On Difficulty: A Few Hours With System Shock 2

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is offering an editorial of the first few hours of System Shock 2 coming from the perspective of a newcomer. Here's a snip that focuses on mechanics and specifically the writer's experience with the game's introduction to the core mechanics:
(Polito) sort of talks you through your array of on-screen furniture. You've got a Tetris inventory, a minimalist character sheet, an awkward area for selecting psionic abilities, another section containing details about health and Psi levels, along with a Research button, the map, and two slots for items about which I have yet no idea. Then there are the recordings of dialogue from Polito, crew members whose recordings you've found, and hints about what you're supposed to be doing, next to a button that says (MFD), and another tab that collates the key access you've so far gained. Splurge.

Most bizarrely, the instructions for most of these elements, and more importantly how they relate to the world around you, are found in Information points mounted to the walls in the baddie-infested corridors. Even reading how to flipping play the game is dangerous. Because all those elements are further complicated by the need to charge some of them up via occasional charge points, others require the use of injections, food, boosters, software, and many other never-explained bits and pieces.

Despite appearances, I'm not an idiot. I fathomed pretty much all of it as I needed to. But I became aware that the process of fathoming as I go along is not one I miss. I think a game released today that was so muddled, so jumblingly complicated, would be criticised for it. But I'm certain there are Shock 2 fans currently boiling blood out of their eyeballs in rage at the paragraphs above. And I sympathise I don't doubt that games are far too over-simplified in terms of their first impressions these days. While I don't wander into the scary world of RTS gaming, where I suspect such complexity likely still resides, certainly in the world of the FPS you're lucky if you need to know more than three buttons and one menu.

But while I would love to see more intricate, complex systems returning to games, I am going to be heretical enough to say I wouldn't want it to be delivered as opaquely as appears in Shock 2. Because for me, this process of being bemused by the game's mechanics got in the way of enjoyment, and that's where I think a line is crossed. Because System Shock 2 is really enjoyable.