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The Haunting - System Shock 2
(contains some spoilers) There's a reason System Shock 2 is often referred to as one of the scariest PC games ever created. It's a mix, actually: the Hitchcockian silence, the little bloody trails, the impending sense of doom created by reading and listening to journals written by people who are now very dead thanks to a computer that's gone slightly mad. Did I mention that you're all alone on a space station and every thing has gone very wrong!? Oh crap, look! A mutated creature coming to kill you!
The realization that you had to go mano a mano with SHODAN, a computer so advanced and long-lived that you were just an insect compared to it, was as horrifying anything you ran across. For the final showdown, the developers fashioned a place in cyberspace that represented the creative imagination of SHODAN. Where gamers went in expecting a slug-out battle royal they found only the haunting reminders of the first System Shock in a retro-themed level. For gamers that didn't know that the events of the game had happened before, it was akin to Neo realizing that he wasn't the first One. In the final terrible moments, you traverse Janice Polito's office, discovering what really happened to the Gateway Station and SHODAN after the events of the first game. Then you realize that the haunting secret of System Shock 2 isn't zombies or mutants it's . . . oh, my . . .
So loved is the series that it's been given a free graphical overhaul by fan Etienne Aubert. For more details, hit the System Shock Rebirth page.
The First Person Sneaker - Thief 2
Thief changed what gamers expected from first-person shooters. Instead of engaging in another run-and-gun key hunt, gamers played as a thief, Garret. Set in an almost steam-punk medieval time period, the game started off the player armed only with a trusty bow and arrow. The only friend to be found was a worn sword. From these simple weapons Looking Glass built one of the first stealth games. There was a lot of trial and error in areas where you had to think your way past a foe. Breaking and entering required a tad more finesse than gamers were used to utilizing. Guards had to be avoided when possible, knocked out and hidden when not. Even at its release, Thief was recognized as a damn right revolutionary game, and although sales weren't through the roof, the successes of the younger Lara Croft encouraged Eidos to send Looking Glass out to bat one more time.
For the sequel, the programmers stretched the Dark Engine's rendering technology to the limits. They created an entire city open for the traversing. The core gameplay also took a shot in the arm. Instead of just breaking and entering for the crime of theft, the storyline allowed for more diverse game play experiences: a kidnapping, a bank robbery, and a murder to be solved. And though some balked at the game's use of unrealistic tools like Snowfall, invisibility potions, and the moss arrow, others found them stylishly cool. A small but devoted core of fans sprouted up around the game and continues to wait with bated breath for the upcoming Thief III.
The Good Storm - Deus Ex
This is an unusual choice for this retrospective, since it is in fact a post-Looking Glass game, but it represents the evolution of the company's trademark gameplay and finesse. The good name of Looking Glass was gone, replaced with the tarnished name of Ion Storm, and many of the old developers had gone on to other places. Many fans were convinced Deus Ex was a pipe dream that would never amount to much, but there seems to be something about Looking Glass employees.
What Ion Storm created was a game that melded the science-fiction intensity of System Shock with the "sneak and think, don't shoot" dynamic of Thief II. However, Deus Ex allowed for far more freedom than even the Thief series was able to offer. So much so that the developers were surprised at some of the maneuvers that gamers came up with. For example, they never foresaw gamers using wall mines as a method to traverse over walls meant to be adventured around. But with freedom comes innovation.
Just as Thief was one of the first stealth games, Deus Ex was one of the first games to meld traditional role-playing mechanics with first-person shooters. Throughout the game, players upgraded their character with nanotechnology that allowed players to decide how they wanted to solve the problems. If you wanted to shoot the terrorists you could, but if you had the right upgrade you could hack the computer and order the gun-toting guard bots to shoot their former masters. Even the final outcome of the storyline was not beyond the influence of the player.
Today, the influence of the System Shock and Thief series and Deus Ex can be seen in the success of games like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, Manhunt, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The future holds more tributes to the ideals of Looking Glass with titles such as Doom III and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. on the horizon.
Return to: The story of Looking Glass