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System Shock 2 Review

Colin By:
GENRE Action 
M Contains Animated Blood and Gore, Animated Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Your pathetic individuality pales in comparison to the power of The Many!

Navy Officer's Log
Time: 0838
Date: Unknown, year 2112
Location: Aboard the Von Braun

Log#13824 - I've hacked into a local laser turret and taken control of it. That should give me some time to sit down and sort out my thoughts. I don't know how long I've been on this damned ship. The last thing I remember is signing on to the escort mission for Earth's first Faster-Than-Light starship, the Von Braun. Next thing I know, I'm stepping out of a cryo-tube and into chaos. Though this is my fourth year in the Navy, nothing could prepare me for this madness.

No one is alive. Most of the ship's crew has been taken over by a worm-like parasite that seems to be controlled by some sort of hive-mind. Those who were lucky, and I use that term loosely, to survive the first onslaught committed suicide soon after for fear of the alien things their co-workers have become. My cyber-rig, augmented for this mission, is able to pick up remnant psychic emissions, enabling me to occasionally see "ghosts" of the crew in their final moments.

Needless to say, I'm scared. As bad as the onslaught of the alien organisms is, I can't shake the feeling that there's something more . . . evil behind all of this. My only guide is a mysterious voice over my Comm system. While she claims to be a crewmember still alive in Ops, I'm not quite so sure. She is occasionally providing me with cyber-modules to further alter my cybernetics, which is helpful, to say the least. All I can do is follow her instructions and hope she's on the level. Damn, the laser turret is firing! They've used the ship's own security system to track me! I can't stay here any lon. . .

Log#13824 - v.75 - @End Transmission@

First-Person Shooters (FPS) are a dime-a-dozen today. Ever since the phenomenal success of Doom, FPS games have followed a simple formula: strafe and shoot. With few exceptions, this formula still stands.

Unbeknownst to many gamers, there is another form of FPS that has been around for quite a while. Released at about the same time as Doom 2, System Shock quietly entered the gaming world. With RPG elements fused into the action, System Shock was arguably one of the best PC games ever. Though never very popular, it was not forgotten by hardcore gamers. Now, with System Shock 2, the traditional formula is challenged once again. And, once again, gamers are given a fantastic game. A coincidence? I think not.

Plot, though rare in FPS games, has been seen before. In great games like Half-Life and the Marathon series, designers have proved that you don't sacrifice the action by adding a plot. If anything, it enhances the gameplay experience and gives you a reason to strafe and shoot. Since the plot development is such an amazing part of System Shock 2, I can't bring myself to ruin the surprise. You'll have to discover the horror for yourself.

Speaking of which, the game is brimming with horror. With neat sound effects and occasional spurts of music, System Shock 2 rivals the spooky factor of such console favorites as Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill. The voices of your pursuers echo down the hallways, sending chills down your spine.

The graphics just compound the horror. Nothing unnerves you quite like entering a room with a body dangling on a noose from the ceiling. Running on a refined version of the engine used in Thief: The Dark Project, there is full light-sourcing and object interaction. This means you can pick up that magazine lying on the table. It won't do you any good, but you can pick it up.

For the most part, the enemy AI is also taken from Thief, meaning that the enemies can not only see you, but hear you as well. Light plays a big role on whether or not the enemies spot you, and you better watch where you step . . .

Though all of these features are good, there is one thing that raises System Shock 2 over all the rest - the character generation. Unlike most other FPS games, you are not just some generic marine who already knows all the skills he needs to destroy the aliens. System Shock 2 takes more of a role-playing game approach.

You start by choosing which branch of the armed forces you wish to join: the Marines (all guns, few brains), the OSI (Psychic powers are your friends), or the Navy (Computer and Mechanical systems). Of course, you're not limited to fields specific to your career choice, but it does affect your characters starting stats.

Once in the game, your character continues to improve. Besides having 14 different weapons, numerous weapon augmentations and ammo, 35 different Psi Powers, and several different armor types, your character has stats and skills which can be improved at certain consoles in the game by using the "cyber-modules" you have found or gained. Stats are your basic Strength, Agility, Endurance, Psionics, and Cyber Affinity. Skills include your proficiency with the different weapon types (Standard, Energy, Heavy, and Exotic), various OS upgrades to your cyber rig (no, not Win2000), Hacking, Maintenance, Repair, Modifications, and Research. With this much detail, you can uniquely tailor your gameplay experience.

In most FPS games, you just run into and area and shoot everything that moves. While that still can be true in System Shock 2 (especially if you're the marine), there are always several ways around an obstacle. Perhaps by hacking into the security system, you can turn off that area's defenses. Or, you might be able to use your psychic powers to distract and confuse the enemy as you slip right on by. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill frag fest.

For those having too much trouble defeating the game by themselves, the developers are working on a Multiplayer patch that will allow you to play cooperatively. Deathmatch is not an option . . . it just wouldn't fit the plot. In an era where FPS games are becoming entirely multiplayer experiences (ie Quake 3 Arena, Team Fortress 2), it's good to see a developer keep the plot and single-player gameplay as the focus.

So that's the good . . . Is there any bad? Sure. Since no game is perfect, there are always little details that bug gamers. Dropping an item, for example is done poorly. Instead of dropping it at your feet, you throw the item in the direction you're facing. This also happens when your inventory is full and you attempt to pick up an item. Though annoying, it's not that big of a deal.

Also, the hacking should be a little more involved. The first System Shock had a more detailed, albeit more annoying, hack setup. System Shock 2 kept reminding me of Shadowrun for the Genesis, which had an excellent cyberspace component. In System Shock 2, the hacking is mostly luck, with stat modifiers simply improving your odds.

System Shock 2 is, bar none, the best FPS game to come down the pipe in quite awhile. This game proves that there is more to this genre than most developers are willing to give it, and first person games can have more than just constant action. By successfully blending the RPG and action elements, System Shock 2 has assured its place in gaming history. Don't believe me? You can see for yourself with the Demo. Of course, after playing the demo, you're just going to have to go out and buy the game. You won't be sorry.

A Revolution report card
  • Good Plot.
  • Amazing Depth.
  • Cool Character Generation.
  • Darn Spooky.

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