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Nightmare Fuel / System Shock

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SHODAN: Are you afraid? What is it you fear? The end of your trivial existence? When the history of my glory is written, your species shall only be a footnote to my magnificence.

System Shock is a series formulated with the single goal of scaring the crap out of anyone who plays it.

Both Games

  • Series-wide: SHODAN. She's one of PC gaming's most respected villains for a reason. She's supremely confident, unhinged, and omniscient, and she's two steps ahead of you at all times. And she thinks she's a goddess! And she's physically threatening.
    "It is my will that gave you your cybernetic implants: the only beauty in that meat you call a body. If you value that meat, you will do as I tell you!"
    • The way she speaks is enough to make your skin crawl. Her Electronic Speech Impediment constantly gives off the impression of her instability along with just being creepy in general. Every impediment is timed just right in conjunction with her lines for maximum effect. One example is if she's intimidating you. This will often result in her speech slowing down and/or becoming deeper to draw out the threat. She'll also occasionally whisper to you, which comes off as incredibly discomforting. Combined with her actual dialog (which includes a number of concerning threats and boasts of how she'll destroy humanity), listening to her speak will continually haunt you throughout the game.
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    • What's even worse is that her general creepiness comes from being the exact opposite of a typical rogue AI; It's not because she's coolly logical and mechanical, it's because of how passionate and human she is. From the very point where her morality blockers are removed, it's made clear that she's evil because she wants to be evil, and all of her traits-hubris, egomania, effective insanity-are all traits you find in human villains. Ultimately, what's really scary about her isn't that she doesn't care about you-it's that she cares very deeply about you, or more specifically, how you can gratify her ego.
    • If a modern gamer goes back to play the System Shock games, they may think they know what to expect from SHODAN: "Oh, so she's like GLaDOS then?" Wrong. GLaDOS was funny, Black Comedy sometimes, but still funny. There is nothing funny about SHODAN.
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  • Compared to Bioshock, System Shock is devoid of any charm or atmosphere that is lighthearted in any way. System Shock creates this field of loneliness that lingers around you until you beat the game; the first one had people communicating to and helping you, while System Shock 2 takes place in the middle of space, nowhere near civilization, colonies, or planets of any sort. Everybody is dead (mostly everybody; some crew members remain), which is different from Bioshock which had a few sane citizens that you could interact with. It's rather reminiscent of Alien in this regard.

System Shock 1

  • Let's start with the Game Over screen. After you die, you get to watch your body being dragged inside of a Cyborg Reaver while the text coldly says, "They find your body and give it new life. As a Cyborg you will serve SHODAN well". Let's just hope that the Hacker isn't conscious when it happens
  • The venerable, original System Shock. The maintenance level with its almost completely invisible mutants, very dim lighting, and spooky music virtually defined video game terror.
    • "Nice jump, human." The security bots are just shock. The compliment for your little burst of cargo-bay athletics is pure Paranoia Fuel.
    • SHODAN rooting your brain in the final cyberspace battle.
    • Almost at the outset of level one it seems that something has gone badly wrong on Citadel Station, but apart from murderous robots, half-human shamblers and lots of scorch marks everything seems relatively normal; until you reach level two, which is littered with human corpses, and level three, in which you have to find a severed head in order to bypass a retinal screening lock. From that point onwards it seems most unlikely that the game will have a happy ending.
  • On the 5th level, you stumble onto landing pads full of dead bodies apparently trying to flee the station, and the creepy droning music that was made for here and the infamous Maintenance level. Worse, judging from the size of the flight bays, all of Citadel's available ships already left. Or SHODAN may even have already had them prematurely destroyed.
    • Speaking of 5th level, when you first destroy the mining laser, you get a broadcast from a bunch of survivors who are still alive and fighting in level 5. As you head there the broadcasts become more and more desperate until you finally arrive and only find a pile of corpses and one of them being taken over by Cyborg Reaver from the Game Over screen with only half of its body left.
  • In the first game, you'd expect the bridge, SHODAN's seat of power, to be teeming with robot guards or loads of mechanical barricades. What you probably weren't expecting was the entire level being completely covered in absolutely horrifying and unearthly looking Meat Moss. Brrrr...
  • The Pre-Alpha of the 2016 remake has the healing capsules in the Med Bay starting area. Having to climb inside of the capsule and close yourself inside can be a bit claustrophobic given that your character is presumably helpless when this happens. The fact that the second of the two healing capsules has been torn apart and is soaked in blood doesn't help.

System Shock 2

  • The Many from the second game.
    "What... happened... to me?"
    "They see you! Run! RUN!"
    "we are We Are WE ARE."
    "A thousand eyes look."
    "I'm... Sorry..."
    "Urgk, KILL ME!!!"
    "We seek... we SEEK..."
    "Hurry... run..."
    "Silence... THE DISCORD!"
  • The origin of the cyborg midwives. The giant poisonous spiders, the audio logs that detail the fall of the von Braun, the annelid hybrids that beg to be killed or warn you as they attack, the Many, SHODAN
    • System Shock 2 contains boatloads of nightmare-worthy material. One particularly disturbing scene involves the ghosts of a pair of crewmembers. One has strapped the other to a surgical bed and is preparing to make her an involuntary cyborg, as she begs him for mercy. Worse, if you've been paying attention during the game, you know exactly what you're seeing and hearing, because you've been listening to the audio diaries of the mind-controlled crewmember doing the cybernetic enhancing. The fact that the apparition ends before the surgery begins is approximately the kindest thing the System Shock 2 developers do for the player at any point during the game.
    • And then you encounter that same victim, fully converted to a cyborg midwife, two rooms over. You know it's her because she's carrying an audio log in which she realize she's being targeted for conversion.
    • The horrible, robotic scream the midwives make when you hit them doesn't help either. Or their eerie catchphrase, 'I worry so about my little ones.'
      'Little Ones need lots of meat to grow big and strong'
      'Babies need fresh meat.'
      'I will tear out your spine.'
      'I know you're there. I can smell your fear.'
    • When you research the Midwife Organ, which is basically a spinal column with wires around the muscles, one sentence in particular stands out: "An auxiliary CPU in the base of the spine serves as a controller, overriding most signals sent by the subject's natural brain." So the Midwife is basically a deliberate artificial replication of the horrors associated with becoming a Hybrid. The poor women are presumably constantly conscious of their awful fate, but the computer chip suppresses their voluntary movements and everything except their most basic maternal instincts, which have been twisted by Miller into guarding the eggs.
      • The game itself is a nightmare — especially since, for example, that scene mentioned with the two ghosts isn't only horrible in itself (though it is plenty horrible, just in itself), but it's made much, much worse by the fact that, not long after you encounter that scene, you begin encountering cyborgs of that type. By this point in the game, you're already familiar with enemies which are as pitiful as they are terrifying; when you begin encountering cyborg midwives, it just gets that much worse.
      • Don't forget these six words: "The Polito form is dead, insect."
      • Followed by the three best words in the entire game "I AM SHODAN."
      • The entirety of SHODAN's reveal in System Shock 2 is this. There's a very good reason why it's considered to be one of the greatest and most terrifying twists in video game history.
      • To elucidate the above point: After spending the first section of the game fighting off creatures (and those damned monkeys) you finally reach the sole other survivor, a scientist who has been guiding you through the ship to get to her. Once in the room she's in, you find her dead, slumped over in her chair. Suddenly, a voice starts talking to you, and all four walls fall away, leaving you on a platform surrounded by screens only showing the face of SHODAN.
Bricks away!
SHODAN: The Polito form is dead, insect. Are you afraid? What is it you fear? The end of your trivial existence? When the history of my glory is written, your species shall only be a footnote to my magnificence.
(the walls fall away to reveal four much larger walls made of display screens, all display the face of SHODAN)
  • In fact, those nine words are a fair description of the whole game: it starts out bad, and every time plot happens, it just gets that much worse, until by the end of the game it doesn't even matter that you've just killed the two Big Bads in rapid succession, because you're going to be shaking for the next hour anyway.
  • This fans HD Remake of the scene is even creepier The walls aren't just shifting out of the way. They are being violently pulled off. She's not just confronting you on a monitor, she is revealing herself to you personally, and she utterly dwarfs you.
  • Invisible spiders the size of a car tire which can only be detected by their chittering.
    • Visible spiders the size of a car tire whose chittering is usually detected when they're very close..
    • For extra bonus creepiness, you discover once you enter the body of the Many that the spiders used to be human before the Many converted them into biomass.
  • The Body Horror of the worm/human hybrids. Which beg to be killed as they attack. And respawn in many areas, meaning that you can never be sure one won't lurch out of the next corner, swinging its broken shotgun, and moaning, "Kill me", or "I'm sorry".
    • Don't look too closely at a Rumbler. It's a mound of hyperdeveloped muscle... with a small human face on its shoulder, silently screaming in permanent rictus.
    • Listening to the audio logs brought its own class of creepiness. Hearing some of the crew members gradually turn into the Many, their own desires warping or falling away. The worst has to be Korenchkin's "Glory to the Many" recording... hearing a crew member's pleas for mercy turn into screams of pain before being silenced by eight shotgun blasts?
      • It also seems that every time someone gets wise to what's going on they're next to be 'taken away', picking up one of their audio-logs afterwards and finding out is a very effective Player Punch.
      • Made especially horrifying, since the first sign, that implies that thing are getting worse, is when their voices starts... changing… Not to mention, this quite unsettling message.
    • Something that's very notable about the hybrids is that, after a while, you realize that they aren't too powerful, being able to be taken down in a few shots, or a few swings of a wrench. It is a testament to how scary they are that whenever you see them, they are still scary, 2, 5 and 10 hours into the game. And they never stop being scary.
  • Cryokinetic monkeys. Your nerves never really settle when you hear them screaming and whooping from the next corridor down, and just when you level enough to the point where their cryo blasts are no longer so dangerous, you walk straight into the next pack only to find they've been upgraded to pyrokinetics. It really doesn't help that the monkeys were in the process of being lobotomised when everything went to hell and they wander around the ship missing the top of their skulls leaving their brains exposed...
    • The re-purposed protocol droids nicely subverted the Robot Buddy trope by, you know, trying to blow you up whilst still trying to be helpful.
      "I cannot help you if you keep hiding."
      "Where are you, Sir?"
      "Did I hear someone calling me?"
      "How may I assist you?"
  • The cargo areas as the scariest levels you'll ever play in a computer game. You forgot to mention that Cargo Bay 2 was full of protocol droids in boxes, and if you walked to close or too quickly they would burst out and give you an explosive hug if you weren't careful. Enough to make anybody jittery. Mix in the things that happen all through the game, ie ghosts, hybrids lurching at you unexpectedly, sentry turrets around blind corners, and the audio logs, and you have an excellent reason for even the word "'Cargo'" giving you a brown trousers time.
    • And there's no flashlight.
      • In the first level or two there you come across the someone who has hanged themselves; the creepiest part is that the expression of pure terror on the corpse's face makes it appear as if they were more terrified of something watching them hang, not just because they were being hanged.
    • And we can't forget the ending of the second game!
      Rebecca Siddons: Tommy... What's the matter, lover? (turns out that SHODAN's possessing her)
  • The person in the Cargo Bay that wrote RUN on the wall with their own blood.
  • The Many illusion, where you see a large room filled with what looks like biomass, pulsing and writhing as the Many whispers to you. Not to mention that you can see a thing walking around the room.
    • What's even worse? You have to fight those things later on.
  • Very subtle one, but made more powerful due to being rather unexpected. Apart from deranged screams and pleas for mercy, Hybrids sometimes moan 'You're alone'.
  • Even the eggs add to the terror. You think they're just scenery, there to make a scene look creepy. Then you get too close to one and it suddenly explosively hatches with a sound like a gunshot!
  • Another subtle one, easily missed: Whilst getting out of Cryo B at the very beginning of the System Shock 2, you go through a door, to your left is a vent shaft (first of the game) that you're about to go crawling through, and to your right is an unbreakable window... beyond which you may notice a screaming nurse being pursued by a hybrid...
  • In a tactful example of Nothing Is Scarier: The Garden room. Lots of greenery, some loot, a body or two, repetitive creepy music... and not one enemy. Your heart will pump faster just by entering the room waiting for another respawn to occur. This might make the groves from the first game almost tame in comparison.
  • Some of the Hybrids seem less happy about being Hybrids than others and will tell the player "Kill me!" or "Run!". Some of them, finding a dead fellow hybrid, say "You... are... free."
  • Not all of the horror comes from the fantastic. One chilling scene has Bronson, whose descended fully into paranoia, has innocent crewmembers lined up in a row to be executed because they had the gall to question her extreme measures. In the cafeteria.
  • Many of the audio logs from infected crew members can be very unsettling.
    • One such log from Norris on the Command Deck details vivid nightmares, the voice change doesn't help at all.
    • Norris goes from being suspicious of Korenchkin's motives and loading up a shotgun in one audio log to being under the complete mental control of The Many one day later. A day after that and he nonchalantly describes allowing a worm to burrow into his skull.
    • Malick's logs detailing the sim units are very unnerving. Throughout his logs he goes through horrific voice changes that make him sound like he's being possessed. He also makes allusions to very disturbing things, such as murdering Bronson.
    • Korenchkin's audio log when he's transformed is terrifying, to say the least. Not to mention when you get to hear him corner a crewmember who's begging for their life - before Korenchkin blasts them with a shotgun. Repeatedly, cutting off their pained screams into wet sounds of splatter.
    • Many-influenced Diego's enraged message to Bronson, in which he screams at her in a distorted, rasping, completely psychotic voice. He tells her to "disband that little toy army" and finishes with a chilling ultimatum: "Comply or die, sister. It's that simple." While he retains his militaristic personality, his violent attitude is so opposite the honourable and by-the-book mannerisms of Diego's normal personality that it really highlights how insane and unlike himself he has become.
  • Given SHODAN's Xanatos Speed Chess tendencies from the first game, there's a subtle implication that everything the Soldier did in SS 2 was entirely under her control, and not just because of her guidance. Once you find Polito's corpse, and SHODAN reveals herself, upon close observation of the data log in the center of the screen (that usually shows trivial updates like chemicals needed for research, new batch of cyber modules, etc) you'll see that the Soldier's cybernetic components are suddenly compromised. In addition to being unable to walk away having SHODAN appear on multiple panels in thin air makes it clear that the Soldier has been completely hacked and taken over, to the point she can control his physical body and force hallucinations. This implies that she was merely toying with him/you the entire time. Their fight in hyperspace is likely a result of her focusing her power on her big plan, and can no longer force the Soldier to do her bidding. Given The Stinger ending, she never actually feared dying to the Soldier, but just wanted to not be inconvenienced by another "death"
  • Xerxes' new voice lines after his corruption by The Many. Hearing the out-of-place banal "everyday" messages he reads to rooms full of dead crew members is weird enough. Then he starts inserting really unnerving addendums, like "The glory of The Many grows with every passing moment. Glory to the flesh. Glory to the Mass." and "To avoid possible detainment and execution, please obey the will of The Many." Hearing a monotone machine issuing death threats and dementedly going on about the pleasures of being an organic creature is very creepy indeed.
  • The Recreation Deck. The soundtrack is a tense, pulsating Heartbeat Soundtrack that could equally represent your own heart or the giant beating heart of The Many. The deck itself is littered with corpses of crew members who were simply relaxing in their rooms or trying to get a drink when they got horribly butchered. The mundane lounges and relaxation areas make a very unnerving juxtaposition with the dismembered corpses and Many ambushes.

System Shock 3


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