Doubtless among the best games ever made, System Shock 2 is a superior RPG/FPS sequel to the 1993 classic System Shock.
Anyone who has played and liked the original game needs to try this game. Even those who did not play the first and are looking for a mesmerizing and scary game that blends RPG elements into a first person shooter will enjoy this.
In the time of System Shock 2, around forty years have passed after events in the first game. After the close call of super-computer-gone-crazy SHODAN, the governments have banded together under the United National Nominate (UNN) to oppose megacorporation Tri-Optimum and other large companies. An uneasy peace now exists. When the game starts, you are at a UNN base. You go through some training missions, and the tutorial is very easy to learn and controls quick to figure out. The interface of SS2 makes controling your character easy: one hand on the keyboard to move your guy and the other on a mouse to look around and pick things up will serve most people well. Joysticks are supported, and it is suggested that you learn some of the hotkeys in the game to save yourself time and effort.
After the training, you get to pick a branch for your character -- either the Marines, specializing in heavy weapons, the Navy, strong in lighter weapons and hacking (close to the original game), and the new OSA, which allows you to use your Psionic ability to attack your enemies. It's a four year tour when you sign up, and each year you can pick your assignment from one of three choices. Each choice allows you to imrpove some aspect of your stats, allowing you to start customizing your character. During the game you will be receiving Cyber Modules, which can be used at machines to learn new skills, such as Hacking or Heavy Weapons, or impove your charcter's abilities like Strength and Agility. You can't be a jack of all trades -- once you pick a military career, its suggested that you work on improving the abilities that your character does best. Also found in the game are four rare OS machines, which give you a skill such as Auto Mapping, Sharpshooter, and Tank.
It's in your forth year that the game finally starts for real. The year is now 2114. You request to be assigned to the UNN Rickenbacker, the destroyer that will be 'piggy-backing' the FTL Tri-Optimum ship Von Braun. After the first three quiet months, a distress call is picked up coming from the Tau Ceti system, light years away from Earth. After that......well, your memory seems to be damaged, because the next thing you know you're coming out of a cyro tube with blood on the floor and a woman's voice telling you that something has taken over the Von Braun and to come meet her. When a panel explodes seconds after coming out of the tube, you KNOW you're in for a wild ride!
There are so many good things about System Shock 2 that I can only really touch on the major ones. The easy to learn interface has been mentioned already. The graphics are the same as the Thief games, and are quite good, wih dark and light contrasts and the feeling that you really ARE on a starship. As you go through the ship, picking up the pieces of what happened and trying to stop who - or what - has taken over, you find logs from the dead crewmembers, like in System Shock. The voice acting is wonderful, really making you feel like you are there. The enemies are numerous and the AI is very smart, with mutants attacking you straight on while assassins try to pick you off from dark corners.
The sounds are -- oh my God, the sounds! I played the first System Shock with the volume down, but you can NOT do that in this game. The sounds are critical to your survival. You can hear enemies aproach, listen for the whine of a security camera, turn around in dread as a you hear a turrent pop up. All these effects make for a game that is VERY scary, the scariest game I have ever played. You will hesitate as you open each door and peak around each corridor, wondeirng what horror is waiting for you. A full stereo surround system is needed for the best music and sound effects, but you can still get some effects no matter what you do. The enemies love to ambush you, from the mutants who beg to be killed as they attack you, to the Cyborg Midwifes who say downright creepy things as they look for you. (The first time you hear one say "Babies need fresh meat!" you'll feel no remorse for blowing one away. :) )
Other elements also make System Shock 2 a classic. The plot is fantasic, told to you both through the logs and e-mails and some of the cut scenes that you see in the game. It is full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end. New for this game is that your guy has the ability to pick up 'emissions' from the recently departed.....in other words, you can see ghosts of recently dead crewmembers. The first time you see one, you'll wet your pants and waste a entire clip of ammo on it! These pop up with no warning and are downright creepy. You'll feel remorse for the dead crew and even some of your foes, and feel a sense of urgency as you play - a remarkable game immersion that few games can boast. The shooting aspect of the game blends in nicely with the RPG elements as you need to decide when and how to improve your charcter. There are about a dozen weapons and numerous other chemicals, items, and implants that you can pick up and use. Different difficulty levels and the three military branches give the game a good deal of replay value. Finally, the game supports multi-player in which you can play with other people co-operatively.
System Shock 2 is a must-play for anyone who likes FPS, RPG, or a well-written adventure game. Be warned, though -- this game is VERY scary! Although some people will only admit to being nervous once in a while, it's enough to give most people a thrill. I've thrown my mouse into the air many times when a monster suddenly attacked me from nowhere. Those of strong heart will play this game in a dark room at night and with headphones. Me, I have to stick to day playing. :) Even if you can only play the game in short bits before you need to go outside and smoke a cig to calm your nerves will still want to go back to it soon, though. At the current bargain-bin/budget price, you can't go wrong picking this one up. Like the original, System Shock 2 deserves to go down in computer gaming history as a classic. Two thumbs WAY up, and a well-deserved induction into our Hall of Belated Fame.