System Shock 2 (PC) review
"In System Shock 2, an alien intelligence-cum-virus known as Xerxes, begins to mutate your human comrades aboard the ship, the Von Braun, attempting to degrade them into pawns of the growing alien consciousness known as The Many. You will be met with force by aberrant versions of former friends (from shotgun wielding males to laser firing females), robots, giant spiders, and the truly gruesome organic abominations of The Many that appear at the game's awe-inspiring culmination. "
It doesn’t matter if you’ve played System Shock, this sequel will blow you away, if you’ve got the patience.
In the first game, you played a hacker -- a cyberspace thief -- who awakes from a coma (induced by a ‘cyber jack’ implant operation) to find the space station he is on overrun by mutated crew members, cyborgs, and robots gone haywire; all under the influence of the artificial intelligence, Shodan.
In System Shock 2, an alien intelligence-cum-virus known as Xerxes, begins to mutate your human comrades aboard the ship, the Von Braun, attempting to degrade them into pawns of the growing alien consciousness known as The Many. You will be met with force by aberrant versions of former friends (from shotgun wielding males to laser firing females), robots, giant spiders, and the truly gruesome organic abominations of The Many that appear at the game's awe-inspiring culmination. Shodan, from the previous game, makes an appearance in a role that, without spoiling things, is hauntingly memorable. Suffice it to say that the smart, twisting storyline is one of the best ever in a game.
System Shock 2 can be classified as a first person shooter only on the surface. Whether you choose to specialize in Psionics, or you're a techie, or if you enroll in the Navy and just want to let loose with guns, you will be nicely accommodated. However, even as the gun-toting Navy grad, you won't be able to run rampant like Rambo. Because, although the player’s viewpoint, strafing ability, weapon-swapping and the ammo and health 'hypo' stockpiling along the way are all classic ‘FPS’ game mechanics -- this is not Unreal Tournament.
And that's because there is a definite scarcity of ammunition available, forcing you to be prudent with your ammo. It's also because you will learn skills that allow you to fix your weapons (they will jam and break), upgrade, modify and maintain them. You will also be able to learn hacking skills for infiltration purposes, and Psionic powers such as telekinesis that range in nature from pulling an out of reach item to you, to incapacitating enemies. You'll have to learn these skills adequately whether or not you go down those respective 'career paths' from the onset of the game. For example, you won't have to enlist as a techie to learn hacking, but if you do, hacking will be your greatest strength.
In addition, there's a heaping helping of exploration and problem solving to do, bringing the game further into the realm of role-playing. Often you won't encounter an enemy as you patrol the Von Braun’s corridors (somewhat slowly, by FPS standards) for quite some time. As a result, the conflicts that do manifest themselves are as far from a deathmatch as can be, as enemies tend to sneak up on you, often in intractable gangs, and the intense, unforeseen clashes which ensue attribute in large part to the unheard of levels of absolute terror and suspense that this game reaches.
The intensity is tempered by the ability to play on different difficulty levels, and to save anywhere and at anytime. There are also regeneration chambers to avoid tedious repetition should you die, and die you will. System Shock 2 is certainly difficult -- but patience, and a towel to clean the sweat off your mouse from time to time, will help. The game gets harder too, and better the further you get into it; it will rob you of hours and perhaps days of sleep. Gripping stories of last stands told by audio e-mail transmissions, the ability to play using different disciplines, the cache of using alien weapons like the worm firing Viral Proliferator weapon, and the experience of ultimately entering The Many, all add to the already undeniable must-replay value.
The ominous music -- thick with deathly atmosphere -- and clean, detailed background and character rendering was exceptional for its time, and holds up well today, adding to the fear factor. Imagine Resident Evil 2 crossed with Doom and some of the space age environments of Star Trek: The Next Generation and you’ve got an idea of what it's like to visit the world of System Shock 2. The game is far scarier than any Resident Evil game however, and the first time you hear an unfortunate mutated human soul cry out, “Kill me…!” and later, “Join The Many…!” -- you will know the threshold of horror in a videogame.
System Shock 2 is a virtuoso presentation, certainly worthy of the legacy its predecessor wrought. I cannot recommend it highly enough; it’s the best PC game I’ve ever played.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 14, 2004)
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