What Is It You Fear? A Review of System Shock 2

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As a rule, I’m not one for horror. However, as with most rules, there are some exceptions. One such exception for me is System Shock 2. I first heard about it through YouTube, but it took until December to try out this 1999 cult classic game for myself.

As I played the game, I found several things that I thought Looking Glass and Irrational could have done better. I feel that some of the tech-skill mechanics, such as hacking, were far too luck-based. Basically, you’re given a grid of nodes, and you have to uncover three light nodes in a row, made more annoying by the randomly generated grids. I feel they should have had more skill involved. On another note, some of the enemies were annoyingly dangerous, from the fast Cyborg Assassins to the poisonous spider enemies. Often, I stuck to the melee weapons, which are a bit slow and hard to aim up or down. That made fighting these enemies that much harder. In addition, the poison status ailment, unlike radiation, doesn’t go down over time; it can only be countered by anti-toxin hypos, which are surprisingly easy to use up. Finally, you can’t use your map in the last two levels, which are basically mazes. It’s not impossible, but it can be tedious.

Despite this, the game has a lot more good aspects than bad, starting with its story and setup. You play as a soldier providing security for the Von Braun, mankind’s first faster-than-light spaceship. Upon waking up from hypersleep, you’re contacted by one Dr. Janice Polito, a survivor of an apparent alien invasion on the ship. You start your adventure to meet her, picking up anything you can find so you make it.

I like how the horror elements are incorporated. The developers forwent jump-scares for psychological horror, which is more effective in my opinion. The setting is appropriately creepy, as shown by the atmosphere, collectable audio logs, and enemies. Often, you’ll hear the enemies before you see them, and they can make you nervous, considering some of their backstories. The best example is the Cyborg Midwives, whom I’d rather not discuss here. This is compounded by how your ranged weapons work. First, they tend to have kickback, making aiming a bit harder. Second, they degrade as you use them, requiring you to maintain them, or they may break on you at any time. Both of these add a level of realism to the game and up the game’s horror that much.

Finally, though the graphics are dated, the gameplay aged well. At its core, SS2 is an FPS with elements of RPG. There are 81 different sets of stats you can get from the prologue. During the game, you can get cyber modules to spend at upgrade stations for stats, PSI powers, and tech and weapon skills. You also can scrounge around searching crates, victims, and enemies for weapons, ammo, and useful items. The game doesn’t hold your hand, but it’s always ready to inform you about items and stats, should you ask. You can also “research” unknown objects to gain damage boosts or the ability to use one. All these options give the game a good bit of replay value; I should know, as I’ve already completed it three times. Finally, I like how I can save the game at any time, allowing for a more flexible gaming experience.

I heartily recommend this game for fans of FPS’s and the BioShock series. You can download it on Steam for at most $10.00. Would you kindly?

Overall score: ★ ★ ★ ★½ (out of five)

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