It is now incredibly common to imbue games of various genres with “Role-Playing Elements”. These elements are generally the addition of player choice in the development of a character’s abilities and skillset, yet lack aesthetic character customization. The RPG-FPS has emerged from this idea. Games like BioShock and Dishonored contain character upgrades that can be purchased throughout the game. These modern games are spiritual successors of 90’s RPG-FPSs such as System Shock, Thief, and Deus Ex. Yet the modern games seem to fail at something the older games did incredibly well: make player choice matter.
The System Shock 2 Experience
System Shock 2 presents the player with a variety of different skill paths to follow. Small guns, big guns, hacking, melee, cybernetics, psionics, all are options you can go down from the start of the game. You might be thinking that BioShock is similar. You get a variety of Plasmids and other enhancements. You spend your hard earned Adam to upgrade them. In BioShock, however, what you choose to upgrade has hardly any impact on how you play the game. Upgrading Electrobolt vs. Incinerate will hardly change anything. You still use both in whatever conditions they require, one just becomes slightly more effective at killing enemies. In System Shock 2, your skills drastically change what you can do.
Walking down a corridor, low on ammo, a closed door stands before me. I’m good at shooting, I can use heavy weaponry, but I can’t hack open doors. If I could hack, I could open the door and continue to the next area. Now I must find the key. Enemies guard it, I could sneak past them, but I’m not too good at sneaking. With low ammo, every shot needs to count. The game has become very tense, my survival and progress depend entirely on a limited supply of ammo. Perhaps I’ll find more ammo, but perhaps instead I’ll find more enemies. If I was good at hacking that door would be open, but if I wasn’t good at shooting, I might never have reached that door in the first place.
System Shock 2 contains engaging situations created by the skills players choose and don’t choose. The way a player develops their character impacts how they must play the game. Many recent RPG-FPS hybrids simply don’t do this.
The main issue I have with the modern RPGFPSs is that player choice have very little impact on actual gameplay. Their skill systems are full of engaging, fun to use abilities, but your choice causes very little change in gameplay. No matter what upgrades you choose in BioShock, the gameplay is fairly static throughout. Certain encounters or puzzles may become easier, but the way a player progresses through them is still the same.