ss2monkey Post image courtesy of Gareth Hinds’ website of concept art, which includes some stunning images created for System Shock 2.

I forgot to mention the monkeys. Yes, this sci-fi shooter set on an infested spaceship has monkeys. Back in the day, games often came up with lampshades for why you’d keep meeting the same enemy units over and over. In the less-than-serious shooter Redneck Rampage, it’s established that you’re facing off against alien abductees from your neck of the woods who have been cloned as footsoldiers. System Shock 2 is no exception. In this case, the monkeys are lab experiments involving the alien(?) stuff the ship apparently found on a planet they stopped off to investigate. I believe there was word that the monkeys were also clones, but in any case, there are a ton of the little jerks. True, they no longer have the tops of their skulls, so I’m sure that can make itches a problem, but to make up for it, they’ve got some of the same psi powers you could get, namely your cryo-zap-balls or whatever it is you can shoot from your Ood-ball (if you have the psi points). Anyway… what was my mission, again?

Right, restoring power. In this case, restoring it to an elevator. By the by, a lot of modern games (especially RPGs) are criticized for being nothing but strings of fetch quests so you can open a door. If any of those guys are gushing over SS2, I’d love to hear their rationale. Not that it’s bad, mind, since Doom and other early FPSs had a similar mechanic: Mow down dudes until you find the one with the blue keycard, then mow down the dudes behind the blue door to find the red keycard, etc. The fun comes in how well the game disguises this railroading along with how interesting the journey to getting your next key is. As I recall, my mission is to first clear out the radiation from the equivalent of Jeffries Tubes, then restart the two engine nacelles, which will re-power the main turbolift elevator, opening up access to all decks of the ship.

But there’s radiation in them thar tubes, which are actually corridors, which are also patrolled by worm-zombie dudes armed with lead pipes and shotguns. I’m still restricted to my pistol, my wrench, and my psi-cryo-balls. By the way, firearms have another problem. In this game, they were made by the lowest bidder’s janitorial staff while the gunsmiths were off on a three-day weekend. Without upping various skill points/powers, guns jam, degrade, or otherwise fall apart in short order, making the concept of running in with guns blazing an act of desperation rather than a viable strategy. Later on, when I put a point into energy weapons and picked up a laser, it seemed to work okay and offer another ranged attack that used another variety of ammo. Somehow, it would jam as well, presumably on a poorly-milled photon. Oh, and the other thing this game doesn’t do that later ones will: You don’t automatically reload when you pull the trigger on an empty chamber. This game is a stern DM, and you have to hit the reload button if you want more ammo in your boomstick. One definition of suicide is trying to swap ammo in combat, by the by.

Back to the radiation. Running helps diminish the effects, but your best bets are environmental suits (which aren’t great as combat armor) and/or anti-radiation drugs. There’s a psi power to shield you, but it’s of pretty limited use for the points you have to spend to get it, in my opinion. From what I can tell, you get irradiated, you see a little thing on your HUD letting you know it’s happened, and you have a short period of time to dose yourself with Rad-Away before you take damage. Anyway, after much irradiation and zombie-killing, you eventually come to Engineering. This is a place where the game both shines and kind of dulls if you hate linear quests.

In Engineering, you have to find the controls to flush the radiation. First, you find an audio log that tells you a circuit board in a storage room is needed to get this flushing system working. Once you’ve found that, you have to fight your way to the command center (the bridge, I figure) and insert the circuit board. With the rads gone, you then have to find various keycards in some creepy cargo bays, find the nacelle rooms, and flip on some computer terminals, and presto, you earn the nickname Scotty. And that elevator comes online, which was the purpose of this exercise.

Now, in the middle of all of this is something that games would later do away with (except for Hideo Kajima and a few others), which is the unskippable cutscene. It’s cool the first few times you see it, but when you’ve gotten killed once or twice and had to re-watch it because you forgot to save after it triggers, it can be a little tedious. Still, it’s part of a pretty well-thought-out story that makes the setup on the U.S.S. Von Braun so interesting, and it was 1999 when our civilization wasn’t as advanced as today.

So now I’m heading for Deck 4, I hope, where my questgiver is radioing me from, telling me how surprised they are that I’ve done so well thus far. Other than her and dead crewmembers, one might wonder why there are no female enemies in this game. I’m about to find out that there are…