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System Shock 2 (PC) artwork

System Shock 2 (PC) review

"There’s an interesting theory that I learned about in sociology called «flock theory». Basically, if a high enough number of people report to an individual that Pearl Harbour is a masterpiece of cinematic history, even the most sane of individuals will eventually condemn common sense and hail Michael Bay as the new Orson Welles. "

There’s an interesting theory that I learned about in sociology called «flock theory». Basically, if a high enough number of people report to an individual that Pearl Harbour is a masterpiece of cinematic history, even the most sane of individuals will eventually condemn common sense and hail Michael Bay as the new Orson Welles.

Seemingly so, I was approached by everyone and their grandfather, telling me that System Shock 2 is the Jesus of video games, that came to this mortal plane to deliver us, the unwashed sinners into eternal bliss and happiness. I have to, despite promises that would shame the TV salesmen, question if this game, nay, this Holy Grail is as good as everyone claims.

System Shock 2 takes place shortly after the first game, forty two years onwards, to be exact, on a military ship, the Rickenbacker. Here you’ll meet the young man who becomes your extension in the virtual world currently serving as a part of the military team responsible for protecting a new star-ship whose capabilities would revolutionize the entire world as we know it due to its faster-than-light capabilities. During the voyage, he’s placed in a cryo - chamber, as is the part of the procedure, only to awake with no memories of what happened, or who he is. The only thing he does know is that there are no friendly faces around...and the creatures that do appear all seem to share an interest in ripping him apart, bit by bit while at the same time having oddly.... human characteristics.

The journey starts us off by giving you the choice of what your avatar's military background was before waking up, and thus what your strengths in playing the game would look like. You might choose to become a manly rugged Marine who can shoot a mosquito in the left testicle without grazing the right one from a hundred meters while laughing at the puny creatures that manage to come close while clubbing them to death with one of the many melee implements in your possession, be it a wrench, or a stabby weapon of doom. This is the road for those that shoot first and let God sort them out.

“But I'm a lover, not a fighter!”, I hear some of you scream out. While it is impossible not to get your hands dirty every once in a while, perhaps you’re more inclined to choose the Navy as your character's background where he, while swabbing the decks, also learnt how to be an accomplished hacker that could get into any computer system of his choice, and how to repair weapons with better success rate and with less materials wasted on it. So while the marine will grunt with content and blast everything to kingdom come, there will come a time, more often than not, when his shotgun will cease to shoot and the merry beast will cut him to shreds because he finds himself unable to repair his gun.

The last road is for those who like the occult, to follow the less explored areas of the brain, the paranormal military section called the OSA.Basically it allows you to use your mental powers for all of the above. Perhaps you want to use Pyrokinesis to get rid of all the enemies in your path, or if you are the vicious sort trained enough to literally rearrange all of their molecules, one at a time? You can use the power of your mind to augment your power armour, regenerate health and nanites(the game's currency), or even create items such as ammo and/or medicine out of thin air, all for half the cost.

These are your choices, but as you wander through the ransacked Rickenbacker you find that all of your fancy training will be small solace when you are attacked by the legions of the Many, the parasitic entity that took over the ship and seemingly killed off the entire crew. Those that were not consumed were turned into mutated husks who only exist to destroy you, the small, annoying thorn in their side.

And that's all that you really will be for most of the time. The only interaction with anyone that could resemble some sort of life in this depressing environment are the various messages you will find throughout the ship and the e-mails that you will get from people you never meet. Some of these messages bring vital clues, like the needed password to progress further, or what is the necessary combination of items that will produce a chemical effect that you need, but some of them are there only for you to empathize with the characters you never see. A letter to their families, a love note to their significant other, bitching about their boss, or even a complaint about how bad the food in the cafeteria is. These people led lives before and through these messages will you experience what their final thoughts were before the Many took over.

So, the question remains. Is this game really as good as everyone says? In my opinion, the answer is two-fold. Yes, and no. The game is good, and a pioneer that made certain works like Deus Ex and Bioshock had something to build from, but its greatest strengths also serve as its flaws. The fact that you are alone, wandering the space ship's halls is somewhat diminished when you realise that even with all the creepy e-mails and legions of enemies attacking you, that while you are alone in outer space, you are alone in outer space with mini guns strapped to your wrists. It’s hard to feel the anxiety and helplessness like one might in Silent Hill for instance when you know that you are capable of killing everything that gets thrown your way, that you don't need to hide, don't need to fear anything but the possibility of running out of shotgun shells or psi-energy.

You do have to be fairly conservative with ammo, but your melee weapons work splendidly on a lot of enemies as well. Not even to mention that the career choice in the beginning is not something you have to stay with throughout the game. It's just a main line of thought, and you will find, as the game progresses, terminals in which you can train skills that you neglected for a cost of nanites and points you get at certain intervals of the game. Naturally, you will never be as good of a hacker if you’re a Marine when compared to someone who started off in the Navy, but you’ll do just fine to get the training to a level sufficient to progress further.

The lack of characters with flesh and bone that will offer a tale, while strong in theory also makes the characterization that much weaker. Your main character has no personality what so ever, following the "mute hero" stereotype, which if you are used to more social games will start to go on your nerves when the closest thing to a conversation you'll have is to be hugged by a monstrosity out of H.R. Giger' s mind.

So, it depends what you are looking for. If you want a fantastic experience in gaming history written in a futuristic world where you have to fight teeth and nails to survive the infestation of the parasitic alien, while also facing off against one of the better villains in video game history, then yes. I recommend it, but do not expect a game to rule all other games and in the darkness, bind them.


darketernal's avatar
Featured community review by darketernal (September 10, 2009)

Occasional reviewer of random stuff.

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