Friday, 5 July 2013

Classic Game - System Shock 2 (PC)

Shock, Horror! It's another fantastic 1990's PC FPS!

Amazingly, considering that first person shooters were my genre of choice throughout the 1990's, I have never played System Shock 2. Shocking (excuse the pun) I know, but true. I am not sure how I managed to miss this classic game, but I can only assume it was because I was too busy with university, drinking and girls to have noticed it. That, or maybe I was hooked on my new Sega Dreamcast. Anyway, regardless of my shameful negligence, I have finally gotten around to experiencing this ground breaking title, and boy, am I glad I did.

The Sci-Fi horror setting is absolutely brimming with atmosphere and tension. 
This is genuinely scary stuff!

System Shock 2 is a Sci-Fi horror game that effortlessly blends other genres with its core FPS roots. Part RPG, part survival horror - even a dash of point & click adventure - this game isn't afraid to try out new and exciting mechanics, and becomes a far richer and captivating experience because of it. The story is set on a newly launched space ship in the distant future, with a genetic infection that turns anyone it comes into contact with into horrible mutants with a collective mindset. You are a lone soldier who wakes up to complete chaos on this ship, and must follow the radio orders of an ally, or so it would seem.

This psionic weapon allows you to attack enemies and engage 'Force' style abilities.

The first thing that I noticed was how well the visuals still hold up, 14 years later. While the textures are rather blurry and soft around the edges - the faces of the crew members and monsters especially so - the graphics still manage to impress, and the lighting is still as atmospheric as ever. Lights flicker and pipes hiss and steam at you, creating a creepy and extremely tense environment to explore. The monsters skulk and moan in a fashion that makes you feel genuine unease, and with limited ammunition and strong enemies that can clobber you to death in a couple of hits, it makes for an incredibly nail-biting experience as you make your way around the doomed vessel.

Thankfully the gun-based combat is satisfying; Just be careful not to run out of ammo mid-firefight!

Starting with a wrench (made famous by Half-Life - released the previous year) with which to bludgeon the hideous monsters, you will soon find yourself armed with familiar weapons such as pistols and shotguns, as well as a special Psionic weapon that can be used to fire harmful shots, or pull objects – much like The Force in Star Wars. The games RPG leanings become apparent from the offset, allowing you to choose your class – or career path – in the form of the Marines, the Navy, or the OSA (a Psionic based agency). The classes don't stop you from using all the abilities and gadgets on offers, but they help you specialise in them. Indeed, they differ enough to warrant multiple playthroughs in order to experience a different style of gameplay each time. As you progress will find, or be rewarded with, cyber-modules. These are then used at dispenser-like machines to upgrade various attributes and stats of your character. You can upgrade standard stats such as strength and endurance, or level up your special abilities such as hacking, the repair and modification of weapons or Psionic abilities. It is a deep system that can initially appear complex, but once you have read what each attribute does, it all becomes clear.

This may look daunting, but it is actually rather simple once you get used to it. Plus, you can pick and choose which parts of this HUD show up when you press TAB.

The inventory system plays an important part in proceedings, and thankfully, is a joy to use. Pressing Tab will bring up the HUD and inventory, allowing you to equip, use, or rearrange items with the mouse. Gameplay continues in real-time, so you must be careful not to do this when there could be hostiles nearby – adding to the tension felt throughout the game. Items such as food and syringes can be used to heal, or increase your Psionic levels, while guns can be reloaded, modified and repaired. Unidentified items can be researched – providing your Research skill is high enough – using chemicals found in storage rooms, leading to discoveries that will assist you in combat against the abominations on board the ship. Resource management is important too, as you will never have enough space to carry everything you find, so inventory sacrifices must be made along the way. Hacking is also a vital skills to possess as much of the ship's computerised systems can be infiltrated in order to disable security systems, obtain cheaper or improved items from the replicators, or unlock doors. 

There are plenty of gruesome moments throughout the game - Many of which show what happened to the poor crew members before your arrival.

System Shock is an incredibly deep game, but is so well designed and executed that it all becomes second nature after a short amount of time spent playing. It can be genuinely scary at times, and will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. It has exciting combat, an addictive looting and upgrading system, and most importantly, bags of atmosphere. It is easy to see why this game is held in such high regard among the PC gaming community, and why is was the most requested title for It is also clear to see why the excellent Bioshock (also developed by Irrational Games) is seen as a spiritual successor, as that game borrows many of the mechanics seen here. If I were to nitpick, I would say the only minor flaws in System Shock 2 are some rather ropey voice-acting, and the last part of the game isn't as much fun as the rest (though it isn't Half-Life 'alien world' bad). There really is little to complain about, and as System Shock 2 has recently been released on Gog, with a few added extras for fans (soundtrack art and a radio interview with the games creator), it is a great time to discover this classic title for yourself.

Hideous mutants, gigantic robots, arachnids and more await you on the doomed space ship.

It is also worth noting that there are various graphical modifications available online (check moddb) that allow you to experience the game with much improved visuals. I chose to play my first time through using the original graphics.

Title : System Shock 2

Developer : Irrational Games

Year : 1999

System : PC

Available now on Gog and Steam

Also Play :

Bioshock 1 & 2

(PC, X360, PS3)

2007 / 2010

Fallout 3 (Game of the Year Edition)

(PC, X360, PS3)


Deus Ex 

(PC, Mac, PS2, PSN)