I think I know what’s going to happen here: This is some kind of digestive tract of a very, very large animal. I go back and forth between being fascinated and terrified. This creature is a remarkable discovery! I wish I could live long enough to learn more.”

You read that right and the white thing beyond the pool is exactly what you think it is. This is the Many’s mouth. Like the Sarlacc in The Force Unleashed (Xbox 360 version), the Many has multiple mouths along its digestive tract in order to chew its food. This is what happened to the people who didn’t join the Many and weren’t forcibly infected: they were brought here and eaten. THIS is what the Many meant when they said they would rend us apart and put us separate from the joy of the biomass in that vision way back on Engineering. In vanilla, that pool with the smaller teeth and crystal shard around it is just a simple pool with that body in it. In the mods, there’s now a tube in the middle of the pool that ties into one of Prefontaine’s logs beyond the digestive tract. Be very careful looting the body! There’s a current in the water.

Get sucked down the tube and you get bitten by that valve and die. We will see where this tube leads later provided we take the right path.

As far as horror tropes go, I love levels like this inside meaty bodies. It dates back first seeing Atlantis in Tomb Raider but the real beginning was a few years later when I played the Cortana level in Halo 3, which is where this episode gets its name: High Charity from Halo 2 was turned into a Flood hive at the end of Halo 2 and by Halo 3 we see the results of it. After High Charity crashes on the Ark, we explore a twisted metal and fleshy salad that used to be the city, full of warped passageways and tunnels, sphincter doors like in System Shock 2 as we saw (except we actually see those ones open) and relatively intact rooms from the city proper though aside from 2 or 3 easily missed areas, none of it resembles High Charity in Halo 2. What it didn’t have however was giant mouths full of gnashing teeth along the way as the Flood don’t eat that way.

Quake 1.5 makes the Shub Niggurath boss not suck anymore by having it play like I wanted the Icon of Sin fight in Doom 2 to go (as this was long before Doom Eternal and I thought the Icon was a Satan esque leviathan and source of the hellgrowth as opposed to a Titan like in canon): you do the original fight but then you go inside the beast itself and fight through its insides in order to cut out its heart. In Doom 2’s case, this would be John Romero’s head on a stick in reference to what the boss actually was in the end and in Quake’s it actually is Shub Niggurath’s heart. There would then be an escape sequence out its intestines before getting launched out its ass like in the Force Unleashed Sarlaac sequence before it dies.

Both Quake 1.5 and System Shock 2 come very close to my vision. The former even has multiple mouths in Shub Niggurath’s digestive tract like the Many and they’re even scarier than in this game. I carefully edge around the feeding pool to the teeth in the first mouth. Another audio log from Prefontaine is on the floor past a dead body under the metal tent, dangerously close to the bottom molar.

Prefontaine RE: Poor Claudette

“5 minutes ago, one of those large burly creatures dragged Claudette towards the sound of the grinding. Apparently, the animal uses the smaller creatures to help move food along its digestive tract. I tried to help Claudette but it wasn’t even a contest. And, I’m ashamed to admit that seeing what happened to her was a vital element of my studies here. I imagine I won’t have the opportunity to record any observations when it comes my turn.”

I carefully move around the edge of the teeth and head down the digestive tract towards the second mouth. As I get closer, I hear someone screaming as they’re bitten and crushed to death by the teeth.

The only way out is through another sphincter but the nerve cluster that will open it is high above the floor of this mouth. The only way to get there is to jump along the teeth and pray they don’t bite you. Easier said than done as the chewing of the teeth isn’t in sync with each other and mantling onto the first bottom molar is finicky. There’s some cyber modules on a body in a small nook near the teeth. Some nerves coming out of the nerve cluster alcove can be used as a ladder to reach it once the second bottom molar goes high enough. It’s better than playing chicken with the top molars.

“We feel you moving inside of us. The sensation is…repulsive.”

That’s what she said. Besides that obvious one, that’s a good line to take out of context in general.

Prefontaine has another log in the overturned desk by the bubble jet.

Prefontaine RE: The Many and Us

“Besides the parasitic behaviour evidenced in the life cycle of the human/annelid hybrids, it’s becoming clear to me that SHODAN has bred the Many to use humans for other purposes. First of all, the Many clearly has the capability to convert human flesh to energy: it can eat us. But it can also directly use us in the creation of its egg pods: corpses are fed into some kind of tubular structure, and eggs are birthed through a nearby tube. I’ve been unable to determine whether the organism is directly converting the corpses into the egg structures or not, but it’s clear that there’s some connection between the nutrient pool we provide, and the eggs that are being produced.”

That is what the tube in the pool inside the first mouth is for: it’s where bodies are being fed to turn into the eggs we’ve been seeing throughout the game. Perhaps the Many’s fate for us in Engineering wasn’t simply getting eaten but being turned into one of their eggs after they bite and chew us. This reminds me a lot of the director’s cut of Alien, where Ripley travels through the vents while destroying the Nostromo and finds the others being converted into the xenomorph’s eggs (now non-canon as of Aliens). She mercy kills them with her flamethrower.

The right passageway leads to the Many’s ovaries and reproductive organs. I hear a woman screaming down a flooded passage to the left but I explore the ovary down the right passage first. There’s some healing organs I eat in some wasp eggs and cyber modules on one of the bodies.

The Many gloat as I enter the reproductive system.

“Your time is running out. This place is a womb where we grow our future. Your weapons fail, your ammunition runs low, and you’ve yet to see our most beautiful creation. All you have is your hatred, and your…individuality. Now don’t you wish you joined us? Would you then feel so alone?”

The creation they speak of is likely the Many’s brain itself. That water filled tube on the left seems to be more of the egg conversion tube we saw the entrance of earlier. The eggs are birthed in this room; you remember when I said back on Recreation in the Hololove brothel that System Shock 2 wasn’t scared to show uncensored vaginas so seeing them being used for their intended purpose would be small potatoes? Yeah, I wasn’t being crass or lying: Those are literally giant pussies on the walls in here.

Like the sphincter by the entrance of the digestive tract, the vaginas textures are animated in a way that they pulse in & out like they’re winking. It’s a lot less disgusting when they do it. In vanilla, the PID message for them is “a large blob with a huge orifice” or something like that. The Rebirth or SCP mods change the name to what they actually are as you can see. This sounds familiar in another way besides Alien now that I think about it:

“While the mandible appears to have vestigial musculature indicative of mastication and forceful ingestion consistent with a predator, the gizzard terminates in a womb rather than the digestive tract.”

You can see big piles of waste flesh, blood and other stuff in on the floor where the eggs were birthed out of the giant birth canals. The first pile has a skeleton in it, which is just creepy. I dread to think what happened to the body that its bones came out those holes in the wall. I’m getting flashbacks to the Snuke episode of South Park.*shudder*

Past the vagina room are more ovaries full of eggs. I hear a man screaming this time. He possibly got killed by midwives or something: we’re too far from the mouths to hear anything and the inside of the egg conversion tube is full of water. The eggs are all worm eggs and wasp eggs. No sharting eggs here: that’s how the Many gets STDs.

Back at the junction we were at earlier, I take other passage out. It goes up a passage to a room with 2 bubble jets, spiders and a rumbler. Prefontaine has 2 audio logs in here, one in the desk and the other under a metal tent.

Prefontaine RE: The Many

“It’s clear that this thing I’m trapped inside of is intimately linked with all of the organisms I observed aboard the Von Braun. Strike that, this creature is the same organism. Perhaps the best way to describe it, or perhaps the best way I can comprehend it, is that this organism serves to perform the highest mental functions of the entire species. The smaller creatures exist only to enact its will. No, strike that too. All of the specimens act as a whole, like different organs in a single body, with this entity acting primarily as a brain. If one were to kill this large specimen I wonder, would it snuff out all the others?”

There’s another I missed in a desk in another Rickenbacker piece back in the junction so I look at that first.

Prefontaine RE: Annelid Life Cycle

“While I don’t understand the annelid life cycle fully, it’s clearly extremely diverse. The eggs produce either a male or female spore. The male, the drones, are small wasp-like creatures. The females are wormlike annelids that seek a host to infect. Following infection, the host begins to transform into a human/annelid hybrid. From that point, the life form can take numerous paths. I believe this path is determined by the Many itself. The creatures have communicated their need to grow the biomass, so I imagine biological material is their primary resource. Therefore, each path has costs and benefits. The proto-arachnid is extremely quick and potentially relatively cheap in biomass. The hulking, fleshy ones are powerful, but are clearly a larger investment. I’ve observed only 1 example of the floating organisms. The only comfort is that the more dangerous organisms are quite costly to produce, limiting their numbers.”

Prefontaine RE: Many’s Evolution.

“With only a few short years of evolution, they’ve managed to conquer this starship, mankind’s mightiest creation. Where were we after 40 years of evolution? What swamp were we swimming around in, single celled and mindless? What if SHODAN’s creations are superior to us? What will they become in a million years, in 10 million years? What’s clear is that SHODAN shouldn’t be allowed to play God: she’s far too good at it.”

Durandal eat your heart out. One wonders what sort of things Durandal would create when he managed to escape the universe between Infinity and Eternal and became a god? Did he abandon the creation thing as Thoth taught him the error of his ways when they merged? Or was he planning to still do it but the conflict with stopping the Jjaro’s time loop and the W’rkncacnter got in the way? Imagine if he met SHODAN while travelling the Macroverse and saw what he could have become, no better than Tycho? Ahead is a huge drop into a big, deep pool of water.

I can’t see the bottom. Oh well, time for a cannonball!

Act 4: OK, Who Else Wants Some? – Body of the Many: Ingue Ferroque

If the mouths full of gnashing teeth earlier were the Many’s digestive tract, I guess this might classify as the stomach. The water isn’t toxic though so it can’t be. I guess this is where Looking Glass running out of time really starts to show including in the next level too. The Many contact me again. They’re sick and tired of my shenanigans.

“The end is near. Soon you shall see our final face. But do not despair, surely the void is preferable to your pointless, solitary struggle.”

No, it’s really not. I’ve played Pathways into Darkness: the void is horrifying and there’s nothing you can do about it. Up on the shore of the “stomach” pool is a PSI reaver, a bunch of rumblers and the final audio log in the game. It’s Prefontaine’s final audio log and he sounds absolutely terrified and for good reason: he’s being eaten by the Many, just like Claudette.

Prefontaine RE: …

“I’m being taken away now. It’s my turn! I’m being dragged into… some kind of chamber. The ceiling is lined with a number of panels bristling with what appear to be stala…stalactites. Or teeth! The creature’s put me down now. He’s leaving! Am I to be spared? What’s going on? It’s dark in here. I can hear the moans of someone. Claudette! Is that you?! Hmm, I appear to have stepped in something soft…slippery. Are the stalactites…mov…*crunch*AAAAAGHHH! *flesh grinding sounds*”

This always, always bothered me. That body beside the audio log can’t be Prefontaine! There’s no teeth here and the mouths in the digestive tract don’t have lots of panels of canines or incisors on the ceiling, just 2 big molars on both the ceiling and floor with not a panel in sight; one pair of teeth in the first mouth and two pairs in the second. The exit to this area has a bunch of gum shaped panels in the floor and ceiling in a big ridge leading to the Many’s brain, some with bubble jets but again, no teeth. Also, that body by the audio log is clearly intact whereas Prefontaine was crushed and ripped into pieces.

I hope System Shock 2 Enhanced Edition fixes this little plot hole. This part is hell: PSI reavers and rumblers constantly respawn in the ridge of panels and the PSI reavers’ brains are all in the boss chamber. Leg it as fast as you can through here using any shields or agility enhancing supplies you can. It’s time for the (almost) final boss.

There it is, the Many’s brain! The thing on the left is a Greater PSI Reaver. Like the Greater Nightmares, it’s more powerful, to the point its PSI blasts can kill you in 1 hit if your health is as low as mine right now (I found that out the hard way) but they are killed the same way as the regular ones. There’s small grave-like holes in the edges of the brain chamber. All the PSI reavers’ brains are in some of the graves. There’s also 2 rumblers that constantly chase you in here and vanilla adds a cyborg midwife to the list. Unlike PID and Marathon, this boss fight doesn’t suck. It’s not perfect, and piss easy if you use the assault rifle or SOMA transference PSI power but it’s at least something.

You can’t simply shoot the brain. You’ve got to destroy those spinning spiked balls surrounding it that look like the teleporter node in Quake’s Shub Niggurath boss fight. Then the brain becomes vulnerable. It’s like the Nihilanth in Half Life a year prior except unlike Half Life, the Brain of the Many is a lot weaker, especially to fire.

It’s time to abort your whole friggin’ species!

With the Many’s death all the other forms, hybrid or full annelid die with it. They respond surprisingly calmly as their brain explodes.

“Do you know what you have wrought? Our tragedy is written by your hand.”

On top of the bone “volcano” the brain was attached to is the Many’s large intestine. Eww!

Naturally, I have to jump into the flowing water. It drags me through the Many’s literal bowels, both under the surface and in air pockets.

As I ride the poo-choo train and slide down a waterfall through its rectum, the Many contact me for the final time with their last words:

“We die. Beware the Machine Mother. She is a stranger to everything we cherish.”

Gotta split this part up too. The finale and the conclusion make it too long for here.

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