The year is 2114. As a recently recruited soldier on a starship embarking on an outer space voyage to find inhabitable planets, you wake up on an operating table with a set of cybernetic implants and a severe memory loss. To say things have gone wrong would be an understatement. Through scattered audio logs you uncover the truth about answering a distress call from an undiscovered planet, from where a new life form has slowly taken over your shipmates and turned them into freakish murderous mutants or worse, lab monkeys have developed psionic abilities and an artificial intelligence seems to have taken over the ship's controls. Radio contact with another survivor gives you a sense of how to proceed but you are pretty much on your own as you proceed through the game and a horrific truth becomes clear.
System Shock 2 is a fine mix of genres but I would label it as a first person survival horror game. It has elements from Role playing games in the way you develop and improve your character's abilities through the game. At its core it can be seen as a first person shooter because you can find weapons scattered across the ship and you'll use them to kill enemies. Then there's the opposite approach where you sneak around, avoid combat and find alternate ways to get past or disable enemies. The gameplay is strong enough to suit several play styles or a mix of them and allows several solutions to problems.
15 years after its release, the game still holds up. I finished the game back in the day and remember it as tough, rewarding and having several amazing twists which made me go Woa! I located my old manual, installed the game, modded it and played through the first part. I am currently stuck on the Hydroponics level, but I have been captured once again by the atmosphere and the gameplay.
The thing that struck me is how games have developed in the past 15 years. Compare something like Bioshock Infinite to this and there is no doubt that I prefer the System Shock 2 way of doing things. The major differences include the amount of hand holding of the player, where Bioshock Infinite guides you toward all your goals and sets up clear boundaries, System Shock 2 has a definite lack of hand holding that trusts the player's ability to adapt and decide for themselves. Then there's the lack of resources in System Shock 2. You really have to think about when to use certain ammunition and health packs because they are not just conjured magically when you need them. Bioshock Infinite is the opposite, where my experience was that when I was running low on ammo or health it just magically appeared, courtesy of my team mate. Both these approaches work and Bioshock Infinite was a very special game, where you could just flow with the story and enjoy the landscapes.
System Shock 2 is a game where you have to stop and think, hide from superior enemies, plan your strategy and frantically scramble to avoid being killed as things don't quite go as planned. I've enjoyed and finished both games but I clearly prefer System Shock 2's approach as it give me as a player the feeling of freedom and a feeling of power, to be able to affect the world I inhabit.
As mentioned, the game is tough and expects something from the player. In turn its rewards are plentiful. If you happen to like games such as Thief, Deus Ex, Ultima Underworld, Bioshock and likewise then System Shock 2 is "need to play". Most of all it is an engrossing simulation and has an incredible atmosphere, tension and sense of place.
I've been playing the game with several mods to update the graphics. I'd recommend you do the same. The game can be purchased on gog.com and you can follow this guide or this one to patch it and make it prettier.
System Shock 2 is a classic game and still worth playing today.
Written By Steen
Online: Thursday, December 4, 2014