System Shock 2
is probably the best PC game ever made, living up to the reputation of the origin System Shock
. It is so incredibly good that I feel motivated to discuss my feelings as to why.
System Shock 2 is portrayed in a very similar manner to the original. You are a hacker/person with cyber interface who wakes up from a healing coma to find their surroundings amiss. The original System Shock has Shodan retooling Citadel Station and performing mutagenic experiments on the station's inhabitants, and you must fight the station's security systems, the mutants and Shodan. System Shock 2 picks up with your ship responding to the signal from Beta Grove where it crash landed many light years from earth after being ejected by you in the original. Only now, Shodan's creations have evolved in her absence into a diabolical biological entity called the Many. Shodan is present in a piece of wrecked hardware of Beta Grove that your shipmates of course bring back on board with the mutants .. and you can imagine what happens then ..
Irrational Games and Looking Glass collaborated in modifying the Thief engine for use in this game (which is later used in Thief 2: The Metal Age. The implementation, on a whole, succeeds here not because it's singly superb in a certain area, but because it does almost everything very well.
The engine's rendering capabilities, lighting, coloring, and effects are good enough to create a sufficient level of immersion. The engine does not possess Quake 3 quality geometry and lighting, but what it has is sufficient in instilling the necessary fear. The sound capability of the Thief engine is masterfully implemented. The AI can "hear" the sound of your movement, gunfire, and so on, and will follow the noises to find you. This differs greatly from many FPS games' AI that follow predetermined "paths". Every object in System Shock 2 is modeled with very realistic sounds: gunfire, weapons reloading, heads up displays, alarms, computer consoles, creatures, and so on. Irrational Games obviously devoted a large amount of time in this area. Dropping a certain object on the ground has its own distinct sound. Even depending on what kind of surface you drop it on! The incredible attention to the sounds of the game continue to surprise me after four years of play. The EAX support of the game is, in this way, extremely well employed. The soundtrack in this game is an absolute tour de force. It spans the range from industrial-techno, to surreal-ambient, to downright scare the hell out of you creepy.
The log tapes, are acted out extremely well, often with stunningly gruesome and frightening detail. They are definitely a high point of the gameplay. They act masterfully in fleshing out the story, considering that you do not come in direct contact with other people throughout the course of the game.
The level design in this game is another of its high points. While the Thief engine does not lend itself to high levels of detail, the engine is used to its utmost potential in SS2. Nothing has the look of being thrown together in a hurry. Everything has its place. Objects are placed very meticulously, and with a lot of thought, by the designers. Things are logically organized, which acts to amplify the suspension of disbelief. The use of lighting in this game is one reason that it is so scary. Most of the locations are darkened, making it hard to see what you're walking into. The ship feels like an actual ship, the environments vary appropriately from deck to deck.
Another user mentioned its highly nonlinear gameplay, and that is one reason that System Shock 2 is fun to play over and over again. While the main plot points of the game remain the same, the methods you use to approach them are up to you. In what order you approach them is also up to you. To further that end, every item in this game has a use. Some are much more useful then others, however they exist for a reason. While some people may scoff and claim that System Shock 2 is too difficult (and it is hard, don't be fooled), creative use of the items in your inventory will allow you to survive. Ammunition in this game is so incredibly scarce (and weapons degrade so fast) that you are constantly challenged with creative ways of killing creatures. Coupled with the fact that the enemies are regenerated and most ammunition is NOT (though some weapons are rechargeable), brainpower over brawn rules the day. The ammunition supply is much different than that of System Shock 1, where most killed creatures and bots had much spare ammunition and you did not have to hoard it so closely. Creature regeneration is one major fear factor, since you do not know if rooms you just cleared will have new monsters inside later. You constantly turn around to check behind you. Scarcity of ammo also adds much to the frightening aspect of this game, as you are constantly afraid of not having enough to stay alive. This is offset however by the many different weapons and items. In fact, there are so many different items and weapons in the game that it is impossible to use them all over the course of a single game. The user must focus their upgrade points in specific areas to be successful with a certain type of offense (hacking, heavy weapons), as there are not enough upgrade opportunities to become good with them all. Some weapons and skills I have still not used (exotics, many psionics for example). While some cite this is a drawback, it leads to a large replay value.
Finally, it's just a very very very very scary game. All of these elements combine to create an experience that no other PC game has ever produced. Try and play it with all the lights off, I dare you.
I think it only fair to cover the downsides of this game, as every game has some. Fortunately, there aren't that many.
The character classes in this game are useless, as a previous noder has observed. I feel that the designers may have had something else in mind with those at the outset and then ran out of time. As you can upgrade in any way you see fit during the game, and you need some basic weapons skills in the beginning to avoid dying, going with Navy every time is the only choice that makes sense.
The weapons degrade far too fast out of the box, forcing you to spend cyber modules on the repair skill so that you don't use up your repair tools so fast. Ken Levine says this is one of the things he wishes wasn't in the game.
The upgrade paths are somewhat confusing in this game, and may turn off a lot of people. Some people play through a game only once, and may have expected that they would max out their skills before the game ended. Since this is far from the case, many players may have spread their points too thin in places and not been able to use many of the advanced weapons and skills needed later in the game.
The models for the creatures in the game are very under-detailed. This is not a limitation of the Dark Engine, but was done by Irrational to take into consideration the power of graphics cards at the time. One avid fan has created a set of extremely high-resolution models for the game which you can drop right in, get them at http://perso.wanadoo.fr/etienne.aubert/sshock/sshock_rebirth.htm.
The environments on the Von Braun are excellent, however after repeated plays you get the feeling that the Rickenbacker levels were rushed to meet a deadline. They are not as expansive as those on the Von Braun, and do not possess as much detail. The psionic "ghosts" that you see at the outset also stop suddenly halfway through the game; Irrational Games admitted that these simply took so long to do that they didn't have the time to finish them all.
There are far too few items that require "researching" in this game, leading me to wonder if this is an idea that was also meant to be much more but was harmed by insufficient development time.
Finally, what the @!#$ is up with the fusion rifle? For the effort spent acquiring the skills to use it, it's remarkably ineffective. Your time is better spent with the grenade launcher, which is one of the most useful weapons in the game (apart from the laser pistol, which I believe is the best of them all).