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Game Over Online ~ System Shock 2

GameOver Game Reviews - System Shock 2 (c) Electronic Arts, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim / Wolf /

Game & Publisher System Shock 2 (c) Electronic Arts
System Requirements Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 3D Accelerator
Overall Rating 82%
Date Published Monday, August 23rd, 1999 at 06:37 PM


Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

Exciting things aren’t a frequent commodity in today’s spam, media hype and advertisement-infested world, and first-person shooters definitely aren’t one of them. While good ones do come out once in a while, in general, this seems to be a dead field, and a breeding ground for rip-offs, carbon copies and bad parodies. Still, a “breather of fresh air,” a “glimpse of innovation,” (or any other of the many cliché words that today’s world is infested by) can still be seen once in a while, and System Shock 2 is one for sure. While not as incredibly rich and engrossing as Half Life (though, frankly, I got bored of that faster than I got bored with SS2), it is nonetheless a very solid game.

The feature that differs SS2 most from the other games present on the market today is the RPG element. I should mention, though, that I must disagree with EA in that the game is “sci-fi horror role playing” - the only part where you jump in your chair is when you really get into the game and some bulkhead comes crashing down. I’ve seen no other place which is in any way horrific, and the enemies most definitely aren’t. The reason the enemies are anything but scary is because you can almost never tell what they are - mainly due to the extremely poor graphics detail of all character models. For some reason, every enemy I’ve encountered so far - other than a wannabe C3PO lookalike and a robot ostensibly from Crusader: No Remorse - can only scare a professional 3D artist into tears, mainly because they’re mindwarpingly badly designed. They just sort of look like irregular-shaped blobs with a pipe sticking out, which turns out to be a shotgun or a wrench, depending on the stage of the moon and the mood of the PC.

On the other hand, I found the environments (or, rather, level design) to be incredible. While, when viewed from up close, the textures do seem somewhat blocky, when viewed from a perspective instead their being low-resolution affects in no way the incredible detail of any given room or corridor. Displays with a life of their own, blood on the walls, bullet holes in walls et cetera are beautiful; and more, smoke effects are actually believable - nah, bar that, realistic - something I don’t recall seeing in any recent games.

But the main appeal of the game isn’t due to the half-assly done, disturbing 3D models of enemies, or the wicked, atmospheric environments. We’ve seen better 3D models in Half Life, and the environments weren’t any worse. However, Half Life was purely a 3D shooter, while System Shock 2 is also an RPG, i.e. role-playing game. Here, the attribute “role-playing” is somewhat stretched, because there’s really only one role you can play - of a hardened (marine/navy/Black Ops dude), but you actually have to keep track of stats, gain levels, manage a more or less vast inventory, and perform tasks strongly dependent on the skills you have. As an example of the above, some computers, doors and crates are locked from “unauthorized personnel” - so you might need to use a convenient Hack button that pops up when an object need more than just a push to open. Frankly, I almost fell off my chair laughing when I saw the “Hack” button; fortunately, there’s more to it than clicking it and waiting for a result. But hacking is nowhere nearly as difficult as in the real world, either - just click a few squares, see what happens. Also, things like weapon usage, repairing weapons (since they degrade from usage), upgrading them, researching items and so forth require appropriate skills to be learned.

A separate mention should go to Psi skills. This is a separate path which a player can choose to follow (though one doesn’t have to be Psi-only, and choosing another discipline doesn’t prevent the user from learning Psi skills; however, I find it hard to believe that a marine could learn any Psi in real life.) There are five levels of Psi skills, however, it’s probably quite unlikely that a dual-class character will make it to the higher levels, since there won’t be enough cyber modules. A cyber module is a sort of a currency which buys you upgrades to your skills/statistics, and they’re relatively hard to come by - so exercise caution when using them. There are also units called “nanites,” which are another kind of currency - for buying ammo, medical hypos, antirad hypos et cetera, as well as using skills that require brainpower, like hacking or repairing. Thus, parallels can be drawn between classes - Marine is a Warrior, Navy - Cleric, Black Ops - Mage, but, unlike D&D, you can mix classes and wear armor while casting spells. More futuristic, I suppose.

The interface of the game is very intuitive, with a few glaring exceptions. You have a well-arranged inventory screen, log/email/history MFD, as well as a stats display MFD. There’s also a very good map, including locations of upgrade units (places to spend cyber modules for enhancements), replicators (to buy medical hypos, etc), chemical rooms (used to perform research on unknown objects), and so forth. On the other hand, one of the most retarded things I’ve ever seen is that when you wish to research something, you have to right-click on it, which is okay, but you cannot drag it onto the research MFD, which it is by no means. Granted, if you hover the mouse over the unresearched object, the game will tell you, “Right-click to research,” - but what’s wrong with dragging it onto the research MFD? The chemicals required for the research process can be dragged onto it with no restrictions whatsoever. What I did find to be useful, though, is that no matter which MFD, or how many of them you have open, a few keys immediately return you to shoot mode - such as Tab, left mouse click, middle mouse click, etc. It’s a good feature, should you have been unfortunate enough to start reading the map with enemies still around.

We must not forget, however, that this is still a first-person shooter at heart. The movement controls are standard, with nothing to rant and rave about. I found the running to be somewhat sluggish, but it doesn’t really hamper gameplay too much. However, two very neat functions that haven’t been done so far, and that I find absolutely essential to proper gameplay are climbing and leaning. For example, you can stand behind a wall, and slightly lean to right/left in order to fire a quick shot and retreat back before you’re shot at. It’s much more efficient than strafing, because if you’re not precise, you might strafe too little, or just a touch too much - and the laser turrets in the game have incredible precision and shot velocity. If you happen to be standing on a ledge, you can also lean forward, to snipe something below you. In regards of climbing, I’ve always wondered why this wasn’t done before - after all, if there’s a 1.2 meter box in front of you that you can’t jump on, why not just climb it? It just makes intuitive sense, and System Shock 2 does it very well.

The atmosphere in SS2 is incredible. While you don’t have the Aliens premise, a lot of work has been put into making you feel anything but at home. However, I do believe that the soundtrack should’ve been worked on a bit more - there’s either none in some parts of the level (or one that I can’t recall because it’s so bland), or another one, which is a very fast beat with no visible pattern or rhythm to it. They seem to depend on the position in the level, though it’s usually a fair bet that when the fast-paced one starts to play, there’s someone around to kill. Which brings me to an interesting point - when you clear out an area, don’t expect to leave it, come back and find the bodies there. The bodies will be gone, and in their place will be more mutants, because enemies respawn. At first, I was quite annoyed at that, but then I thought about it some more, and it occurred to me that it perfectly suits the premise of the game, where the human body is only used for transportation - effectively making it impossible to kill it, so long as the cybernetic parts are replaced. (Let’s not, though, get into biology, and how, when the cybernetic brain is destroyed, circulation ceases et cetera. Let’s just assume that’s how it would have worked if the controlling alien race was too advanced to worry about that.) It does keep you on your toes, though, since you never know where a mutie might fall from.

And, last, but not least, believe it or not, there is no multiplayer in this game. Absolutely none. Not even across IPX, or split-screen. Unbelievable as it is, it’s a fact. However, the developer is currently working on a patch which will add cooperative multiplayer for up to 4 players via TCP/IP, which should add some enjoyment to the game. No deathmatch might turn off some players, but, on the other hand, the coop mode does allow player damage. So while the company officially states that this patch isn’t for deathmatching… well, some creative souls will have some fun.

So that, in a nutshell, is System Shock 2 (this is the part for a philosophical reflection moment). Is it a good game? Or is it a bad game? How did life originate? Are we alone? Whichever way you put it, you’re likely to enjoy this if you liked Alien vs Predator or Half Life, though there isn’t nearly as many cool gizmos to do (different view modes, anyone? Permanent cloak?). However, I would probably suggest waiting for a patch to resolve the multiplayer issue. I don’t think it’s acceptable, in today’s society, to release a game without multiplayer. Ethical norms just don’t allow it. And apparently, there are some other glitches, judging from EA’s website; though, in all fairness, I must admit it’s been quite stable for me. The character models in the game are incredibly scary, though. I think, if I got down one day with some Coke and really brushed up on my Max skills, I could probably do something better, and I usually consider myself “artistically challenged.” So, all in all, this isn’t a bad game - but it’s not a groundbreaker, either. As you may have noticed, nowhere did I compare it to System Shock 1 - the reason for that is, I’ve never played it. It was on my “to-play” games list, but I’ve never gotten around to it, thus, I’ll leave the comparison up to you. And do check out the demo before you buy - it gives you a pretty good feel for the game.

 

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Rating
80%
 

 

 
 

 

 

Divider Left By: Wolf Divider Right

A very long time ago, the masterpiece ‘System Shock’ was released, being dubbed by UK PC Gamer, at the time, as one of the “Best Games Ever”. It was one of those games, like Terra Nova and Battle Zone, that were truly great but nobody ever bought. It has been quite a long time though since this unique blend of Role Playing and First Person Shooting style game has entered the market, and we see if System Shock 2 can repeat it's older brother's success.

The Introductory cutscenes tell you of a big production company called “TriOptimum” (which makes just about everything) and some space ship building company having teamed up to create the mother of all space ships, called the Van Braun. The Van Braun is a research ship with a new hyperdrive engine so it can reach previously unexplored areas of the universe, accompanying it is the UN Rickenburker. You, being a trusty little grunt, are placed along with a stockpile of other grunts on the Van Braun, presumably for security duties... BUT, something goes horribly wrong..*gasp*. The catch is, it doesn’t tell you what goes wrong. All you know is that your awakened from your stasis, that a big creature just attacked a woman (as the intro shows) and that some woman is rambling off messages to you.

System Shock 2 uses an enhanced version of the “Thief” engine, adding neat little touches here and there to brighten it up. The graphics look rather nice and normal, nothing special to tell about them, except for two things. One is that the unit models look like they could have had some more work done on them, and the other is that the explosions are crap. Now really, explosions seem to always be at the bottom of the programmers “things to do” list (which usually only gets half completed, *cough*), but personally the first time I see a droid explode, I recoil in shock at the blocky barf mess that’s traced onto the screen in a small icky looking splotch. For the rest, the engine is used to full effect to pass on all the atmosphere you’ll need.

The sound in System Shock 2 is done really well I must say, with eerie music in the background, sometimes breaking out into something more thumpy, which signals your about to plow through a pile of bad guys. The audio logs are done well to, with real emotions being displayed by the voice alone, all adding to the atmosphere. The gun sounds are all satisfying as well, and especially some of the monsters voices are brilliant (like the Cyborg Midwife who speaks in an freaky women synthesized voice of her little darling ones, and tearing your heart out and doing something gruesome to it).

After a bit of character creation, and I say a bit because it hardly matters diddly squat which Corp you decide to join (Marine/Navy/OSA), you get thrown into the game, having just emerged from stasis. You have to wonder around to pick up basic weapons and items and collect “Cyber modules” so you can upgrade your Cybernetic Rig (you). As you wander along and start smashing up some evil zombies, you really start to get engrossed in the unfolding plot, as you read audio logs which you find in a continually steady stream, the reasons for the monsters existence are made apparent. The plot gets rather vague near the end, but you can still piece the whole thing together in the end. To get to the end though, your going to need a healthy sized arsenal of weapons to blow away any opposition, of which there is quite a lot. You get your Wrenches, Assault Rifles, Emp Blasters, Grenade Launchers, and a stock of “exotic” weapons to dispose of all baddies. One really great feature in System Shock is ‘hacking’. On most keypad locked doors you are presented with an option to hack it, and if your hacking skill is sufficient ehough, and with a bit of luck, you can hack the keypad and open the door successfully. As you start plowing through the zombies thrown at you, small and grand objectives make themselves apparent to you. Like finding an energy crystal, then a recharge station to charge it, and placing it in an empty battery block to charge the door and open it, or other likewise straightforward tasks. Also hindering your path is the TriOptimum security network. Riddled throughout the ship are security stations, which you can hack to disable the security system temporarily, or turn off an ongoing alarm. The security turrets can sometimes be rather hard to take out, as they posses pinpoint accuracy and have a rather rapid rate of fire. What is also apparent, with most bad guys possessing long-range attacks, is that they never miss much. This would have to be one of the first games where the AI actually takes account of your current strafing maneuvers and anticipating your next move, while still not being perfect.

Here we come to the really bad part. It had been promised at E3 that System Shock 2 would ship with multiplayer, but many people will be sorely disappointed to learn that this is not the case. Due to multiplayer taking too long to complete, they decided to just ship the game without it, with a patch coming out in due time. I’d love to go into a whole rant and rave about this current trend with games being shipped off half completed with a mumbled promise of a patch that will complete it “sometime in the near future”, but to spare you the agonizingly long read, I will refrain from doing so. No points to be scored here, but if the multiplayer patch is executed properly and works well, it should add a lot more value to the game.

The one sad flaw I would have to comment on in this title is that the RPG aspect is still rather shallow, I would have loved to see your stats upgrade as you use them often. Perhaps still being able to “buy” your stats as well, but as with any real RPG, you gain advances as you utilize them which gives much more of a thrill then just popping by a terminal and buying them. The game is rather short to, having completed it in 10 hours (that’s what the saved game says, x2 to get the actual playing time) is still rather short, although for most people it should keep them happy for many an evening. System Shock 2 certainly appealed to me, although looking back on it now, it is hard to explain what made it fun to play. Perhaps it's the whole atmosphere of the game, the unraveling of a long story while blowing away evil looking things, the satisfaction of getting one step closer to the master behind it all.

 

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Rating
80%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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