Why I'm Cynical About System Shock 3

Why I'm Cynical About System Shock 3

You would normally be excited about a sequel being made to a beloved classic, but Shamus is skeptical that System Shock 3 can live up to the original.

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Well, Dark Souls exists and that game absolutely goes "against the current" of AAA gaming, for the exact same reasons you described; It's slow and methodical, you're never told where to go or what to do (beyond some vague indications), you need to manage your resources (Estus Flasks, antidotes and such) and it doesn't have these massive action set pieces full of explosions and dubstep music.

In fact, you can easily miss content if you don't meet some very specific and obscure conditions.

What I'm getting at, is that it's still possible for the game to feel like a proper System Shock 2 sequel, Square Enix isn't around, nosing about how to pander to modern audiences (seriously, FUCK YOU Thief '14).

I'm keeping my expectations on check, always works for me, but I'm not writing this one off yet.

In a nutshell, AAA games are expensive to make, so in order to reach the largest audience possible, they aim for the lowest common denominator. This, and consoles, are the reason why games are getting simpler all the time.

But there is the good kind of simpler and the bad kind. The good kind of simpler is when the interface and usability are improved, or the graphical presentation is cleaned up, or redundant and badly implemented features are removed for the sake of a more focused core gameplay. There can be beauty and elegance in simplicity which can increase the appeal of a game. XCOM is a good example for this kind of simpler.

Then there is the bad kind of simpler. This happens when we get shitty controls and a cumbersome "simplified" user interface because of controller limitations. Or when gameplay is dumbed down (because of controller limitations -again). Or when the puzzles are dumbed down because the developers think the average human is stupid. Skyrim has a few good examples of this kind of simpler: the puzzles in Skyrim are simple enough for a 6-year old to solve them, and if you play on the PC you want to scream at the interface because the developers couldn't be bothered to "fix it" from the console version.

Skyrim also has a good example of simpler. Replacing the stats with perks actually worked surprisingly well for the game, and removed all that leveling micromanagement that plagued Oblivion.

What I want to say is, "simpler" does not always mean its gonna be worse. You just have to do it right.

Tiamat666:
In a nutshell, AAA games are expensive to make, so in order to reach the largest audience possible, they aim for the lowest common denominator. This, and consoles, are the reason why games are getting simpler all the time.

But there is the good kind of simpler and the bad kind. The good kind of simpler is when the interface and usability are improved, or the graphical presentation is cleaned up, or redundant and badly implemented features are removed for the sake of a more focused core gameplay. There can be beauty and elegance in simplicity which can increase the appeal of a game. XCOM is a good example for this kind of simpler.

Then there is the bad kind of simpler. This happens when we get shitty controls and a cumbersome "simplified" user interface because of controller limitations. Or when gameplay is dumbed down (because of controller limitations -again). Or when the puzzles are dumbed down because the developers think the average human is stupid. Skyrim has a few good examples of this kind of simpler: the puzzles in Skyrim are simple enough for a 6-year old to solve them, and if you play on the PC you want to scream at the interface because the developers couldn't be bothered to "fix it" from the console version.

Skyrim also has a good example of simpler. Replacing the stats with perks actually worked surprisingly well for the game, and removed all that leveling micromanagement that plagued Oblivion.

What I want to say is, "simpler" does not always mean its gonna be worse. You just have to do it right.

This. I think a good example of simpler done right is Crysis 2 actually. In the first, you had that clunky menu system to switch your suit powers. But in the second one, most everything is streamlined. Want super speed? Hold down sprint. Want to jump extra high? Hold down the jump button to charge. Want to punch extra hard? Hold down the melee button to charge. And if you wanted to go into Armor or Invisible mode, you just pressed one of two bindable buttons.

There is something to be said for true streamlining. Often though, it seems to be code word these days for, "We're removing content." >_>

Tiamat666:
snip

In a nut shell, totally agree. Having Dragonlish or other languages in Daggerfall might make sense in real life, but if they don't function in the game world, there is no point. I deliberately upgraded Dragonlish to sooth some Dragonling I came in contact with. Didn't even phase them. They just continued murdering me.

Also more complex is not necessarily a good thing. Dark souls 2 is known for having no quest markers. There is a quest where you have to retrieve a key for a blacksmith to use his equipment. I got it and returned it but for some reason the quest wouldn't finish. I retried many times, getting up to the stage of quitting as not upgrading your equipment makes Dark Souls harder

At last, I thought I might just open the smithy myself. That cleared the quest. For complexities sake, I was driven to frustration. A no matter how much I enjoyed Dark Souls 2, that silly moment will always tarnish it and complexity in my eyes.

There are at least a few things about System Shock that I wouldn't mind being modernized- but then, there at least a few things about System Shock 2 that I wouldn't mind seeing thrown into the rubbish bin. ("Oh, look- yet another zombie who was shooting me with a broken shotgun and no ammo. The suspense is killing me.")

But on the other hand, the SS games have traditionally taken place in space stations, and if nothing else, that's a great excuse to make the game world modular. Basic tile-sets can create a very believable world in such a setting, and individual pieces (trees, desks, posters, etc.) can differentiate and lend the flavor of places once-lived-in.

I wouldn't give up hope for System Shock 3 just yet. But keeping expectations low is certainly the wise course.

Otherside Entertainment's business model is relying on the nostalgia of the middle aged man for the past excitements of youth. Its the video game equivalent of buying a motorbike again in your 40s. There is no mention of SS3 being on a console, there is plan to bring SS2 to the console. There is also no evidence of there being a AAA budget on either on the new Underworld or SS3. Its an indie game with name recognition due to the resurrection of old franchises.

Speaking as middle aged man, I will buy both. Brrmmm Brrmmmm.

It's always good to be cynical about it, because chances are it'll disappoint. That's just the odds.

Then if it turns out to be a pleasant surprise like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, well, it'll be a pleasant surprise!

The article's point about the silent protagonist seems dubious. Their unpopularity with some gamers hasn't stopped them from continuing to be used in major releases.

I heard lots of cool stuff about Bioshock and was hoping it would scratch the System Shock itch. But then noped the hell out as soon as I saw there was no inventory system and the "hacking" minigame was an insipid pipe dream clone.

Then I re-installed S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Tiamat666:
In a nutshell, AAA games are expensive to make, so in order to reach the largest audience possible, they aim for the lowest common denominator. This, and consoles, are the reason why games are getting simpler all the time.

I'd also like to argue that in recent years we've seen a trend of smaller developers moving away from the huge markets, bloated budgets and the risks that those bring. So instead of that I'm seeing more and more titles that seem to aim at smaller, more focused markets.

That's where games like Dark Souls come from, the new XCOM, Kickstarter successes like Pillars of Eternity, Cities: Skylines and maybe even The Witcher. And what we're seeing is that a lot of those sub-AAA games are doing quite good. They don't rake in the tens of millions but they turn nice profit percentages thanks to smaller budgets.

It seems like the smaller players saw 'Tomb Raider situations' pop up and seemed to want none of that. And y'know what? I like that.

i personally think some older games overcomplicated themselves needlessly to a certain extent. i tried deus ex and in terms of stealth it lacks a visibility indicator, something thief had a few years earlier which meant playing the game in stealth mode was frustrating at best since the only indication of visibilty was someone saying YOU ARE SPOTTED and then not saying when the enemy no longer sees you and since stealth takedowns require two stun gun shots and stun gun aammo is about as common as hetrocromea you reach the catch 22 of there being no actual playable stealth option. meanwhile killing is A) heavily penalized and B)not particularly viable either since you only get a handgun to start with

CyanCat47:
snip

The game actually does tell you when the enemy is aware of your presence. If you're sneaking around and an enemy NPC sees or hears you they'll bark out a line (ex: "Who's there?"). If you duck behind cover and wait, the enemy will bark out another line after a moment (ex: "It must have been my imagination"), give up searching for you, and return to their patrol route. If during that moment after the initial bark you don't move and remain visible, that's when they'll spot you and open fire. Don't just stand out in the open, even if it's shadowy. Find something to hide in or behind. Your goal is to actually break the line of sight. When sneaking up to an enemy, assuming you don't have the Run Silent augmentation, always crouch-walk. If you run, they'll hear you. Even if you walk, they'll hear you (though you can get much closer to them before they spot you than if you were running). Even if you botch stealth entirely and the enemy starts firing on you, if you manage to evade them and hide, they'll eventually give up pursuit and return to their patrol route (indicated by another bark like "We lost him.").

The taser doesn't require two shots. If you sneak up behind a target and aim for their neck/head, it'll knock them out with one. The hitbox is wonky, but once you get used to it you'll be able to one-hit pretty much anyone with the taser, assuming they aren't alerted. Alerted enemies generally take 2 or 3 shots. Some pretty specific enemies take even more than that, even if they're not alerted... and others still are immune. You'll recognize those ones when you encounter them. Its ammunition is actually relatively common in the early game too, if you explore (there are a bunch of them hidden throughout Battery Park and Hell's Kitchen after you leave Liberty Island). Its ammunition tends to be easier to overlook than other weapons because of the size/shape of the pickup. Many police, security guards, and UNATCO troopers carry it throughout the game as well.

Killing isn't heavily penalized. All it changes are a few lines of fairly inconsequential dialogue. Lethal vs. Non-Lethal doesn't have a whole lot of actual impact on the game's outcome or your available resources.

In addition to your handgun you can also choose to start with a GEP Gun, a Sniper Rifle, or a Crossbow. GEP Gun is probably your best bet, since you can find a Sniper Rifle and a Crossbow on Liberty Island. The Crossbow does add some additional stealth/non-lethal capability to your arsenal though with its Tranq Darts. There are multiple NSF troopers that carry Crossbows/Tranq Darts on Liberty Island, and there's a body on the ground outside of UNATCO HQ that has one in its inventory as well. It takes kind of a long time to actually knock out an enemy when your Pistols skill is low, though, so prepare to have alerted enemies chasing you for a few moments before falling unconscious. It's best to fire it, then duck behind cover and wait.

Stealth/Lethal, Stealth/Non-Lethal, and Guns-Blazing are all viable ways to play the game. Stealth in general is probably the most common way people play Deus Ex. It just takes some time to learn the mechanics and level up the appropriate skills. The game starts you off weak, but that gets better as the game progresses. Once your Pistol skill is at Master you'll be able to instantly, silently take down most enemies non-lethally from a pretty good distance away with a Crossbow Tranq Dart to the head, and those darts are so common you'll be at or near capacity most of the time even with heavy use assuming you hit your targets.

If System Shock 2 was released today (looking like a modern release and without the context of its release in '99) it would be panned.
I love it to bits, but games like this can only exist in a vacuum, and there is absolutely no way for modern developers to PERFECTLY (and it would have to be perfect) recapture both the exact game AND exact audience from way back when.

I say it's absolutely impossible.

But I'll happily settle with BioShock.
It ain't perfect, but *pssst* neither was SS2.

Biran53:
If System Shock 2 was released today (looking like a modern release and without the context of its release in '99) it would be panned.
I love it to bits, but games like this can only exist in a vacuum, and there is absolutely no way for modern developers to PERFECTLY (and it would have to be perfect) recapture both the exact game AND exact audience from way back when.

I say it's absolutely impossible.

But I'll happily settle with BioShock.
It ain't perfect, but *pssst* neither was SS2.

I disagree politely.

SS2, re-released with modern technology and maybe a few balancing tweaks (skill light weapons for easy mode) and polish here and there would still be the greatest game ever made.

Alas, it would be impossible to play with four buttons and two wobbly thumb sticks, so, yeah.

A lot of your opening argument and description of System Shock could equally be applied to Portal: silent protagonist, omnipresent evil computer trying to kill you, exploration, isolation - ok, there's no audio logs but there is Ratmans "cave art" (for those that ventured to find it) which is even more ambiguous.

Yes, you don't have resource management and it is quite liner, but it's sequel is a modern triple-a game using those same basic tenants. As an "older gamer" like yourself, yes, there's reticence at any reboot, but, there's always hope.

Yea, i'm not super optimistic. I have some hope, considering the development team, but i don't even know if the AAA space even has the capacity to make a game like system shock anymore. It seems like lately, only certain parts of the indie space have the capacity to do that, and 99% of the indie scene is just copycat stuff, but there exits a tiny pocket of them with the right amount of skill and imagination to actually innovate.

That's really a sad thought though, that production values have gotten so inflated that it's made any innovation, imagination, or risk-taking impossible. If it keeps up like this, we're in for another crash.

Hello there Shamus;

I'm a fan of your column here on the escapist but this was the first time I've been compelled to actually comment. Don't worry though - it's nothing bad!

I was interested to learn about the plans for a System Shock 3 from you and it definately raised an eyebrow. Firstly because it seemed unnecessary. I'd always considered Bioshock (and co) to be the unofficial System Shock 3's - they were, after all, borrowing so heavily from the SS blueprint that they were essentially the same series. I suppose for that reason I don't really feel like the System shock franchise is particularly old. But that's a separate discussion. As I read your points I found myself in agreement with them - modern remakes/remodels of old classics like Thief and Deus Ex have felt...flat - shiny, but flat. Too many compromises made - too many edges shaved off. The mask remaining, but the soul long departed. Maybe it really is impossible to capture the spirit of these older titles in today's market.

But (and I'll bet you knew a "but" was coming) as I neared the end of the article; two games popped into my head and I realised - it IS possible for the triple A games industry of 2016 to make something like the original System Shock:

Those two games were Alien Isolation and Elite: Dangerous.

Alien Isolation looked and sounded fantastic, had a huge budget and was a sprawling (if somewhat linear) release based on an old film and a tired franchise - so far, so AAA, right? AND YET it was very successful, critically acclaimed and managed to breathe new life into the FPS survival horror genre. No small accomplishment. Alien Isolation reminded us that we can have the high production values of a AAA game without compromising on the sense of pacing, powerlessnes and resource management traditionally associated with popular survival horror games such as Silent Hill 2 and...System shock. Alien Isolation made me feel like glossy rehashes of old ideas aren't necessarily a bad thing, here was proof that they could be done well.

Now for Elite: Dangerous. Like System Shock, Elite is a game of yesteryear. By your definition a series not just 'dormant' but 'dead'. When the first game came out (in nineteen-eighty- frickin'-four) there existed a completely different gaming generation, with radically different expectations, limitations and trends from today's market. Like the original System Shock, it was very popular in it's day - yet seemingly out of place in the modern world. A museum piece if you will. BUT thanks to kickstarter funds, it gathered enough money to remake itself as a slick, modern game. A triple A standard game which somehow managed to buck the trend - staying true to the soul of the original material and still appealing to newcomers and old fans alike. It even managed to get released on the console market, all without co-protagonists, slick cutscenes or cheesy one-liners.

So my point is this: System shock 3 doesn't have to be yet another worn out franchise sacrificed on the AAA altar. Thanks to new marketing models like crowdfunding, early access and kickstarter it's less risky to produce a 'AAA standard' game. The developers can tell what the consumer wants because the consumer can now vote for an idea they like with their wallet. If today's market can get a dead horse like the alien franchise to ooze out a game as great as Alien Isolation, and if a geriatric codger like Elite can be taught some fancy new tricks - maybe there's hope yet for System Shock 3.
But, having said all that, I can't blame you for sitting on the expectation fence on this one, after all - that altar is pretty gory by now...

CyanCat47:
i personally think some older games overcomplicated themselves needlessly to a certain extent. i tried deus ex and in terms of stealth it lacks a visibility indicator, something thief had a few years earlier which meant playing the game in stealth mode was frustrating at best since the only indication of visibilty was someone saying YOU ARE SPOTTED and then not saying when the enemy no longer sees you and since stealth takedowns require two stun gun shots and stun gun aammo is about as common as hetrocromea you reach the catch 22 of there being no actual playable stealth option. meanwhile killing is A) heavily penalized and B)not particularly viable either since you only get a handgun to start with

You really need to get better at Deus Ex:
1) Your enemies are your visibility indicator. That's pretty much enough.
2) Stealth takedowns require ONE prod charge if you aim for the head. Aside from that, one of the first weapons you find is a telescopic police baton that, if aimed for the head, can also result in one-hit stealth takedowns.
3) Killing is barely penalized. Only a couple of times somebody chews you out for it and even then other people praise your no-nonsense approach
4) At the start you can ask for a sniper rifle or a grenade launcher. Also, the handgun, if upgraded (and a couple of most important upgrades, such as laser sight can be found on the first level) is one of the best weapons in the game because it can be fired with great precision and the ammo is plentiful.

 

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