70 Years have passed since the incident on Citadel Station and SHODAN, the Artificial Intelligence that tried to ruin the world is but a note of history. The mega-Corporation Tri-Optimum has developed a FTL(Faster Than Light) Drive and after extensive testing, has built a ship, the Van Braun, to test the drive on her maiden voyage into the vast unknown. With the AI XERXES handling the everyday operations of the ship and the military destroyer UNN Rickenbacker piggybacking on the Van Braun, everything seems like a formula for success…
You’re a soldier stationed on the Van Braun, and as soon as you wake from your sleep in the cyrochamber, the memory restoration procedure fails mid-way through and leaves you without any memories of what has been happening ever since you came on board. Soon, the Mysterious Dr. Polito contacts you and thus begins your journey into hell…
In this game, you have the choice of 3 main classes that you can play as. Each class is unique in its own way and if you wish, by allocating the proper amount of Cybermodules (Think of them as skill points to buy new skills/stats with), you can effectively make your persona into another class, or perhaps a combination of the 2. It all depends on your style of play and your skill level.
The first class is the marine, the weapons guy in this game. If you play as him, your task will be straight forward: shoot, kill, destroy, kill some more, shoot some more, and lets not forget some maintenance on the weapons, shall we? You will have to count on your high strength, endurance, agility and weapon knowledge to get you through this game.
Enroll into the Navy, and you become a Hacker. As a hacker, your mission becomes a bit more complex as you must rely more on your brains and hacking ability to help your survive. See that security camera? If you were a marine you could’ve blasted it down but if you’re a hacker, you may not have that luxury. You must hack into the security systems, temporarily disable it, and run by any defensive measures before it comes back on line. You can also hack into the defense turrets and reprogram them to fire on your enemies, and the keypad locks on doors in order to gain access to rooms. As a hacker, you’ll be forced to rely mostly on indirect ways to solve problems and kill enemies.
Finally, the Black Ops Division (OSA) will train in the ways of a Psi User. You will use your Psi amplifier in order to channel your Psi powers to perform all sorts of tasks. You can learn more skills as time goes by, and the ability to cloak completely is available to you as well…if you devote yourself to this path.
System Shock uses an expanded version of the Thief engine, and while the Thief engine does have its strengths, it has one major weakness: Low Polygon Count Humanoid Models. While this doesn’t take anything away from the game, it’s sometimes weird to see gangly enemies wandering around hunting for you while you’re trying to keep calm to hear their moans.
Ah yes, moans. As all people all know, one of the key points of having a frightening experience is the music and the sound that is present, and this is where System Shock 2 shines. The music in this game is top notch, and they all help convey the creepiness of a nearly deserted spaceship. Each enemy has its own characteristic chatter and you’ll soon learn each one of them by heart in order to prepare yourself from the troubles ahead. Hybrids will talk among themselves, the mechs will give their status situation, the lab monkeys will chatter, and the Cyborg Midwives will complain about their children. System Shock 2 includes support for environmental audio in the form of EAX, which the Sound Blaster Live (and Live Value) Supports. While this is better than no support at all, you can’t help but wonder if it would’ve been better served with A3D 2.0(which is superior to EAX in most respects) support instead.
The story relies mostly on audio logs from crew members that you find lying around, as well as the occasional E-mail from the surviving members (there aren’t many). While this may seem like a weird way to do it, it is actually effective. The voice acting is top notch and this also adds to the feel of loneliness that you feel throughout the game. The game does everything in its power to convey this feeling, as well as the feeling that you are more of a tool to an overmind than a real person.
One of the most impressive feats that the developers have pulled off is the interface. System Shock 2 is much more complex than the run of the mill first person shooter, with RPG elements seamlessly interwoven into the game, and all things can be accomplished by a simple action binded to a key or by pressing either the TAB or the middle mouse button to switch to inventory mode. While in Inventory mode, your movements will be limited but will give you full access to your Inventory (the maximum amount of items you can carry is determined by your strength level) as well as your stats, the map, logs and E-mail. By making this easily accessible and easy to get rid of in the midst of a battle, you will not have to consult the manual every few seconds in order to perform a task that you must do.
System Shock 2 is a step forward in making a FPS/RPG Hybrid, and if other companies decide to ride on this bandwagon, it can only benefit the RPG community. While the story is a bit predictable, it is still quite interesting to follow and it is definitely worth following through to the end. Final comment? If you like First Person Shooters as well as RPGs and have the necessary system to run it, you owe it to yourself to buy System Shock 2. It may very well be a shoe-in for the PC game of the year.