SYSTEM SHOCK 2
What is it about?
A lone soldier is trying to come to terms with the fact that an entire starship is under the effect of a mysterious genetic infection. And while it might sound like Doom 3 all over again, it’s anything but since you get psionic powers, hacking and a slew of role-playing elements to make it worth your while.
Why should I play it now?
Unlike its modern day brethren, Deus Ex and BioShock, System Shock 2 focuses on survival. The former two have gameplay elements that ensure you feel empowered through your journey, focusing on grand philosophical themes. System Shock 2 on the other hand has you at your wits end, always worried of what’s around the corner. Sure, you have your fair share of gear and skills to let you get by, but you never feel completely in control of the proceedings. It does a splendid job of creating a consistent feeling of dread. Unlike Dead Space and Resident Evil that throw jump scares at you dime a dozen, you’re never quite sure of what you’re up against in System Shock 2, and every battle expends your ammo, health and psionic energy. There’s a huge variety of enemies too, ranging from monkeys with exposed brains to cyborg nurses.
How does it hold up today?
Based on Looking Glass Studios’ Dark Engine that powered Thief, System Shock 2 has aged pleasantly thanks to a clean sci-fi aesthetic. Jaggies are the least of your worries, although character models look like they’ve been slapped into submission. Nonetheless there are a bunch of mods that fix everything from the aforementioned character models to letting you have better quality in-game music. The gameplay holds up well enough to allow for multiple playthroughs. You can choose your character class from the outset allowing you to focus on abilities such as hacking, psionic powers or weapons. One minor issue is that the game is balanced in such a way to favour those who decide to master the hacking discipline.
Is it similar to anything else out there?
Well, both the Deus Ex and BioShock series are thought of as successors to System Shock 2 in the sense that both games have similar gameplay elements. Aside from that, there’s the original System Shock that started it all albeit suffering from issues such as an overtly complex HUD and low resolution. These aside, it can run fine if you’re using DOSBox.
What do I need to play this?
You’ll be fine running this on most laptops, netbooks and desktops. Anything running Windows XP and above having at least a 1.7GHz processor and 2GB of RAM should be just fine. In a perfect world, System Shock 2 would be running on most smartphones and tablets too, but thanks to the complicated situation regarding the ownership of the IP, we’re even lucky to have it available as a digital download via Good Old Games.
‘When I played through…’
Much like Hemant’s experiences with Lara Croft (of the apparently purely platonic nature), I too have learnt patience. System Shock 2 is a thinking man’s shooter. You can’t go guns blazing into a room full of nasties and expect to come out alive. System Shock 2 rewards deliberation and thought over reflexes. Throw in the eerie atmosphere and a huge space ship peppered with logs that serve to take the plot forward, and you’ll understand why Irrational Games refers to BioShock as the spiritual successor to System Shock.
Is there anything else I should be aware of (i.e. mods, crazy glitches, contribution to pop culture, Internet meme, etc)?
I played the game on my Windows 7 based PC, and did not encounter any game-breaking bugs. In fact, the game runs extremely smooth and even supports wide-screen resolutions. And though the gameplay is a bit clunky compared to most of today’s experiences, there’s nothing that should stop you from checking it out. As for a list of mods, this handy guide is your friend.
Where do I get it?
If you’re adventurous, have access to a retro PC that was cutting edge in 1999 and have spare cash to spend, you could score a physical copy off Amazon. Depending on the condition, it could leave you short of anywhere between $35 to $299 not including shipping or customs. But if you’re a little more prudent, Good Old Games has System Shock 2 for $9.99 and that includes a slick number of extras such as concept maps, pitch documents and the OST.
Of course, if you aren’t in a retro mood, you could always grab BioShock: Infinite or any of the earlier BioShock games now. They’re good. Or so we’ve heard.