Note: This is the second half of a two part review. The first one can be read here. Thank you for your time and have a good Tuesday.
— Also, I spoil the crap out of this game
The great cast of diverse, ideological opposing characters such as SHODAN or The Many in System Shock 2 create a solemn atmosphere of mistrust and anxiety in an off-world setting. The gameplay as well does not intrude on this tone and only heighten the sense of horror in the game. System Shock 2 features some in-depth mechanics that goes beyond a traditional first-person shooter with rpg elements (like the previous game) to give the player a deeper sense of involvement. The customisable skills and attributes with introductory character development lets the player feel like they can create a protagonist tailor-made to their liking even if he/she may flounder at first as they get used to the game mechanics. The player will have to learn to adapt to how to use these mechanics in a sparsely resourced and hostile environment as soon as they possibly can in order to combat against the never-ending array of dangerous creatures and monsters that haunt the halls of the Von Braun. These enemies also remain a challenge throughout the game, with increasingly dangerous encounters that keeps the player on edge often being forced to use whatever weapons and equipment you can scavenge to protect you.
Even starting the game on easy difficulty it’s apparent that the game will still bolster quite a challenge. Perhaps it’s because of the lack of health regeneration or starting the game with hardly anything and expected to best hybrid monsters, but this game feels a lot more challenging than modern standards. In this game, you are only a few enemy strikes away from death which escalates how tense the gameplay feels, especially at the start when you are so unsure what this game has to offer or what exactly is that sound around the corner. Players can use a variety of weapons, both melee and ranged, that come in certain upgradeable categories that are standard, heavy, energy and exotic weapons . They also are effective against certain enemy types which encourages experimentation and procuring more than one type of weapon to use in a playthrough. The shooting mechanics feel in place with other fps shooters at the time. Players, can move around quickly to dodge projectiles and attacks from low-poly monsters. Jumping feels a little floaty and sometimes you might get stuck in a piece of the environment but overall, the first-person shooter gameplay feels responsive and in tune with the horror elements of the game, as you deal with the panic of dangerous hybrids, turrets, robots and so on.
System Shock 2 also uses a well thought out overlay screen that when opened, shows us the inventory, stats, logs and other vital information. There’s never a dull moment when using it as the game does not pause when you access it, meaning you might have to think and use it quickly if you are in a dangerous situation and constantly leaves the player vulnerable to attack.
System Shock 2 is host to an array of monsters designed to intimidate the player as well as to kill. Some in design, look like plain old spiders, psychic monkeys while other look otherworldly and grossly fearful. The Many’s minions look similar to classic horror and sci-fi monsters such as zombies, Alien eggs or the demons from Doom. As the game progresses, new types of monsters and stronger, deadlier varieties of them start to appear which keeps gameplay feeling fresh twenty hours into the game.
Some enemies also have hauntingly intimidating vocal lines of jagged, corrupted speech that players can hear from a distance before they encounter them which serves to heighten the tension and fear that comes with the anticipation of running into them. It helps to prioritise the use of stealth and caution and to use smart gameplay manoeuvers in order to survive in the game. Sound design overall is excellent with ambient ship sounds and nineties electronic music that sets the mood for the game. My only gripe is that sometimes music, enemy attacks and important characters with directives will be heard all at once that the player cannot possibly pay attention to all at once. Voice acting might sound a little hit and miss sometimes with the logs but in a sense I find it oddly at place in this sprawling, futuristic space vessel crawling with parasitic humans and creepy auto-tuned killer cyborgs.
The game begins with a tutorial that allows to player to create a backstory to the protagonist which will dictate what characteristics he will begin the game with. The player drafts him into a military branch, either the Marines, Navy or OSA (psychic cops) that will enable a higher starting skill in either weapons, tech or PSI powers respectively as well certain statistics that can be leveled up like strength, endurance, agility etc. They don’t feel like a tacked on accessory to the games shooting or horror elements but rather an integral element to the overall game.
Some aspects of this game can only be fully utilised properly if the player has a certain number skill level in a pertaining category. Throughout the game, you’ll notice that you won’t be able to wear certain armour because you don’t have enough strength or you can’t wield a weapon because your weapon level is not high enough. If dying repeatedly in the beginning doesn’t make you think carefully about the player making the smartest choices in the game, these upgrades will showcase how player choices in the game matter and define your experience. They are improved by spending cyber modules, found throughout the game and given to the player for completing certain objectives. The different upgradeable branches cater to the different thematic identity’s of the game, military(weapons), psionic powers(PSI) and cyber/equipment skills(hacking, repairing, maintenance etc.) that feel different to each other because of how each one changes player interaction with the game.
PSI powers give a multitude of diverse effects that compliment different playstyles from hacking, charging weapons, temporarily increasing stats or damaging enemies in combat with psionic projectiles. Some of these PSI powers you spend cyber modules on to unlock give versatile in-game effects that couldn’t be achieved otherwise, especially when you combine them with other abilities or weapon types. My go-to was to use adrenaline to increase melee so my laser rapier (like a lightsaber but you don’t get sued for copyright infringement) could do extra damage like I was a space warrior with magic psionic powers(aka jedi).
Technical/cyber skills would cater to the completionist’s needs to see and secure everything this game has to offer. It’s also a great way for the player to gather resources to help survive and strengthen his character in a playthrough. Hacking offers a mini-game where the player has to click on “nodes” and get three white nodes in a node to hack a computer system which can be implemented to disable security cameras, cheaper prices for vending machine goods or access loot in secured crates. There is also the weapons category should the player choose to go through the more traditionally fps-style playthrough for this game that will unlock more powerful weapons the higher the level. The repair, maintenance and mod skills also work well in conjunction with weapons so as to possess more powerful, long-lasting weaponry.
The various gameplay elements feel perfectly moulded together while each one individually are executed without much fault. It all blends together well in a game with great variety but still retains a sense of claustrophobia and fear. While graphically it has aged, the game still remains immersive and unforgettable with great game design and immersion. System Shock 2 is evidence of good design and writing making a game feel timeless and unhindered.