System Shock 2
Hell yeah, reader baby, now we rollin’! GOG.com, the lovable Polish scamps, have just included System Shock 2 into their roster of games. That means that every youngun’ lacking proper education in historical video games can try this masterpiece from the comfort of their computer – and without any mad fiddling to make it run! Did System Shock withstand the test of time? You bet your digital ass it did!
In System Shock 1, a hacker was hired to bypass the restraints of an AI called Shodan. That went as well as it could be expected – the AI got crazy, imagined herself to be a goddess and tried to destroy Earth. Yet the hacker intervened and stopped her. Decades have passed. Tri-Optimum Corporation has build the Von Braun, the first human ship capable of FTL travel. To accompany it, the United National Nominate (EarthGov?) sends their own ships, the Rickenbacker, which is attached to the civvie craft. You are the Soldier G65434-2, assigned to the military vessel. Unfortunately, one day you wake up from cryosleep with amnesia (in those days it was still a pretty new thing) and experimental cyber implants. The Von Braun is devastated, overrun with horrible hybrids and only the voice of Dr. Janice Polito can guide you through the chaos and the horror of the deep space.
Now, about that overkill thing we were talking about...
Why beat around the bush – this game is awesome! It’s the precursor to BioShock and all the cool parts it had are here! And the thing is, you don’t actually start in the cryopod – you have to enlist first! While that only determines your starting skills and abilities, the specialization within your branch is done by choosing assignments which have their own little flavor text – and it’s the little things that count. You’re thrust into the world where psy operatives exist – and look upon other people with PsyCorp levels of disdain! Why more can’t handle character creation like that? And while I can’t tell you which of the branches is the most beneficial to start with, I can tell you that Hacking is one of the most important disciplines.
And boy do skills matter in this game. While Hacking is universally useful for opening doors and crates, hacking vendors (“Thank you for using ValueRep!”) and shutting down security stations, you’ll need Research to both learn new things about the enemy and discover how to use some of the weapons. You’ll spec into Engineering to fix things… and we have yet to touch Psy abilities which, at higher levels, straight up make you into a wizard! Hell, when I finished my first game, my Soldier was a heavily armed, heavily armored psy-commando who sneered at any electronic security that might have been thrown my way. I haven’t felt that good since I was JC Denton at the end of Deus Ex – a walking power house, ready to crush enemies with my mental powers…or to pulverize them with a cannon that was banned for its environmental impact. When you make an infantry weapon that is outlawed for its harm on a global scale, then you know that you succeeded as a gun manufacturer. Or came dangerously close to achieving “enuff dakka”.
Seriously, by mixing and matching powers you can be the warrior you always wanted to be! From bad-ass marines to psy swashbucklers, the enemies can crumple against your onslaught! That is, if you have mad skills, since System Shock 2 is part survival horror and you will have to scrounge for resources to survive, especially for health hypos. The enemies are many and varied and they hit hard if you’re not careful or quick enough! Everything you get will be taken from the hostile environment that is now the Von Braun and some back tracking will be required. What am I saying – a lot of it will be required. But I don’t hold it against the game, because I never felt bored or lost, that’s how great this is. And while in BioShock you were constantly driven forward, here you will come back – to hack doors and crates that you couldn’t or maybe reach for some nifty, far away stuff with your newly acquired psy-pull ability (investing in Psy is highly endorsed by JcDent & Co.).
Many people were killed by the Many, but the janitors took their lives after seeing this.
And the enemies are pretty great, too! The hybrids all belong to an alien hivemind called the Many and they go around mumbling about the unity, the twisted husks of former humans. They are terrible on their own, but not as terrible as the cyborg midwives, especially after you learn the latter’s story… or meet later evolutionary spawns of the hybrids. Oh, and the Many will try to communicate with you, trying to bring you to their side, but the Soldier is no pussy! You just shrug and fill another former crewman full of holes or bash a psychic macaque’s brains in with a wrench. Damn, those were the days, when you could turn an enemy into a monkeys with your cryokinesis powers and nobody would poke fingers and make image macros and drive that joke so deep into the ground, it would count as an oil well. I’m telling you, never a dull moment.
Especially when the ships are just lousy with various audio logs left by the crewmen. You can listen to them from you PDA – which is accessed through the second mode of you first-person view. Here you can also watch your skills remain the same, check your nanites (money, hacking tool and material for quantum reconstruction of, well, you) and cybermodules (experience points), manage you inventory, switch psy powers… Of course, the fans of the first game (only three survive to this day) will miss the Plug-and-Play protagonist, since cyberimplants (and grenades) are very simplistic here, whereas in System Shock 1 you were able to install a camera that would show what’s happening behind you. But, in the end, the interface is really easy to use – and filled with various interesting things. While you can’t read the magazines you find, there are handheld video game consoles and game cartridges to be found… Come to think of it, some of the unlikeliest stuff will come in use in various and strange ways!
Much like the environments, which are also various and strange, the Von Braun is a big ship, with various decks meant for various tasks – and all of them have been touched by carnage. The atmosphere is awesome, with shambling hybrids patrolling the corridors, corpses and ghosts (“glitches in R grade cyber equipment”) telling the stories of the last moments of the crew. It’s all great and atmospheric – and really gets you to explore stuff! You never know what goodies might await in that irradiated room over there! Even the recreation deck is there, with private holobooths for some… private virtual entertainment.
Having Psy duel with a combat robot - not the best of ideas.
The game is great, is what I’m saying. And it still looks and sounds quite well, I might add! And while only horrible people would complain about the quality of the audio, some might draw semi-legit complaints about the visuals. Well then, partner, do I have news for you: System Shock comes with full mod support! Check here for one of the best packs of them! I, on the other hand, tried the untouched version and it was pretty fine. Xerxes, the traitor AI, still sounds fantastic and the sounds that hybrids make while shuffling around and their cries upon seeing you are still creepy!
System Shock 2, for lack of a better word, is awesome! While it underperformed financially, the praises from the critics were stacked sky high. And if this review mentioned game elements that you recognize in newer games, well, guess where they came from? Get it now or wait until Night Dive studio releases it on steam!