PC Gamer Roundtable on Immersive Sims


I hope I am not shooting myself in the foot by replying more than once here, but yet again I’ve had some brainstorms about combat-focus. I think no game has nailed “realism” in combat yet - they either railroad it into “shooting,” or it becomes a brawler or fighting game. The real world has realistic approaches to combat, where close quarters lead to groundfighting, firearms only become useful to at a certain range, and one is able to realistically navigate environments to position sniper’s nests and choke-points on a map. I feel few games give us a full picture of all the dynamics of combat, from the gung fu to the gun-riffic. What we need is more options. I feel guns are a terrifically flat option in the face of all the other revolutionary elements System Shock introduced into the mix. In other words, it kinda went from “emergent sim” to “emergent sim with FPS genre conventions.” I am hoping this sequel will somehow avoid this, not by taking away the guns (though I still think multiple approaches in select areas would be neat), but by somehow introducing new elements into the mix. If I feel combat is limited to shooting, it turns all the other elements into a shooting gallery, despite all the neat conventions System Shock created by introducing “immersive sim” into the mix.

Here are some thing I’d like to see ideally:

  1. Wall-running and landscape maneuverability from UA - If I see it, I can reach it. Fluidity of movement is key. I want to be able to wall-run up surfaces and jump from wall-to-wall in narrow corridors when I have sufficient skill.
  2. “Unique” ranged & melee weapons - No generic bullets. Also, guns in space ships don’t make much sense. You could puncture the hull. Ideally, I’d like to see guns as a sort of multi-tool, used for problem solving, among other purposes.
  3. First-person platforming. Half-life put this to good effect. It varies up mechanics, and create layers and nuances to the complexities you are already solving. If we’re talking about fluid navigation (AKA parkour) I want to be able to put it to good use. Let’s say I see a vent up in the wall, and I want to avoid the next room of enemies entirely, I should be able to jump/double-jump up to that vent, or parkour my way through appropriate obstacles to reach it. then crawl through and land on the other side of the room.
  4. Direct navigation of physics - for puzzle/problem solving. It varies up the keycard-finding mechanic by introducing new problem-types. If I can move valves by hand, rather than pressing an “e” key to automatically perform the function, you are on the right track.
  5. Enhanced melee - I think the melee combat system could be expanded through numerous passive perks, such as unlockable chain-combos. I want the wrench to see more love.
  6. Enemies with special attacks - Got kinda bored of the hybrids. More enemy types, with more special attacks–especially those feeding into the cyberpunk aesthetic–would be more than a touch welcome.

Basically, combat needs to address ground-fighting and other circumstances, and vary it up a notch! If we’re talking fully immersive sim, we have two hands, two arms, two legs, and two feet - and multiple uses of all of the above. I’m not saying turn it into street-fighter, but at least a few different uses of the wrench, and a little more diverse melee - maybe even giving the wrench its own skill tree - would diversify combat from its vanilla shooter roots, and give it a more robust feel. That, along with giving enemies special attacks, would go a long way toward reinventing combat in the age of the immersive sim. I wouldn’t even mind if we could find and use make-shift weapons along the way - just using objects in the environment and weighted physics as a weapon in-and-of itself.


What should the pacing of a System Shock game feel like?

One of the concerns I have with what NightDive are doing to the original System Shock is that they’re talking about changing level geometry (as they put it, to use “modern level design principles”). What I’m hoping that doesn’t mean is that this change is being made so that the pace of play in their reboot makes it feel more like a run-and-gun DOOM game.

Pacing in System Shock, as I recall it (and I replayed it again a couple of months ago), was – with a very few exceptions – quite deliberate. Levels were designed with a lot of nooks and crannies and vertical hidey-holes, and if instead of walking slowly and leaning carefully around corners you tried to just stomp through a level, you’d get nailed by a cyborg assassin or a security bot.

The reason I mention this is because pacing should affect character ability verbs. In a run-and-gun game, sure, I’d like to be able to parkour my way over an opponent’s head in real time. But in a very deliberately paced game of cautious exploration, as I think the original System Shock was, that kind of gun-fu stuff ought to get you killed… so why implement it?

I’m not even convinced that melee is a good idea. It was definitely a reasonable part of System Shock 2, and for that reason might have to be included in System Shock 3. But if you enable melee, then you sort of have to also include an ability system (as SS2 did with its perks) that allows the player to give the character a tank-like build. I don’t know that that would be wrong, exactly, for a System Shock 3. It wouldn’t necessarily break an effort to encourage careful movement. But the almost pure sniping, “glass cannon” approach of SS1 definitely supported a pacing that promoted slow and thoughtful exploration of each level.

For me, then, before I suggest combat ideas, I’d like to know what kind of pacing the SS3 designers want it to have. Verbs and gear and challenges and rewards should flow from that (along with the story/setting).


Flatfingers, I assume the pacing of SS2 was deliberately slow to push the horror aesthetic. It seems to me the gated, but non-linear, nature of System Shock’s level design should support multiple playstyles - including those of parkour. Of course, we aren’t talking about bunnyhopping all over from the beginning - same as you wouldn’t parkour the Underworld - you’ve to earn and unlock those skill points if you want them.

But I digress. Everything is pure speculation right now, and without grounded info, it’s easy to brainstorm a ton of ideas with no basis in the upcoming SS3s mechanics. Then again, the best way to have a good idea is to have tons of ideas. I enjoy the back-and-forth of what a “true” System Shock sequel should entail.


Almost pure sniping? I remember the rapier getting quite a bit of mileage in my playthroughs.


Sure, I have no idea what the pacing of SS3 will be like, and only an opinion as to what it “should” be like. The point really was just that the intended pacing of the game – in general, Slow or Fast – should guide what weapons are offered and how they work. So I raised the question: what should the pacing of SS3 be?

As to the laser rapier, I definitely used it a lot more in SS2 than in the original. In SS, the only time I used it was against the stinkin’ invisible aliens on the Maintenance level, and that only until I got one of the flechette guns. Other than that – and I’m speaking of System Shock here – the pistols, the Mark III, and the flechette guns were by far the most useful weapons. The laser rapier exposed the weak hacker to incoming fire; energy weapons were weak against some targets and needed to be recharged frequently; the railgun did surprisingly little damage; the magpulse was good against bots but there wasn’t much ammo for it until halfway through; and the plasma rifle was slow, weird to aim, dangerous in tight quarters, and needed recharging. (Of the riot gun we will not speak.)

The minipistol, the Magnum, and the Mark III, however, had fast-moving ammo that was relatively easy to find, and chambered both hollow-point (for biological targets) and slug (for bots) rounds. This made them perfect for sniping, which minimized the chance of taking potentially fatal damage. And if you carried two of these, you could use the accumulated ammo for the weaker gun to take out security cameras.

Of course my experience is just anecdotal. But I would not be surprised to learn that most other players of System Shock also made these same calculations, and as a result usually wound up playing SS in a similar cautious, explore-everything-by-peeking-around-corners-first way, producing a much slower-paced game than an excitement-oriented pure FPS game.

And I wonder if that’s what they’ll expect from SS3.

Or is it being targeted for players who favor excitement over exploration, in which case its pacing will be faster, with weapons to support that pacing?


Pacing in Shock… It needs to fit the setting/atmosphere of the game, but we don’t know yet in what direction SS3 will be going.

But about what dictated the pacing in Shock games, or SS1 at least. SS1 does allow for many playstyles. Most of this depends on weapon “creativity”, and average Time To Kill. Weapons in SS1 were not creative and very straightforward, just like enemies, but(!) the game’s complex damage and penetration mechanics made them - despite being mostly 1-ups from each other - to be a lot more situational than what people think, therefore affecting the “creativity” and Time To Kill aspect. The most common ammo for the flechette (hornet) was great against mutants, but sucked against cyborgs. their secondary ammo (splinter) however had just enough penetration, despite what the name suggests, to be surpisingly effective against even the most powerful cyborgs in the game.

One of the few weapons that could be regarded as “creative” in the game, the railgun was in my eyes a completely useless weapon for a long time, until I realised it’s the only rifle that has splash damage. So I used it to kill dangerous enemies behind corners or in sneaky positions. That made my life on level 8 soooooo much easier.

There is a lot what can decide the pacing of a game. But despite SS1 being a very straight forward game regarding gunplay, excelled in other factors which definitely made it less DOOM-like. That leaves me to wonder what will dictate the pacing in SS1, and the SS1 Remake.


I assume if you build a stealthy, hacker, melee character you could explore a level slowly and deliberately. I assume System Shock will have the flexibility to support multiple approaches, in and out of combat.


Hmm… I thought the rapier sucked in SS2, or at least it was significantly less powerful compared to SS1.

Anyway, I played SS1 quite a bit like Doom and I didn’t feel like I did anything particularly wrong there. The level design certainly supports it out of the box, no tweaks required. What did slow me down, though, was the lack of mouselook. I think that’s definitely a bigger culprit for the more deliberate pacing.


Interesting! I never tried that because, after using the railgun to shoot things point-blank in the face without slowing them down, I just concluded that it had a considerably lower DPS compared to other weapons. I might need to test this on my next play-through. :smiley:

It wasn’t as powerful as the crystal shard, but it packed enough of a wallop compared to the wrench to be worth keeping when trying to conserve expendable ammo. It’s possible that I had enough cybermodules invested in Strength (for both melee combat and inventory slots) that damage from the rapier felt OK to me.

No value judgment regarding your playstyle was implied. Maybe I was playing it wrong versus what its designers intended.

I’d be interested in hearing how others played it – shooter-style? or cautiously? – and whether that felt like how SS1 “wanted” to be played.

This is a great point.

I still think the level geometry, with its many tight corners, contributed significantly to discouraging most players from run-and-gun. But you’re very correct to point out that the original controls also slowed down movement. I remember learning to keep my fingers hovered over the R/F/V keys, but having position translation and combat together on the mouse – with no true mouselook – meant I couldn’t really move fast even if I’d wanted to.

I played the “patched” System Shock and GOG’s official version with mouselook added. I do think I moved faster versus the original game, but I can’t honestly figure out whether that was due to WASD+mouselook or because I’ve played SS1 so many times that I know where everything is…


I think that if Nightdive wanted to slow down the gameplay, their best bet would be to tweak the combat itself. For example, make weapons charge between shots or something like that. Also, pacing would presumably change on harder difficulty levels as well with tougher and/or more numerous enemies.


I played slow and steady, mostly melee and non-combative skills geared toward exploration. And the rapier did feel underpowered, IMO. I still feel with enough vertical scale and first-person platforming, parkour-type fluid movement could play a role in exploration. I don’t see System Shock as necessarily a bob and weave experience, but there’s a lot it could incorporate as “optional approaches” that would vary combative and non-combative approaches up equally without breaking the integrity of the genre.