BioShock Infinite releases tomorrow, but back in 1999 PC Gamers were just as excited about another hotly-anticipated Ken Levine title: System Shock 2.
It’s a little strange for me to write a review for a game that I played and loved when it came out almost 15 years ago. It’s odd because it’s interesting to see how games have changed and how they’ve remained the same all these years later.
System Shock 2 came out in 1999, and back then gaming industry was a slightly different place. The System Shock series might not mean that much to you, unless you were a PC gamer in the 90s, but the franchise was held in high regard critically and was popular within the PC gaming community.
On the eve of the release of System Shock 2, fans of the original System Shock (1994), like me, were filled with a level of excitement comparable to the anticipation you may be feeling about tomorrow’s BioShock Infinite release.
There is a reason for that comparison: System Shock 2’s lead designer was none other than BioShock/BioShock Infinite’s lead designer Ken Levine. While 2 decades span the time between System Shock and BioShock’s release dates, the two series have a lot in common. Much like BioShock, System Shock is sort of a mix between first-person shooter and a role-playing game, where you can choose the path for which character upgrades you’d like to focus on.
When it came to first-person shooters, in early and mid 90s, the Doom and Quake franchises were kings. id Software’s popular titles were heavy on the action and violence, and light on story. Your mission was always relatively simple: kill everything that moves. In System Shock, and System Shock 2, the focus was still on action, but the pacing was a little slower, and players were expected to think a bit before pulling the trigger. Thanks in part to games in the late 90s, like the fantastic Half-Life, it was possible to have an action title with a terrific story.
System Shock also introduced an inventory system, which never really played much of a role in first-person shooters. When exploring, you’d often times have to choose which weapons and items you want to carry and which ones are disposable, as each object you pick up takes up space. There would be no “pack-ratting” of items, and slinging 9 different weapons over your shoulder was a big no-no.
It’s hard to grade System Shock 2 on aspects like gameplay and graphics, as it’s obviously a title from many yesteryears ago and looks and plays differently than the games we play today. I definitely spent a lot of time customizing my control scheme, as System Shock allows the player to lean to many different directions, in addition to the traditional looking and moving controls. Juggling these additional controls made me appreciate the contextual controls offered today.
Visually, the game still looks pretty good, thanks in part to it System Shock 2 existing when hardware driven 3D graphics (e.g. better video cards) were becoming a crucial aspect of PC gaming.
If you’re interested in playing System Shock 2, you can now purchase and download it through GoG.com. It’s currently priced at $9.99. While that might seem a bit steep for a nearly 15-year-old game, you do get a lot of bang for your buck.
In addition to a version of the game that runs without any DosBox-style tweaking, you’ll have access to a digital copy of the game’s manual, wallpaper, concept art, the game’s soundtrack, and a radio interview with Ken Levine. System Shock 2 is DRM-free and can be installed on any machine, and doesn’t require an online client, like Origin or Steam, to play. Currently, it is only available on Windows. It was playtested on two different 64-bit Windows 8 machines, and both systems ran it without issue.
There is no doubt in my mind that while System Shock 2 may look and feel different when compared to today’s modern games, I highly suggest picking it up for those who want to go back and see how modern game developers found inspiration from this title, especially with titles like BioShock and tomorrow’s BioShock Infinite. For players like me, who owned the game back in 1999, it’s a no-brainer, and a fun trip down memory lane. Pick it up!