System Shock 2: Silence is Golden


Perhaps one of the most highly acclaimed shooters today, Bioshock, had its roots in a game largely forgotten when first released.  The spiritual predecessor to Bioshock, System Shock, is a series worthy of recognition despite selling less than 60 thousand copies in the first year of its release.   It flew in the faces of conventional shooters of the time.  System Shock was a game that required considerable thought. The game contained elements of a role playing game by giving the player options as to how they would go about the game:  shooting, using psychic powers, or using engineering.  In many ways System Shock 2 was quite similar to Bioshock.  The player has the perceived freedom to choose, but we all know how that song and dance goes.

The shocking moment of the series comes when it turns out the controller of the player’s actions is the villain from the previous game.  This is the terrifying artificial intelligence known as SHODAN.  SHODAN has controlled every action the protagonist had performed quite like Atlas does to Jack in Bioshock.  SHODAN has been using the player to fight against a common enemy that threatens humanity, so it’s not like the protagonist should feel terrible for their actions.  Since the protagonist seems so similar to Jack, why did I include him on my list of silent protagonists?  Well, like Jack, this protagonist only gets one line, but rather than wasting it at the beginning, he saves it for the end.

After defeating the mutated army that had taken control of the ship, the protagonist goes to face off against SHODAN to stop her plans of complete control over humanity.  Given that SHODAN was defeated in a manner similar to this moment in the first game, and it took her considerable time to regain her strength, it is fitting that she begins to bargain with the protagonist.  She offers to give him unfathomable power for his role in her ascendance.  The protagonist, breaks the convention of being a silent protagonist with a single word.


He refuses SHODAN’s offer and shoots her in the face.  Aside from the comic relief of an otherwise tense scene, the protagonist reclaims his own free will.  Even after Jack from Bioshock was released from the curse of being controlled by Atlas, he takes a remarkably secondary role throughout the rest of the story despite being the controlled character.  When Bioshock ends, Jack either gives his life to raise the little orphan girls of the city or follows in the actions of Atlas.  The protagonist of System Shock 2 in contrast had no one to serve, and no motive other than to free himself from SHODAN.  He kills SHODAN (kinda but not really) and in freeing himself from her control, also frees himself from the player’s control.  It makes him perhaps one of the most defiant characters ever crafted, having saved his words for just the right moment.  His one free decision is both admirable and fantastic.  I may be reaching too far in saying this, but I believe the lack of a sequel to System Shock 2 suggests that all future struggles with SHODAN are left to the characters to deal with themselves without outside control.




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