Saturday, 28 November 2015

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

After the unbridled critical slamming of The Phantom Menace (although its $1 billion box office showed it didn't hurt too much), hopes were high that Attack of the Clones could repair some of the damage George Lucas had done to his own franchise. A more epic, adult story about the Galactic Republic's descent into chaos and war, showing the first signs of Anakin Skywalker's fall to the Dark Side and expanding on those fleeting mentions of the Clone Wars in the original movies. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, almost everything. Like The Phantom Menace, the first act of Attack of the Clones is a disjointed mess with lots of talk about political turmoil and separatists but never a clear definition of the stakes or scale of the problem. We find out that someone is trying to kill Amidala, but we're not sure how real the threat is and what its purpose is until way too late in the film (the fact it's a bluff is also not really explained at all, which I think was Lucas going for subtlety but came across as poor plotting). The story is muddled and disjointed and Obi-Wan's solo investigation into the clone army on Kamino is baffling. Clearly the clone army has been set up by Sidious to bring about war, but at no point does any of the Jedi consider this possibility and when called upon simply employ them on the battlefield without any further consideration of the fact they are being manipulated by outside forces.

Elsewhere, the film has a tall order in introducing us to the adult Anakin, making us feel some empathy for him and then buying his descent into the dark side. The problem is that none of this works, a direct result of Lucas's poor decision in the first film to introduce Anakin at far too young an age. There is insufficient time to tell all of this story effectively and also develop Anakin's relationship with Amidala in a convincing manner: her falling in love with him when he's the heroic young Jedi apprentice first and then trying to help stop his descent into the Dark Side would have made for a better, more tragic story. Her falling in love with him whilst he's sliding towards madness and evil is a different, more complex and far more disturbing story which George Lucas is completely incapable of addressing, let alone delivering in a convincing manner.

While The Phantom Menace recovered, to a limited degree, to deliver an ultimately watchable (if barely) film, Attack of the Clones never really does this. There are some fleeting good moments: Obi-Wan and Jango Fett's fight in the rain starts off well before fizzling out, the design work is even more spectacular than the first film and Christopher Lee's charisma helps lift some of the leaden pacing in the finale. Using Jar-Jar to bring down the Republic is also a cynical but still amusing story note, although it could have been sold a bit better in the third film when he realised what he'd done. But the film's finale is nonsensical rubbish, there is a massive overuse of CGI that removes weight and tension from proceedings (although, in the heat of the chaos, there are a few excellent individual shots and some great moments of cinematography) and the C-3PO head swapping comedy routine is more annoying even in its limited lifespan than the entirety of Jar-Jar's appearance in the trilogy. Yoda's lightsabre fight with Dooku is also appalling, the sort of thing best left to the imagination rather than shown on screen.

The biggest sin of Attack of the Clones is not just that's it's an awful movie, but there are brief glimpses of a far more powerful, interesting and darker movie that could have been made if Lucas had let someone else handle the scripting and direction. To his credit, the actual story has enormous potential, but the execution fails on every single level. Attack of the Clones (*½) is available now as part of the complete (but soon not to be) Star Wars Saga box set (UK, USA).

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

1999. The new millennium was approaching, the Cold War had ended, it was a time of unparalleled optimism and glorious hope for the future. Ruined, some (with perhaps a loss of perspective) say, by The Phantom Menace.

The first film in the prequel series to George Lucas's classic original Star Wars trilogy has had much opprobrium poured over it through the years. It's been appraised, reappraised and analysed far more than a film of its quality really deserved, to the point where it's difficult to sit down and watch it without it buckling under the weight of a decade and a half of scorn.

It's certainly not a great film. It suffers from an extremely clunky and unappealing opening sequence in which the Trade Federation (which we neither know nor care about) invades Naboo (a planet we neither know nor care about) because of tax and trade disputes (which no-one cares about) and a pair of Jedi (one of whom we kind of know) rescue the planet's queen (whom we only know or care about - back then anyway - because she was awesome in Leon) and spirit her away to Tatooine, where suddenly The Plot actually kicks in and we meet Darth Vader, except he's a ten-year-old kid who drives flying Formula One cars. They then go to Coruscant (which we only care about from a decade's worth of mostly great tie-in novels), get General Zod fired from his job ruling the universe, discover that Yoda in his heyday was actually quite annoying and then fly back to Naboo and beat up the Trade Federation with the help of a bunch of frogs led by Brian Blessed.

As plots go, it's weird, bitty and full of episodic chunks which completely fail to connect to one another with any real coherence. The events on Tatooine, based around our heroes trying to repair their ship, gambling on a highly improbable race outcome, trying to scientifically quantify the Force and finding out that Darth Vader built C-3PO (what?), feel completely isolated from the rest of the movie in particular. The resolution is also pat, convenient and implausible in the extreme.

The movie also fails quite spectacularly in its primary goals of either 1) providing interesting or relevant backstory for the films we've already seen or 2) providing a compelling alternate starting point for newcomers to the franchise. In particular 2) is a problem because The Phantom Menace is weak enough that it has put people off from proceeding any further with the series.


It's not a total disaster. As a live-action cartoon for kids, it's actually fairly inoffensive. The actors give their best with some disastrous material, but Liam Neeson in particular does sterling work by adopting an authoritarian but stubborn rebel streak for Qui-Gon Jinn. It's a difficult acting choice to pull off, but he does it reasonably well and even succeeds in providing a few of the film's more amusing moments through subtle scenes such as where he is stymied by Watto, the film's most successful CG alien creation (the fact he's presented as a humourous, somewhat sympathetic character with a genuine emotional care for Anakain whilst also being an unrepentant trafficker in human slaves hints at a moral complexity that is never fully explored). Most of the other actors are considerably less able to meld their formidable acting skills (in the case of Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman) to Lucas's often terrible lines. Ian McDiarmid takes the valid - if increasingly irritating over the course of the trilogy - alternate path of simply hamming things up in every scene he's in.

The film is also surprisingly well-paced. It moves fairly fast, packing in quite a lot of plot (if partially nonsensical) and characters (if mostly underdeveloped) into two hours. Even if a scene doesn't work, it usually doesn't go on long enough for it to be a major problem. This is every much not the case with the two films that followed them, particularly the interminable "romance" and "action" scenes in Attack of the Clones which are so numerous and lengthy that they become genuinely emotionally traumatising. There's also the phenomenal visual design of the film, from sets to spacecraft (mostly still models at this stage) to sets to creatures. The designers achieve the near-impossible task of creating a new, more pristine aesthetic within the Star Wars universe established by three older films, two animated series and numerous books, and making it work.

Then there's the music. John Williams creates a whole new soundtrack which is genuinely epic and stirring, particularly his "Duel of the Fates" during the movie's climax. This melds well with the lightsabre duel between Darth Maul and the Jedi, one of the better action sequences in the entire series (the pod race, for all its implausibility, is another). The minimalist approach to Darth Maul as a villain, in stark contrast to the overblown, overlong pomp elsewhere (see the frankly unnecessary number of "Darth Sidious talking smack over a holoprojector" scenes), actually works very well and is an approach Lucas should have used elsewhere.

None of this can save The Phantom Menace from its weaknesses, but in many ways it's a better movie than either of its immediate successors. Indeed, if you can mentally switch off Jar-Jar Binks (who is actually in a lot less of the film than you may recall) or find The Phantom Edit version of the movie, it arguably emerges as the best of the three prequels thanks to Neeson's excellent, grounded performance, the musical score and some of the more well-judged action sequences in the series.

The Phantom Menace (**½) is available now as part of the complete (but soon not to be) Star Wars Saga box set (UK, USA).

Friday, 27 November 2015

Opening titles for SHANNARA TV series revealed

MTV have revealed the opening title sequence to The Shannara Chronicles, their TV series based on the Shannara novels by Terry Brooks.

The TV series debuts on MTV on 5 January 2016.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Cover art for MALAZAN prequel novel

The cover art has been released for Dancer's Lament, the first novel in the Path to Ascendancy series. This is a prequel series to the Malazan Book of the Fallen and charts the rise to power of Kellanved and Dancer, as well as the founding of the Malazan Empire.

The novel will be released on 25 February 2016.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Kevin Bacon to relaunch TREMORS franchise

Kevin Bacon is helping to relaunch the Tremors franchise as a TV series. This will mark his first involvement with the franchise since the original film in 1990, which will allow him to Six Degree himself across the same series.

Tremors, objectively one of the Greatest Films Ever Made™, featured the inhabitants of the small town of Perfection being menaced by subterranean "graboids", ferocious burrowing monsters. The original film pitted a cast of characters led by Val McKee (Bacon), Earl Basset (Fred Ward) and Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) against the creatures. Ward would return for the sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996) but only Gummer would go on to appear in every appearance of the franchise, which to date comprises five films and a short-lived 2003 TV series.

The new TV series will apparently reboot and reintroduce the franchise, but with Bacon reprising the role of Val McKee 25+ years after the original film, it would appear to be set in the same continuity. How many other actors or characters would reprise their roles is unknown.

Monday, 23 November 2015

A History of Epic Fantasy - Part 28

Epic fantasy has been the most commercially popular strand of the fantastical genre, but it has certainly come in for criticism from more literary quarters. In the late 1970s Michael Moorcock dismissed the genre as being simply "Epic Pooh" (an overwrought version of children's stories like Winnie the Pooh) and M. John Harrison (author of the Viriconium sequence of surreal fantasies) decried the genre for the "clomping foot of nerdism" in its overreliance on worldbuilding and trying to rationalise what should remain irrational. The genre has also been criticised for often descending into being "Medieval Europe with Dragons" rather than trying to be something weirder and more thought-provoking. Not everyone from the literary end of the spectrum agrees with this - Gene Wolfe is a huge Tolkien fan, for example - but it's certainly a point of view with some significant adherents.

Starting in the 1990s, fantasy began to move in slightly odder directions less reliant on dragons and magic and pseudomedieval Europe. Garry Kilworth employing Polynesian mythology (complete with a vast number of tiny gods and some very strange customs) in his Navigator Kings trilogy can be seen as part of this, as can some of the more bizarre concepts in works by Steven Erikson and Glen Cook. But it took a series of novels published between 2000 and 2006 to really ramp up these elements. This period became known as the New Weird.

Perdido Street Station & The Scar

Published in 2000, Perdido Street Station was the second novel by British author China Miéville. His first novel, King Rat (1998), had been an urban fantasy indebted to the likes of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (1996), but Perdido Street Station was something different. It was set in the sprawling, uncertain cityscape of New Crobuzon, a city of squalor and beauty where insects make art and the government dines the ambassadors of hell. Cactii-people live and trade alongside the inhabitants of a thousand lands and the city is linked by elevated railway lines carrying souls to work and destinies and deaths. It is part steampunk, part urban fantasy, part horror and part Alien.

Perdido Street Station is a remarkable novel, utterly beautifully written and powered by an imagination almost unmatched in the modern fantasy genre. The city of New Crobuzon lives and breathes in a way few fantasy metropoles ever achieve. Miéville populates his city with strange people but also gives them a feeling of how they live and work day-to-day. New Crobuzon is both weird and workable. Oddly, despite Harrison's criticisms of traditional fantasy and lauding (and some might say foreshadowing) of the New Weird, this works mainly because Miéville invests strongly in worldbuilding, making the city work and feel real. It even first saw light in a home roleplaying campaign which Miéville used to develop the location before trying to realise it in prose.

If Perdido Street Station works as a fantastic piece of atmosphere and mood, it's less successful in working as a structured novel, as the basic plot boils down to a bug hunt for a monster. It's the incidents along the way and the people the reader meets that makes the book so fantastic. It falls to the successor (not a true sequel), The Scar (2002), to really sing on every level. This book starts off as a travelogue, with the core characters departing New Crobuzon in search of the mysterious floating city of Armada, located somewhere in the vast ocean. As the book continues it invokes elements of Moby Dick whilst also remaining very much its own beast. The story is far more original and strange than Perdido Street Station, the characters more vivid and the situations more bizarre whilst also remaining a compelling read. It's Miéville's masterpiece.

Miéville has only released one novel since set in the same world of Bas-Lag, namely the excellent Iron Council (2004), but he has explored other worlds and settings in his fiction. Un Lun Dun (2007) and Kraken (2010) are urban fantasies set in London, Embassytown (2011) is science fiction flavoured by the New Weird and Railsea (2012) is set on a world where the ocean has been replaced by an endless landscape of train tracks. The Tain (2002) is a post-apocalyptic tale. His most successful post-Bas-Lag novel is The City and the City (2009), a weird tale that features one city split into two parallel realities where the people of one side can see those of the rest but cannot interact with them on fear of abduction by a supernatural force. Miéville will publish two novels in 2016, This Census-Taker and The Last Days of New Paris, but it appears that a return to Bas-Lag is not in the cards for the near future.

The Year of Our War

Published in 2004, The Year of Our War is noted for its vivid (and occasionally hallucinogenic) prose and its success in taking the old fantasy standby - a civilisation defended by some huge threat by a massive wall - and turning it on its head. The enemy this time is a race of insects, but humanity is defended by a race of super-powered immortals who serve as rulers and defenders and generals. The weirdness is generated by Jant, the main protagonist, who is a drug-addict and sometimes wastrel but also someone who can visit a supernatural realm of the undead where he can gain vital clues about the enemy. The immortals are riven by internal dissent, politics and love feuds that sometimes distract them from the threat that looms in the north. It is a strange and odd book that, as with Miéville, actually features some pretty robust worldbuilding and well-paced plot developments.

This was the first book in The Castle Series, and was followed by No Present Like Time (2005) and The Modern World (2007). Steph Swainston has since published a prequel, Above the Snowline (2010). However, she also vocally criticised the modern requirement by publishers and the marketplace for authors to engage in social media, marketing and networking, feeling this took too much time away from writing. She has since taken up a day job in chemistry, but continues to write a fifth book in the series in her own time.

Other Works of the Weird

After Miéville, the most successful author of the New Weird is Jeff VanderMeer (he even co-edited an anthology called The New Weird in 2007). His novels and short stories set in the fantastical city of Ambergis - Cities of Saints and Madmen (2001), Shriek: An Afterword (2006) and Finch (2009) - proved both popular and influential, as did Veniss Underground (2003), set in a different milieu but likewise bizarre and strange. His most recent major work is the Southern Reach Trilogy, an original take on the haunted lighthouse trope.

The most surprising book of the period is K.J. Bishop's The Etched City (2003), mainly because the author has not so far followed it up with any other work. Although not as well known as Miéville, Swainston and VanderMeer, Bishop's book may be the most succinct summing-up of the subgenre of the bizarre.

The New Weird never really went away, but it did start to drift into other forms of fantasy. Alan Campbell's superb Scar Night (2006) brings together the New Weird with elements of urban fantasy. It is somewhat let down by its less ambitious sequels, Iron Angel (2008) and the disappointing God of Clocks (2009), which relies on a retcon ending. Mark Charan Newton's Legends of the Red Sun series (starting with Nights of Villjamur in 2009) may be seen as an attempt to merge the New Weird with the Dying Earth subgenre popularised by Jack Vance in 1950. It is a strong and original voice, hampered by a far too-rushed conclusion.

More recently the New Weird has kind of merged into fantasy as a whole. Francis Knight's Rojan Dizon trilogy (starting with 2013's Fade to Black) feels like it should be New Weird, set as it is in a towering vertical city inside a mountain, but it is played more straight as a standard urban fantasy with epic undertones. Luke Scull's Grim Company trilogy is much more set in a post-New Grim sword and sorcery world, but the immortal god-sorcerers and their ability to warp reality results in strange and bizarre consequences (and otherwise sets his work aside from the likes of Joe Abercrombie, to whom he shares superficial similarities).

As the 2000s started in earnest, traditional epic fantasy remained popular but perhaps less so that in the previous decade. Publishers looked for different kinds of fantasy, from the baroque oddness of Miéville to the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink fantasy of Steven Erikson, but if there was one direction that epic fantasy was taking it was into darker territories, where philosophy and morality and ideologies were entwined and complicated, resulting in some of the most interesting - but also controversial - works published in the history of the genre.

R. Scott Bakker update

R. Scott Bakker has provided an update on his forthcoming books. He has confirmed that the final book in the Aspect-Emperor series has been split, as was anticipated from Overlook Press's schedules a few weeks ago.

The first of the two books, The Great Ordeal, will be published in July 2016. The second, The Unholy Consult, will be published at some point in 2017. Apparently the expansion of the series from three to four volumes necessitated a redrawing of the some of the contracts.

In previous comments, Bakker confirmed that his intention is still to write a further duology in the world but that, at a push, the series can end with The Unholy Consult.

First episode of THE EXPANSE released

SyFy have debuted the first episode of The Expanse online. You can watch it via the link below.

THE EXPANSE Full Episode | The Search Begins from "Dulcinea"The Expanse digital premiere is here. WATCH NOW.
Posted by The Expanse on Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Expanse is based on the novel series of the same name by Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (writing as James S.A. Corey). The remaining nine episodes of the first season will start airing in the USA in mid-December. The above link works in the UK and US, and hopefully other territories as well.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

A History of Epic Fantasy - Part 27

Summing up what epic fantasy is and is not is difficult. The barest tropes of the genre - big armies, travelogues, magic - can be used to define it, but it always feels like it's describing the symptoms and not the causes of why people write the genre, and why people read it. One potential definition is that epic fantasy is the story of big events channelled through the eyes of a small number of well-defined characters whom the audience invests in.

Or to put it another way, we may be interested in Middle-earth as a place and a collection of societies, but we only get interested in it through the actions of characters we empathise with: Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, Gollum etc. The same with Westeros. The war for the Iron Throne is irrelevant if the reader does not care about Ned Stark or Tyrion Lannister or Daenerys Targaryen. Arguably epic fantasy can go off the rails when the scope balloons and so many characters are brought in that the tension and pace can become diffuse, a problem struggled with by many of even the best and most critically lauded authors in the genre. This tension between the macro and micro-scale, between the personal stories of characters we love and the epic struggle of clashing armies and gods and philosophies, arguably lies at the core of the appeal of epic fantasy and how different authors approach it can determine their success. It often feels like fantasy authors, when in doubt, move in favour of the massive, epic scale and throw so many new ideas, new characters and new magic systems into their narratives that they can risk overload or crashing the momentum of their series.

In 1995 a novel was published which firmly tilted in the opposite direction, where big things happened but the perspective was tightly limited (at least for most of the books). This gave rise to one of the biggest-selling, most critically lauded and respected fantasy series of the last fifteen years: The Realm of the Elderlings mega-sequence by Robin Hob.

Assassin's Apprentice & Ship of Magic

Of course, it didn't start out that way. Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden had published her very first novel, Harpy's Flight in 1983. By the early 1990s she'd been writing novels for ten years and had released ten books in the adventure fantasy field (and also a single SF novel, Alien Earth). These had been released under pen-name, Megan Lindholm. In July 1993 she concluded a deal with Bantam for three further books, this time an epic fantasy trilogy. The first volume at this point had the working title Chivalry's Bastard.

By the time the book was completed and delivered, the author and her publisher agreed it was a very different kind of novel for her. It was longer, more complex and much more adult. It was decided to remarket the novel as coming from a new author. She picked the name "Robin Hobb" after discovering that the "H" row was often on a perfect eyeline for an adult browsing the shelves in a bookstore.

Retitled Assassin's Apprentice, the novel was released in April 1995 and was immediately successful. Two heavyweight fantasy artists - Michael Whelan in the United States and John Howe in the United Kingdom - provided excellent covers. Reviews were very strong. The book was fairly traditional, focusing on the character of Fitz, the bastard son of the king's heir who is reluctantly allowed to live in the royal household but finds himself at something of a loose end. He is trained by the royal assassin, Chade, and uncovers political intrigue with his half-uncle Regal seeking to usurp the throne, the Six Duchies facing attacks by the mysterious Outislanders and relations with the Mountain Kingdom being strained. Royal Assassin (1996) and Assassin's Quest (1997) continue and resolve these issues, the three books together forming The Farseer Trilogy.

However, although the books feature political intrigue, two magic systems (the Skill and the Wit) and occasional bouts of violence, their popularity rested on a series of relationships: between Fitz and his wolf, Nighteyes; between Fitz and his mentor Chade, and his uncle Verity; and, most tantalisingly, between Fitz and the highly enigmatic Fool. The trilogy ended on a positive note, but Fitz did not seem to have truly found happiness at its conclusion.

Robin Hobb went on to write The Liveship Traders (1998-2000), a further trilogy set in the same world but along the coast of the continent to the south. This trilogy focuses on the families of Bingtown, who have developed the ability to carve ships controlled by sentient figureheads. Initially the books revolve around the battle within a family for ownership of the liveship Vivacia, but as the narrative unfolds the scope expands. Unlike the Farseer series, which was written in first-person, Liveship is written from a more traditional third-person viewpoint and encompasses a wide range of characters living in different locales. This trilogy features more compelling and original worldbuilding than Farseer, which is very traditional, but also is notable for giving the primary villain a journey and arc of his own that is understandable and sympathetic. Indeed, Hobb arguably is too successful in making Kennit a relatable figure and the decision to have him revert to pure villainy by becoming a rapist feels heavy-handed. But overall The Liveship Traders is as strong and readable a series as its forebear, benefiting from the shift in location and theme.

Hobb returned to Fitz's story in The Tawny Man (2001-03), which followed up on his adventures fifteen years after the events of Farseer. More intriguingly, it touched on events in The Liveship Traders and started pulling together story threads revolving around the Liveships, sea serpents, dragons and the extinct race of mysterious Elderlings, providing a larger-scaled and more mythic backdrop for the series. However, the focus remained resolutely on the key characters.

Hobb took a break from Fitz's world to write the Shaman's Crossing trilogy (2005-08), set on a completely different world with gunpowder. Although well-regarded, it wasn't as successful critically as her Elderling mega-series. She subsequently returned to the setting of the Rain Wilds, touched on in both the Farseer and Liveship story strands, for a four-volume series expanding on that region, The Rain Wild Chronicles (2009-13). This led Hobb to write Fitz and the Fool (2014-17, est), a new trilogy continuing (and perhaps wrapping up) the story of Fitz and his enigmatic friend, now emerging as arguably the central figure of the entire saga.

The Robin Hobb books feature all the hallmarks of epic fantasy, but her prose and dialogue style are a marked improvement over much of the genre and her focus on character over the furniture of the setting is highly laudable. Her approach is also hugely appealing on a wide level. Her books were Harper Voyager's biggest-selling series until A Song of Ice and Fire overtook them in the early 2000s, and she has enormous respect from her peers. Authors as different as George R.R. Martin and Steven Erikson are big fans, and The Telegraph even called the first book of the Fitz and the Fool sequence "High art." If the books have a weakness it may be a traditional one: excessive verbiage with the streamlined opening volumes of both Farseer and The Liveship Traders being dwarfed by the concluding volumes of each trilogy (each almost double the size of the first), and the Rain Wild Chronicles expanding almost uncontrollably from a duology to a four-volume series.

But at her best Robin Hobb is one of the most human and humane writers in the field, writing intelligently and with clarity about people and what makes them tick, whilst also remembering to throw in the requisite fantasy cool stuff like dragons and sentient sailing ships.

By the end of the 1990s the genre's success appeared secured through the arrival and establishing of a new breed of epic fantasy authors writing with greater skill and interest in characters and people, whilst also being more willing to delve into the darker side of the genre. But a parallel subset of fantasy was also developing which wanted to turn over all the rules and do something really different. Really...weird.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

SYSTEM SHOCK remake announced, sequel teased

A video game development studio by the name of Night Dive have acquired the full rights to the System Shock IP. Night Dive recently masterminded the re-release of System Shock 2 and have now confirmed that a "full remake" of the original game is underway.

Night Dive have also acquired the property in its totality, so can also begin planning a System Shock 3 if they wish. However, they admit this is beyond their current scope and would have to partner up with another company to undertake that project.

System Shock (1994) was a first-person science fiction roleplaying game, set on a space station. The player controls a hacker who becomes embroiled in the machinations of a devious, sentient AI called SHODAN. It was created by Looking Glass Studios under the supervision of the legendary Warren Spector (who later created Deus Ex), shortly after the same team had completed work on Ultima Underworld II. System Shock, like the Ultima Underworld games, was praised for bringing the immersive 3D viewpoint of action games like Doom but creating a more thoughtful, intelligent RPG around it.

In 1999 Looking Glass Studios and Irrational Games (headed by Ken Levine) collaborated on System Shock 2. This was a more sophisticated game in terms of graphics, interface and the amount of freedom it gave the player to pursue their own goals. It frequently appears on "Best Games of All Time" lists and it is considered extremely influential on later RPG design. SHODAN, the evil (kind of) antagonist AI character, was a key inspiration for the similar (but more humorous) AI character GLaDOS in Portal and Portal 2System Shock 2 came out very close to Deus Ex, which itself had been heavily influenced by the original System Shock.

Arguably the biggest legacy of the two games was that in 2007 Irrational Games would go on to make a "spiritual sequel" to the games, which went on to become a massive, international hit by the name of BioShock. It was followed by BioShock 2 (2010) and BioShock Infinite (2013). However, some critics cite System Shock 2 (which a true RPG, not a FPS like the BioShock franchise) as being superior for giving the player much greater control and choice in the narrative.