Hello. I am here to tell you a story. The other day, I was playing System Shock 2 (for maybe the third time – and I hope to play it many more), and I was running around with pockets chock-full of crap.
“I don’t really need this broken shotgun,” I told myself at last, finally having grown sick and tired of all the clutter. “I don’t really need this anti-toxin syringe, these speed-boosting syringes, or — seeing as I can’t use them — these grenades.” I didn’t have the requisite skills to use the grenade launcher, which I had ditched some distance back.
I carried on, a small pile of items left piled on the ground. This deck of the ship was infuriatingly labyrinthine despite the fact I had an easy-to-access map, but I didn’t worry about ever needing to find my stash again.
Warning: Spoilers incoming.
My primary goal on this third deck of the ship was nearly finished: insert a flask of ALIEN-KILL juice into each of the four environmental regulator things handily located at four distant corners of the ship, all in their own subsections. Only one such flask, and only one such environmental regulator thing, remained.
Up until now, I don’t think I’d died more than a few times all game — and I’d been playing for, I’d say, about 6-7 hours total. However, dying is a fairly painless process: You pay a minor fee of about 10 Nanites (the ‘currency’ of the game) to respawn.
Oh. Hold up.
To put things into perspective, health-restorative syringes cost 25-50 Nanites to restore only about 20%-30% of your health (it varies depending on how much health you have). Hacking a simple crate costs 5 Nanites per attempt. Ten of these buggers isn’t a high asking price.
Back to the story: ‘Cyborg Midwives’, human women mutated and roboticized horribly (they also shoot lasers) into protectors of alien eggs, are a little startling. I got into a tussle with as I neared the last MacGuffin of the deck, and she died.
That’s when I was attacked by a tiny little fast-moving spider. It bit me, and I shot it, and it bit me again, and I hacked it to bits with my Laser Rapier. I almost advanced heedlessly until I realized it had poisoned me. Toxins. Fuck.
I healed myself. I did it again. There’s a bar in the bottom-left that tells you how toxined up you are — it’s just like the one that tells you how much radiation is infecting your system, the one that drops steadily.
Toxins, apparently, do not drop steadily. My health was, though.
It took a few seconds for that to sink in: The ‘poison’, to put it in more globally game-understandable terms, was not going away; I recalled the anti-toxin syringe I had discarded so long ago. It lay on the same deck, but could I find it?
I felt desperation. I plugged myself with healing drugs (as well as one of my super-rare full-heal ‘auto-diagnosing medical kit’ which I NEVER use, in the hopes it would anti-toxin me; it didn’t) to keep myself alive (recall that revival is dirt cheap — yet I’m sure I used at least four of them); my health was dropping too fast thanks to the double-dose of toxins that damn spider had stuck me with. I ran through familiar hallways, shotgun in hand, as I moved carelessly — I fought any enemy I encountered with less caution than I ever have playing this game.
I never found the anti-toxin. Instead I found a Valu-Rep (a vending machine) at the entrance to this subsection of the deck; I paid too many Nanites for two syringes of anti-toxin (I didn’t even take the time to hack it to make everything cheaper). My life, however, was saved. I breathed easy after two long minutes of sheer panic.
There’s no immersion in great graphics, in good story, or in flawlessly emotion-laden voice acting paired with wonderful writing.
I don’t speak for everyone, and I might not speak for you, but I’ve never felt so immersed in a game as I did right then.
My actions were my own: while the goals a game has are fine, the goals you give yourself are better. Then there are the sudden, startling goals that demand you recall anything you can to save yourself. I could have easily given up and let those toxins save my life, but I didn’t.
There was no other option. I had to save myself, because the game made no exceptions for my mistakes.