Release Date: August 11, 1999
Developer: Looking Glass Studios, Irrational Games
Metacrtic Score: 92
In my opinion the easiest way to make any story better is to set it in space. I don’t care how bad the story gets, if it’s set in space it will hold a special place in my heart. To let you know just how seriously I am about this, allow me to tell you something of personal embarrassment: I have watched “Jason X” several times, by my self, for enjoyment. This movie is not good; in fact, it’s very very bad. But it’s in space, so i’ve watched , re-watched it and re-re-watched it. So with this in mind, I pose this question: does this make “System Shock 2” a better version of “Bioshock” or is “Bioshock” a lesser “System Shock 2”?
In the year 2114 a company called TriOptimum creates the worlds first FTL (Faster Than Light) star ship, the Von Braun ; a UNN ship, the Rickenbacker, is attached to the ship in order to accompany it in case things go wrong. 5 months latter the crew of the Von Braun respond to a distress signal on the planet Tau Ceti V. After touching down on the planet they discover alien eggs that infect part of the crew, turning them into “the many” who kill off survives. At the same time as all of this is happening, the ships computer AI, Xerxes, has gone haywire. You play as an unnamed solider who was awoken from cryosleep with one main objective: get from the Von Braun to the Rickenbacker, escape and blow the Many right back to hell. Along the way there are complications, of course. Biomatter clogging the elevators, radiation leaks and the potability of Shodan, a malevolent A.I. supercomputer might not be as dead as those who played the first game might think she is.
The story here is pretty good, although the games age shows. There’s little here I’d call padding, and I was always eager to get a hold of the next audio log to peace together the story (although the voice acting is far from great). Just like in Biosock (this games spiritual successor) the story starts of small, then gets bigger. At first you are just trying to get out alive, but the more you learn and the more the Many talk about how the loss of individuality being a ideal to aspire to, asking why you wish to be one instead of many and why you choose the coldness of metal over the warmth of flesh. I wouldn’t say the game is as profound as Bioshock, but its interesting, unique and asked questions most games wouldn’t dare ask.
The question that I’m sure is on your mind is “do I have to play the first game to peripatetic this one”? I can’t fully answer that as I myself haven’t played the original “System Shock”, but I felt the events of the previous game I needed to know were summarized well enough. I know I personally hate jumping into a sires from the mid point or later, but here it isn’t something I found too be too annoying.
In the end, even though the voice acting could use an update (we’ll get more into that latter), but this is very much worthy of being remembered along side it’s two good children (Bioshock’s 1 and Infinite).
The one thing “System Shock 2” has over it’s predecessor is it’s depth of game play. Where Bioshock was a shooter first, System Shock 2 is very much an RPG. You start out with a few free skill points (pro-tip: pay attention to the first three docks you enter, the perks change each time), spread across four categories: stats, weapons, tech and pys (the plasmids of the game). Each category has several subsets to them (like heavy weapons vs energy weapons), and you have to pay for each point in each category separately. So if you want to be a Speedy Hacker who’s also proficient in stranded weapons, those are three skills you have to pay for independently. Unlike most RPG’s however, you don’t just gain the EX. After completing tasks you are gives a set of “cyber-modules” witch you can also find throughout the world. When you add that to ever increasing skill cost, you begin to really value each module you get. Take my advise, and pick the skills you want early and just focus on those, with the exception of the few you’ll need.
Lets expand on that “the skills you need” bit for a moment, shall we. The play through I did in order to review was my third or fourth play through. On my first I didn’t have the skill points to research something, so I ran out of the chemicals needed before finishing and I had to restart. The next time I didn’t loot something off a corpse before leaving, and when the body disappeared I lost the ability to continue. This is one of the few places where the game’s shine begins to dull is that you need to do certain things the way the game wants you too, or else you’re going to lose a lot of progress. It got so bad that by the time I got around to this play through I needed the game at around 8 hours instead of the 20-40 it should have. The best way around this, I found, is to have two saves going at the same time ; one you save as often as you need the other you only update when you’re sure you’ve made progress.
Another area when the game could be a bit better is better informing the player on the controls. I spent nearly 60 hours across multiple play throughs going into the inventory to change ammo types, when I could have just been hitting “B” the entire time. Thankfully you can change the controls when ever you wish. Which you’ll want to do at the start because the default controls are pretty awful. Another thing the game doesn’t teach you is that you can unload the guns you pic up, which is necessary in order to keep stocked
And as seeing that I’m on the complain train, lets talk about the hacking, modifying and repairing minigame. All you do is connect three dots and prey you get it right and what every your doing doesn’t cause the thing you’re working to jam up or explode. Take my advise, and save before you start.
With all that said, I still really liked playing the game, and I think you will too. It is very close too its predecessor Bioshock, just a little more obtuse. If you can get past that, then you’re in for a treat, as this really is one of the best Action RPG’s i’ve played in a long time. When you add the depth of the game to it’s hunting atmosphere and low ammo, you are left with a rather Dark Souls-ean experience, where progress feels earned and each new step you take fills you with dread, as you know death may be right around the corner. It’s not as difficult as From Softwares masterpiece (though the game is no cake walk either) but they both work the “give the player the means to just scrape by” kind of horror better than anyone i’ve seen before.
Game Play: 4/5
Music and Sound:
Here things just are not very good. The first and most heinous offender is the soundtrack. From the start of the game you are greeted by this awful techno. It doesn’t help that I don’t like techno from the get go, but the music is literally so out of place it throws off the entire tone of the game. When you turn it off (not “if”, when) the game really shines through with it’s creepy atmosphere and horror aesthetic, but the soundtrack is more made for a high action experience. If this was just a case of “i don’t like it” I would have just gotten over it, but destroying the tone of the game is an unforgivable misstep.
Then there’s the voice acting. All the audio logs you find seem to be voiced by who ever the developers found hanging out instead of real, professional voice actors. The moans of the mutants literally all sound the same, giving the impression that you’re fighting one mutant clone rather than am entire crews worth of infected beings. I found this to be the easiest too ignore, but it is what it is. The one saving grace is the voice actor for Shodan, who starts to glitch out near the end of the game, and these sections are super well done. All of this can be excused as “the game was made in 1999”, but with how good the rest of the game is, these issues really stand out.
Music and Sound: 2.5/5
Overall Score: 3.6/5
Who is this game for:
Fans of Bioshock who want a bit more depth, RPG fans and, from what I understand, those interested in video game design, as I hear designers raving about this game all the time, but as I’m not a designer I’m not really qualified to tell you why.