System Shock 2 is a beloved classic, a fascinating tangle of shooter, survival horror, and role-playing systems that intermingle and spark with a frightening menace. After developer Looking Glass Studios closed in 2000, the game wound up in ownership limbo. For a time, it languished without updates. Getting it to run on more modern machines increasingly became a massive hassle. Then, in 2012, a fan released an unofficial update that took aim at those issues with almost cyborg-like laser precision. To this day, nobody knows the identity of the fan who released this update.
The mystery saviour of System Shock 2 goes by the online handle “Le Corbeau.” In 2012, according to a feature over at Rock Paper Shotgun, they first posted their revolutionary patch to the game, titled “NewDark,” on a French Thief fan forum. Nobody’s entirely sure how this fan pulled off an update of this magnitude, but it likely involved building upon an incomplete version of the game’s source code that leaked in 2010.
Le Corbeau’s patch was a game changer. Suddenly, people could run System Shock 2 (and Thief 2) again. The following year, publisher Nightdive Studios—which managed to rescue System Shock 2's rights from limbo—incorporated Le Corbeau’s patch into its official re-release of the game. Le Corbeau has since continued to patch the games, with their most recent update dropping just a few months ago in June.
Nightdive, having found System Shock 2's actual source code in Looking Glass founder Paul Neurath’s closet, is now making its own improvements to System Shock 2, as well as a remake of the first System Shock and an all-new System Shock game. Despite all this, the studio—like perplexed but grateful fans—has no idea who Le Corbeau actually is. CEO Stephen Kick told RPS that he’s tried to reach out in hopes of collaborating over the years, but hasn’t had any success yet. “They have done an amazing job, but at some point those efforts will collide with our own as we wish to improve the original title,” said Kick.
For now, Le Corbeau continues to patch the game and then disappear into their lair, only reemerging to post new updates. Perhaps they’re not a person at all, but rather some kind of rogue AI. Whoever they are, System Shock 2 fans still have them to thank for keeping the game alive when all seemed lost.