System Shock 2 is one of my favourite games, if not my favourite game. But does that make it perfect? Nope! But it is bloody good. I recently replayed it and figured I may as well do a review because…why not? Even now, more than 12 years since its original release, it’s still a remarkably engaging and compelling experience. It’s essentially a science-fiction FPS/RPG hybrid with a dose of horror sprinkled on top.
It’s very addictive, drawing you in right from the start. It has horror elements, but little to no jump scares. It relies instead of the effective use of sound, lighting and environmental design to create an unsettling and oppressive atmosphere. Progression is nearly perfectly paced throughout and there’s a fairly large degree of freedom to explore as you see fit, although the game itself is quite linear in terms of where to go and what to do next.
Enemy variety is good, making you take advantage of your full range of weapons and abilities. There are four main upgrade paths – your ‘core’ stats plus Weapons, Technology and Psi. In this playthrough I played as a hybrid marine(standard weapons)/tech (hacking) build which does tend to make it rather easy on the default normal, but I’ve played it several times now and know the game practically inside out so that’s hardly surprising.
The story is interesting and keeps you hooked and there’s an early twist which I still enjoy immensely. There’s a great sense of success as you complete small assignments or overcome obstacles, which always then leads onto a new area or problem to solve. The audio and VA work is fantastic. Personal logs you discover as you progress fill in the picture of events before you arrived on the scene allowing you to slowly piece things together. Some are linked, telling smaller stories of horror or survival, others containing useful clues or codes you need.
In terms of combat you have melee weapons, standard guns, heavy weapons and energy weapons as well as your Psi abilities. Although upgrades are fairly plentiful, you won’t be able to max out every weapon tree or ability. Different weapons are more or less effective against different enemy types. Standard and Heavy weapons come with a variety of different ammo types such as anti-personnel rounds, armour piercing or EMP/Incendiary grenades for example.
You also have a research ability which requires certain ingredients, allowing you access to ‘exotic’ weapons and new implants. There’s also different sorts of armour. Plus, weapons can be upgraded or repaired (if broken) or maintained to improve their rating and performance. These tie into the tech skills.
You can hack a variety of things such as vending machines, security systems, doors and storage crates. Depending on your character build your game experience will certainly be different as you focus your skills in different areas which lends the game a nice degree of replayability. There’s a good degree of freedom for the player to explore, experiment and upgrade as they see fit. It gives the player direction, but doesn’t handhold.
Playing SS2 again reminded me how disappointing Bioshock Infinite was in terms of gameplay. I know I’ve already covered this, but compared to SS2, a game 12 years its senior, it seriously lacks in terms of the complexity in how you develop your character, in terms of the combat options available, not to mention in the variety of enemies you’ll face.
Faults? Like I said, SS2 isn’t perfect. It gets too easy when you know the ins and outs, but then I suppose that’s true of most games. There are a few less than stellar sections (such as the Many segment and the very final area) The final couple of ‘boss’ fights are also pretty terrible, but fortunately they don't ruin the overall experience.
Overall, System Shock 2 was and remains a fantastic game. It’s a highly enjoyable experience, even though I practically know it all off the top of my head these days. Highly recommended.