System Shock Infinite 2.0 Released

System shock came out in 1999 and is often cited as one of the better examples of atmospheric gameplay. Unfortunately it wasn't very popular in its day, and until 2012 was impossible to find legally due to the snarl on who actually had rights to it. Moreover it took fans twisting and stretching the engine just to get mods and fan missions to work on it. NewDark came along and made similar efforts just to get it working on modern systems redundant. I cannot stress how important NewDark is in that it turned an engine that had to be patched and tortured to the point you probably wouldn't have new people join in and makes is pretty much like installing any other game.

So you finished the game. You might have replayed it a few times. Now what? Well, user Xdiesp of the SystemShock forums has something for you. In fairness there are other fan missions, with Christine's quartet being probably the best out of the bunch, but this one is one of the more extensive I've seen in the past decade.

Welcome to System Shock Infinite: Where the familiar is twisted and stretched until it is new again.

It is harder than stock system shock 2 even on its easiest setting. However it has never struck me as unfairly hard. Case in point are the grubs. Relatively small worms that in the vanilla game you could just pop boom move on. Here? One can be a minor inconvenience due to how difficult they are to hit. A group can be a legitimate threat due to collectively chipping away at your health. Another example is the grenade hybrid. They explode on death, meaning the old strategy of wrench beating until dead won't work without taking a good chunk out of your life.

The Von Braun is not quite as you remember it. Some items have been shuffled around. Doors might need to be blown open, or otherwise unbreakable windows between areas broken. In this twisted mess you are introduced to the concept of reality tears. Which one you pick dictates how the environment changes. Do you bring back friendly NPCs that help you survive the horrors? Do you go all on on personal power? Or why not take a third option and try saving the Many from Korenchkin's influence?

And you can do other things to influence the other quests if you picked one reality over another. You don't get the perks choosing their path does, but choosing one doesn't completely lock you out of the entire story if you play your cards right.

Moreover, while System Shock 2 has some scripted sequences, this game has them everywhere. The 'ghosts' you see are useful. You get confronted throughout by Korenchkin plus assorted lackies. There are just tons of little moments that stand out and make me go 'I wish they had done that in the vanilla game.'

In this mod you have to use psi, but the game is far more generous on ways to let you regain PSI points. Technically you can get by without using psi, but several enemy types have been altered to need psi attacks to kill. One of the better powers introduced is 'distract. This does pretty well exactly what it says on the tin and distracts enemies for fifteen seconds or so. While you can go in guns blazing it's often better to just sneak by, save a fight that doesn't need to happen and conserve ammo.

It isn't just 'let's add ramp up the difficulty' though. Enemies have weapon types that are better suited to damage them, with off type weapons serving to stun-lock or otherwise disrupt them. What I enjoy is that while it is hard. It's not stupidly difficult. It isn't unfair. I always got the impression that whenever I died it was because I got in over my head or goofed somehow. Plus it isn't as if the game immediately throws you into hell. The Moe's creator did a good job of gradually ramping the difficulty and introducing new concepts slowly.

I cannot stress that enough. You initially are dropped into the game at the final boss of the vanilla game and everything is easy. You're given incentive to hurry up, because the pressure is on and it's a big climactic thing, however it only introduces a few basic actions in movement, inventory use, the fact you can click on things in the environment to make your life easier, and finally that you have allies that can help you in a fight. If you die it's the first minute into the game. If you win the pressure is taken off as the real game starts.

Med/Sci is still very much a tutorial and I like how things are pain out in that for the first area you have very easy enemies, some potted exposition here and there, and are gradually introduced to both new and old concepts. Throughout the game you are slowly introduced to new enemies, new concepts, and it feels very natural.

I say this as someone that discovered system shock 2 in early 2004, but I have been told by newbies this observation holds true for them as well. The key thing though is you aren't told 'go here. Do this thing. I will punish you if you do not stay on The Path. System Shock 2 is normally littered with little secrets to reward players that explore. System Shock Infinite does even more of this. It's all very at your own pace and playstyle though. Want to try blitzing through? Feel free to try. It'll hurt but you're welcome to give it a shot. Want to take a slow and methodical approach? Sure you can do that.

One of the endings even triggers if you're inquisitive enough to go back to the beginning of the map.

Oh that's another thing. Unlike system shock 2's rather.... Lackluster ending this game has nine, all dependent on the things you do in game. Even better though is you can get up to five of them to stack if you go all in for a challenge, and it is challenging since one ending demands never clicking on a weapon's trainer, another depends on completing system shock 1 like cyberspace levels, and still others dependent on who you help, or kill, as you play.

The levels are refreshingly different even while they remain quite familiar. The story is exciting. Gameplay is challenging yet fair. The engine is pushed to it's absolute limits even with the added stability and capabilities of NewDark. So where does this fall short? To be honest the voice acting is pretty mediocre and the writing felt off. The first is excusable because this is very much a 'by the fans for the fans' sort of this, and even then several of the core VAs up and bailed partway through, so it was either focus on gameplay and fixes or have to record tons of dialog over again. The writing? On the one hand the mod's creator doesn't speak English as a first language, but on the other I'm going to have to take some of the blame on grammar since that was my small contribution to things. There were others doing grammar checks and proofreading though, so it wasn't like 'this or that person fell down on the job.'

Even these failings aren't that bad though. It's more 'I have been watching and helping things progress for close to a year so Every. Little. Thing sticks out.' This is a love letter to the fans from the fans and pushes the dark engine about as far as it can go without yet more changes from NewDark's mystery author(s).

So there you have it. A mod that expands and pushes a fourteen year old game, has almost an hour of (thankfully skippable) cutscenes, and so many notes and logs added in that it feels like we're finally seeing more of the world the original game hinted at even though it's still the same levels. Would I recommend it? Only after you've had at least one play through of the vanilla game (or even with the community patch. Personally I recommend everyone get the community patch since it keeps this true to the original, but fixes a lot of little things wrong with the game.)

Now if only we could get this guy and Christine to collaborate on a project together...

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