System Shock 2 is a First Person Shooter/RPG hybrid that is mixed with some horror elements. It is set aboard mankind’s first experimental FTL starship, named the Von Braun as an unknown disaster soon strikes. We play as an unnamed and mute protagonist four years before that incident occurs with that time being spent training your character. It is quite an in-depth intro that tasks you with choosing which branch of the military to join, your specialties and the missions you undertake to mold him as you see fit. Be a stealthy hacker, a powerful psionic user able to perform near magical abilities, an ordinary soldier, or a wide mix of other possibilities. After your four years are up, you are assigned to guard said space vessel right before things turn dire, and you suddenly find yourself having to make use of every asset you’ve learned in order to stay alive.
It is a far cry from being a simple hacker like in the original System Shock, and that is not the only change this sequel makes. This time around the interface as well as the controls are much more straightforward, playing like most other Shooters and in turn making it far more accessible than its predecessor. Another change is with the difficulty settings now being standardized and no longer allowing you to change each aspect of the title such as puzzles, combat or amount of story to see. From the get-go, it is very apparent that it has been streamlined but do not mistake that for being dumb downed. The tweaks to the mechanics have for the most part been for ease of use like now having in-game notes so we always know where to go and don’t have to write down pass-codes, better combat and the all together removal of those bizarre cyberspace hacking sequences.
In its place are more traditional RPG features such as stat points and a much-improved upgrading system. This is why your decisions at the start of the game are so impactful. Sure you can make a specialized class that is powerful from the beginning, but one can’t simply wield everything they find anymore, making it useful to have an alternative combat style. As an example say you are a pure psionic user, you’ll be straight out of luck when you run out of energy to cast abilities and can’t even equip the pistol that you already have a ton of ammo to defend yourself with. Building a character is as in-depth as it is enjoyable. You have Hacking to unlock containers, Maintain to repair your rapidly degrading weapons and a ton more that greatly encourage you to mix & match instead of going down a single upgrade route.
Every upgrade be it a stat, a spell or weapon skills can only be purchased using Cyber Modules. These modules can be obtained by either completing missions or from finding them in the environments. Considering this single module is used for everything, it is safe to say it is always in short supply as you try not to binge on smaller upgrades instead of saving up for a more substantial one. Exploring every inch of this ravaged ship that contains an army of creatures wanting nothing more than to murder you quickly becomes an addiction. One will gladly prance right into an obvious trap, even as a noncombatant specialist in search of the almighty module, making finding hidden essential objects come naturally. Also found throughout the blood sneered halls of the vessel are a currency known as Nanites. These allow you to buy certain items such as health or psi hypos to regenerate each and are used in hacking, modifying weapons as well as repairing.
Backtracking throughout already explored environments is minimal in comparison to the original game which was more akin to an Open World. You will nearly always be exploring new locations and have a clear view of what must be done in order to progress. The only reason you’d want to go back to old locations aside from the few sequences where you must, is to get your hands on random chemicals scattered throughout. These are used to research chunks of whatever creature you got it from in order to give you 25% extra damage against them, allow you to consume it for a beneficial effect or even equip it for abilities such as gaining health by eating worms. At other times you may encounter alien weaponry or armor which must also be researched before you can use them. You may be wondering why we can’t simply lug around these valuable chemicals and in fact, we can. The problem is that there are so many different formulas that your inventory will quickly be filled. It is certainly very handy to hoard them up in a single location since items don’t disappear however.
Enemies you will be facing throughout range from organic to robotic, both having their own strengths and weakness. Facing a cyborg, it will be much more effective to insert some armor piercing rounds into your weapon of choice. Most, if not all guns feature different types of ammo to use on various occasions. It is vital to pay attention as to what you are up against in order to not only conserve ammo but the weapon itself since they degrade quickly. Psionic abilities face the same ordeal as anything else and some skills will flat out not work against certain foes. Unleashing a sea of fire onto a robot won’t do anything other than waste your energy while casting a freezing spell, on the other hand, does affect it for some odd reason. When all else fails, you can always turn to your trusty wrench that will damage even the most heavily armored of foes. Seriously, this thing is a deadly weapon, even in the hands of someone not built for melee.
Shooting, bashing and exploding everything that moves is all well and good but they do not usually have anything worthwhile to scavenge from their corpses. Evading encounters or simply running away is a valid tactic, especially considering that new enemies will eventually spawn in so you are never truly safe either way. System Shock 2 is not full on horror though it will immerse you into its intense atmosphere and can at times even frighten you. A good shotgun in your hands keeps you from feeling any fear most of the times, but foes like the Midwife will quickly make you stop in your tracks and hesitantly proceed forward at a snail’s pace. Most of the enemies do not have hit-scan attacks so combat is immediately much more fun than in the original, even before taking into consideration the greatly improved controls. Using a Psi based character, in particular, is a joy since you can purchase a wide variety of powers such as turning invisible, negating 60% damage done to you, then creating a custom melee weapon out of thin air to name just some of the possibilities with the many abilities at your disposal.
It is unfortunate that selecting different Psi skills on the fly is such a hassle since it does make experimenting during combat much more difficult than it should be. While on the topic of the flaws in combat, I should mention that melee feels quite awkward to get the hang of. This is mostly due to how short the range of it is and if you are not practically standing on their shoe, the attack will not connect. One of your biggest threats which I am not crazy about has got to be the security cameras. They can spot you from a mile away and setting them off will cause you to get hounded by endlessly respawning enemies for 120 seconds. Since they are hidden away in corners, it is very easy to walk into a room without seeing them and it just ruins the pace of the game in my opinion. It could have been slightly offset by retaining the original title’s feature in where destroying a camera will weaken the AI’s control over the area, eventually leading to a once locked door to open for some extra loot.
So its finally time to talk about the star of the show, Shodan herself. In the events of the last game we went through hell and back to destroy her, so how in the world did she survive? Well, the story gives a rather good explanation to this that will slowly unveil that the situation is far more complicated than you could have imagined. I don’t want to spoil it but I will say that the story is excellent and will keep you engaged to the very end. As I previously stated, the game has been streamlined quite a bit and we can no longer accidentally perform actions such as destroying the entire planet by pressing a switch that you had no idea what it was for. That makes it all the more surprising that the ending is impossible to complete if you did not invest in a specific skill. What skill that is should be obvious considering who you are facing but since the rest of the game was so much more accessible towards the casual gamer, it does come as a surprise that it pulled that right at the end.
This journey across the Von Braun and beyond will take you around 16 hours to complete. By the end of all that you’ll still have plenty of skills and abilities that you may have never invested into, along with many weapons you couldn’t use. It immediately makes you want to replay it just to see what you’ve missed and what else is left to discover with a game containing so much depth. For example, it can be all too easy to not even realize that you can sell your items and other seemingly useless objects for Nanites or that Annelid Eggs may contain goodies in them if you set them off. It is still a brilliant game even after 18 years and possessing multiple spiritual successors such as Bioshock or Prey. System Shock 2 still stands on its own two feet and even though the graphics have aged, it is a title everyone that enjoys video games should try at some point.