System Shock 2, one of the most fondly-remembered role-playing shooters of the past few decades, is being reborn courtesy of Good Old Games and a fan who refused to take no for an answer.

Developed by Irrational Games and Looking Glass Studios as a standalone sci-fi shooter, the game would be repurposed and given a new story as a direct sequel to the 1994 classic System Shock - without which classics including Deus Ex and the BioShock series would never have happened. Mixing the action of a first-person shooter with role-playing elements including unlockable skills and psionic talents, an inventory with multiple customisable weapons and equipment options and research trees, the game was a hit - but not one that would save the company. Just one year after the launch, Looking Glass Studios would be dissolved.

It's this dissolution of the company that has led to the absence of any follow-up titles. Excluding the BioShock series, which is merely a spiritual successor with a very different setting, there has been no System Shock title since 1999 - strange for a game that has an active and vocal fan base, even if some of those fans are arguably deluded. The reason, as always, can be traced to lawyers.

When Looking Glass Studios shut down, the rights to the System Shock series went to two insurance companies, Meadowbrook Insurance and Star Insurance. Theoretically, the two insurance companies could have jointly sold the rights on except for one little detail: while they held the rights to the games, publisher Electronic Arts held the rights to the System Shock trademark. Without EA on-side, the series was going nowhere.

As a result, System Shock has been in limbo for the last fourteen years. With EA and the insurance companies refusing to get together and discuss some form of deal, it would be impossible for anyone to develop a direct sequel or even close spin-off of the series, and neither could anyone sell a repackaged version of the original two games. It's the latter fact that truly rankles fans: a great deal of work has been put into patching and updating the game, and while nobody would mistake it for a new release there's no denying the high-resolution patches released by the community put a sheen on the title that would attract new players - if only they could get their hands on a copy of the game without resorting to an eBay crap-shoot or piracy.

Enter Stephen Kick, the man behind indie development house Night Dive. With little business experience but a hell of a lot of patience, Kick somehow managed to get both parties to agree to a re-release of the classic game, complete with custom high-resolution patch and updates that make it play nicely with current versions of Windows.

'Before negotiations began I had very little experience in the realm of business so the idea of starting a development studio and potentially working with the System Shock licence was incredibly daunting,' Kick told RockPaperShotgun in an interview earlier this week. 'It’s been a dream of mine for a long time, but to be honest I never imagined I’d see the day.

'The rights are still held in a very complicated tangle and going into all of it makes for very dry reading. The short version is that negotiations began in October of last year. I pitched the rights-holder with the focus being on the digital distribution of System Shock 2 and – as much to my surprise as anyone’s, possibly – here we are today.
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Partnering with Good Old Games, the game is exclusive to the site where it can be purchased now for $9.99. Whether this brings the world any closer to a true System Shock sequel, however, remains to be seen - but, if nothing else, it gives those who missed it the first time around a chance to experience the thrills aboard the Von Braun.
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