There's a saying that has been passed along in my family for generations: If a game contains malevolent monkeys that attack with psionic shockwaves, the game is good. This rule of thumb holds true for Irrational Games' RPG/FPS-hybrid game, System Shock 2. SS2 overcomes many negative expectations. First, with such a plethora of FPS games available, gamers don't always know how to tell the good from the bad. The situation was the same when the Original System Shock was released in 1994: the game was commonly dismissed as another Doom clone, which led to it not getting the praise and respect that it deserved. However, both SS games are very unique, as they are the only games I've seen that successfully merge a role-playing game with a first-person shooter, with the possible exception of the more recent Deus Ex.

Motivated into action by the barely averted destruction of Earth at the hands of the malevolent and sentient Artificial Intelligence SHODAN (as took place in System Shock), all governments on Earth came together to form the UNN, or Unified National Nominate. This new Government was primarily formed to regulate ultra-powerful conglomerates. One of the most powerful of these conglomerates, TriOptimum Corporation (coincidentally, the creator of SHODAN), has just developed a working faster-than-light system of travel, and has entered into a cooperative venture with UNN to explore unknown space. Naturally, something goes wrong, and aliens somehow get aboard and wreak havoc. Your character awakens with amnesia, and you must slowly piece together the situation while attempting to save your hide. The one benefit, as it turns out, is that you quickly discover your body has become cybernetically augmented, rendering you ultra-powerful.

For every good First Person Shooter that comes out, there are 99 clones made that are almost exactly the same, and usually more buggy and boring. Game developers, in an attempt to break out of this pattern, brainstormed to create new and innovative ways to bring life back to shooters. One idea was to combine a first-person shooter with a role-playing game. Almost always, this hybridization fails. The game becomes a standard FPS with superficial stats and skills that make little or no difference in actual gameplay. However, System Shock 2 is the perfect example of what a good RPG/FPS crossbreed should be. Like any good RPG, you can't fight your way through mindlessly in a straight line and then go to the next level. The entire game is nonlinear, sometimes almost annoyingly so. More often than not, when you receive a message asking you to do some simple task, like go to the fifth floor, then you'll have to restore the power, which first requires that the maintenance tunnels be free from radiation, but to flood the tunnels, you need to rewire the main computer, but the part is in a storeroom on the other side of the ship, and to get into that room you need to… and so on, and so on. However, although these tasks can sometimes be repetitive, they're usually laid out well enough to make them not too tedious or boring. Besides, this system is better than a standard linear first-person shooter when you blast straight forward until you reach the end of a level.

At its core, SS2 is actually a FPS. However, the RPG elements go almost as deep. For once, stats do actually matter. A character with a high agility will be noticeably better at stealthily jogging up behind an enemy and clocking him one on the noggin with a pipe wrench undetected. A character who has focused on technical skills will be able to fight his battles with well-maintained, highly modified weapons, while a character who has focused on Psionics will be able to sedate or incinerate his enemies with his mind (and Black Operations Psionic Amplifier) alone. One disappointing element, however, is the professions. You can (and will have to) choose to join the Marines, Navy, or OSI. The three professions each focus on one prime area of skills - Weapons, Technical, or Psionics. Becoming a member of the navy yields technical skills with some weaponry, which it is near-impossible to get through the first parts of the game without, especially on higher difficulty levels. A Marine is essentially the same, without the technical skills. An OSI member has neither, and is disgustingly weak throughout much of the game, due to the impracticability of many of the psionic skills, and the rarity of psionic upgrades and refills. Additionally, all professions have the choice throughout the game to upgrade any skill area, making the profession choice inconsequential.

Regardless, the game is still classic. Besides being the paradigm for all future RPG/FPS games and the only game as of current that can legitimately claim that genre, it is an all-around enjoyable game.