If you were playing FPS games ten years ago, chances are you'll remember System Shock 2. It's still considered one of the best horror/survival FPS games ever written, with an excellent blend of pacing, story structure, and plot twists. You awake from cryonic stasis aboard the dying starship Von Braun. You're tasked with bringing the ship's systems back online -- which means surviving the mutated crew members still roaming the halls and shutting down the insane AI that runs the ship, Xerxes.
Like Deus Ex, this is a game that's absolutely worth playing if you never picked it up, but for most of the last decade, it's been impossible to legally purchase. Good Old Games has finally secured the rights to sell the game digitally, after months of negotiation.
This is a cautionary tale for how lengthy copyright terms and shifting business fortunes make it difficult to maintain consumer access to a product, even when everyone involved is willing to come to terms.
According to Rock Paper Shotgun, the problem began when Looking Glass Studios folded. Under the terms of its agreement with EA, LGS kept the rights to the System Shock 2 intellectual property, but EA retained the System Shock trademark. When LGS closed, its IP rights passed to Meadowbrook Insurance Group. Sorting distribution out took months, but the game is now available from GOG and Steam -- with some updated features.
According to Night Dive Studios, the team that did the modern port, a number of stability-enhancing mods were incorporated to ensure that System Shock 2 would run smoothly on modern PCs. Bugs that had existed in the official version were quashed and the new game remains completely moddable. If you have graphics mods you like to run, they'll still work perfectly with the updated flavor.
The GOG version of the game will come with concept art, a map of the Von Braun, and an interview with Kevin Levine, the series creator.
It's great to see SS2 back up for sale. Yes, it was always available for pirating, but this is a game that the creators' deserve to be paid for. It's listed as $9.99 on GOG, which includes the manual, wallpaper, interview, game sound track, and the concept art mentioned above.
Hopefully the trouble of actually making this release happen won't be lost on the industry at large. For years, if you wanted to play System Shock 2, the only option has been to pirate it or buy a used copy off Ebay. Given that System Shock 2 didn't sell all that well, and that CDs inevitably degrade over time, the chances of securing a functional used copy long-term weren't great.
There needs to be a system for ensuring that great titles aren't just lost to age and corporate bureaucracy. Maybe this re-release will help make that happen.