Routine… after the break…


To paraphrase the great philosopher Yogi Berra (he was also, supposedly, a baseball player at one point), “System Shock 2 was such a great game that no one played it.”

“System Shock 2” is truly an unsung classic computer game that, quite honestly, only grows with time. Built on top of the Dark Engine (the same game engine that powered the Thief 1 & 2 games), SS2 demonstrated that the Dark Engine could do more then just a stealth game… But just barely. Honestly, the limitations of the Dark Engine supposedly made for some tricky game design decisions. For instance, NPCs (Non-Player Characters) had to be eliminated because the engine supposedly could not handle it. First-person combat also came off as a bit choppy, which was why SS2 seldom had more then a few enemies (or, for that matter, any combination of sentient beings other then you) on the screen at any given time.

What SS2 lacked in technical power, though, it more than made up in atmosphere and suspense. The reveal twist of an enemy pretending to assist the hero was quite novel at the time. The technically necessary design of exploring an abandoned spaceship framed the entire story with a certain amount of dread – Listening to audio messages of people destined for unfortunate fates made the players sympathetic to those characters. SS2 also salted some sly humor amongst the dread – A movie theater vending machine with absurd prices that couldn’t be hacked and a “red light” district, just to name two examples.

For a game consistently celebrated, though, no official sequel has yet to be made. The situation is not like the Half-Life series, where Valve is perfectly capable of creating (and may very well be) a sequel to Half Life 2 but has simply let the franchise slip into a comatose state (yes, “comatose state” is not hyperbole – The year 2004 is now quite a bit in the past) as a result of the runaway hit that the Steam DRM mechanism has become. Instead, SS2 has been forced to rely upon spiritual successors and, unfortunately, those spiritual successors are more “spiritual” then “successor.”

“Bioshock” was initially intended to be a “System Shock 3” in theme until a change of heart and the growing influence of console gameplay mechanics changed it. Despite it’s financial success, “Bioshock” watered down SS2’s RPG mechanics until it was just a stub of it’s former self. In the end, Bioshock became nothing more then a first-person shooter with a few light RPG elements and nothing more. “Bioshock 2” was a quick cashing-in sequel and “Bioshock Infinite” took the genre from improbably undersea art-deco kingdom to improbable lighter-then-air industrial city.

“Dead Space” was also initially intended to be a SS3-inspired game. Again, the differences in console gameplay and hardware limitations conspired to alter the SS2 gameplay considerably. Dead Space concentrated on being a third-person survival horror game in space. While retaining the theme of SS2 (abandoned spaceship) and a few of it’s mechanics, it again eschewed the heavier RPG elements of SS2 for more action-friendly game play. “Dead Space” was also a successful franchise.

Although an unofficial patch for System Shock 2 has (thankfully) dragged the aging game into the 21st century, readily available source code has yet to be made publicly available to address ultimate compatibility to newer operating systems and address other engine concerns. Rumors of possible development of a definitive official sequel has been floated around for years with no tangible results.

“Routine” might put an end for the lust to a bona fide spiritual successor for System Shock 2 to rest, once and for all.

“Routine,” a game presently being developed by Lunar Software, appears to be the sequel to System Shock 2 that SS2 fans have been wanting for quite some time. Although only a brief alpha gameplay trailer has emerged, what has been seen looks promising. The premise and theme are similar to SS2: A lone person walks amongst a ruined space station, attempting to both survive and unravel the mystery of that station’s downfall. Appearances suggest non-linear gameplay, saving and loading games (as opposed to “checkpoints”) & plot progression through the reading of various in-game texts (such as E-Mail).

Here’s hoping that “Routine” does for the System Shock series what “The Dark Mod” did for the “Thief” series – Give the fans exactly what they want as opposed to what publishers think that they can get away with and still be honest with the franchise. Yes, I know all about “Thief 4” and, no, I’m not interested – I’ve got The Dark Mod and, personally, between that and the NewDark-ized Thief 1 & 2 games, I’ve got all the Thief-ness that I could possibly handle come June 1, 2014.


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