System Shock 2: Surviving the OSA – Part 1

There are plenty of games in the PC Gaming Hall of Fame, but very few are as critically acclaimed as System Shock 2, the player-destroying product of a collaboration between Irrational Games and Looking Glass Studios. As a young gamer, back in 1999, it flew totally under my radar but, thankfully, I picked it up a few weeks after its release. There are very few titles that I can remember actually purchasing, but on this particular trip into town with my parents, I found a lonely looking box sitting on top of countless Friends boxsets in my local HMV. I had no idea what it was, but the box looked cool (they came in giant cardboard boxes back then, kids), and the review scores made it sound pretty good, so I purchased it.

The thirteen year old me probably had no idea what he’d just done, but he had set into motion a chain of events that would lead to this very article, some fifteen years later. With the re-release of System Shock 2, I dusted off my still-boxed copy and reinstalled it, updating the graphics as I went, ready to give it another playthrough. But what would I do? For the uninformed, System Shock 2 allows you to tailor your experience to a degree which was years ahead of its time, and certainly not something first-person shooters had ever done, until that point. Over the last fifteen years I’d played through, doing both the Marine and then the Navy experience paths, and just – and I really mean only just – surviving through to the end. This is a tough title, regardless of career path and difficulty setting, and despite playing it on the standard setting on both occasions, I died countless times and generally got my face smashed in by various forms of opposition.

I initially thought that, with a large amount of gaming experience and an increased skillset, I could probably tackle the game on hard (impossible can fuck off) and give the Navy or Marine paths a bash again. It’s the same story, but your skills and abilities change dramatically, forcing a different style of play. Then the voices started. You know the ones I’m talking about: the sort that whisper dark thoughts and trick you into horrid life choices, like purchasing a BMW or deciding it’s socially acceptable to talk in the cinema. This particular brand of evil had sent three innocent letters dancing into my mind: ‘O.S.A’

OSA was the third option when selecting a career, focusing your training in the field of Psionics, and it was – for all intents and purposes – a rock hard son of a bitch. Say what you want about the Marines and the Navy, but this was where the real challenge lay. With that stray thought of achieving greatness as some sort of Psionic God wormed its way into my frontal lobe, this diary was born – because if I can guarantee anything, this will generate plenty of comedy at my expense. It is going to be difficult to keep it spoiler-free from this point forward, so consider yourself warned that I may spoil elements of this fourteen year-old title.

When you start playing System Shock 2, you can choose to either go through the tutorial or skip it and go straight for the career choices. Naturally, being the pro gamer that I am, I decided that the tutorial could go fuck itself, and just ran down the OSA corridor. From there, you’re given options as to where you want to spend your ‘years’ of training, which essentially involves walking through different doors and accepting various boosts to your stats. System Shock 2 has an absolute plethora of stats to keep track of, so this initial phase can be quite important. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember really what affected what – things like strength and agility aside – I was at a loss for what Cybernetic-Affinity was going to help me with. Probably should have done that tutorial.

Nevertheless, I’d got to make a choice, and so my first year was spent aboard the TSO Shao Ling in a sensory deprivation tank, becoming at one with… something, I dunno, the universe? Having a really long sleep somehow granted me Tier 2 Neural Capacity, Projected Cryokinesis and Psychogenic Cyber-Affinity. I wasn’t going to question it; this was the first step along the path of becoming an invincible Psionics God who can make women take their clothes off with the power of thought. Probably.

Year Two proved to be more of a tricky decision; the choices that lay before me would increase my endurance, research ability or psionic ability. I figured that while research and psionic ability would both be useful, having a greater amount of health is not to be scoffed at and, thus, promptly spent Year Two at the Io Facility, out-performing marines with a mix of physical and mental strength.

Year Three was the easiest choice of them all, thanks to some random memory recall, which reminded me that some of these choices are actually quite useless. Remote Electron Tampering allows alarms to time out quicker, but seeing as you can switch cameras off or destroy them without penalty there isn’t much sense in getting that. Neuro-reflex Dampening essentially lowers the recoil when using heavier weapons, but seeing as I wasn’t planning to pick up a rocket launcher it is pretty pointless. That left me spending my third year with the Anti-Terrorism Team, learning Psychogenic Agility; essentially allowing me to run faster, jump further and reduce the amount of damage I would take when falling. Yes, that’s right – I just became Neo.

So, onto the game proper, and we found ourselves flung out of a cryostasis unit, having being woken up by Dr Janice Polito. She advised us that we were assigned as security detail aboard the UNN Rickenbacker as she escorts the UNN Von Braun, an experimental faster-than-light ship on her maiden voyage. Not long after this, a distress signal was received from the planet Tau Ceti V, and a rescue team was dispatched to assist. Unfortunately, all was not well on Tau Ceti V, and by not well, I mean, really really bad. Before long, the rescue team discovered some strange eggs, became infected with the parasitic creatures that resided within them, and integrated themselves back aboard the ship, slowly infecting the rest of the crew.

Naturally, everything got totally fucked from there and, according to Polito, I volunteered to be cybernetically enhanced to help combat the threat, although owing to a computer malfunction, I ended up with amnesia. This all sounds incredibly suspect, mainly because my character has an enhanced IQ level; I doubt I’d agree to any sort of surgery, nor have the capacity to ‘forget’ anything. I’d grill the pushy bitch a little, but this was made in 1999 and therefore my protagonist is a silent puppet, and – oh, would you look at that – this section of the ship is de-pressurising. Right, time to get a wiggle on. Make sure to check back for Part Two, where the initial issues with the OSA are explained, I flee in terror from just about everything I come across, and I start to question just how I’m going to get out off the first deck, let alone finish this thing.

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