System Shock 2

System Shock 2

A favorite in perennial “greatest game ever made” features, Irrational’s hybrid first-person shooter/role-playing game is still celebrated for its scares, sophisticated plot twist, and persistent character progress. Players choose to specialize in one of three career branches — emphasizing marksmanship, hacking and repair know-how, or paranormal mental powers — and further enhance their skill sets with cyber module upgrades.


For obvious reasons, the whole storyline isn’t written here. The plot of this game is something that is designed to unfold & be discovered as you play the game. As you start out, the less you know about what’s going to happen, the better your experience will be. Knowing the back-story, of course, never hurts, since this has already been semi-largely publicized. So we begin: (we owe this plot synopsis to the preview at PC Paradox)
The near destruction of Earth by SHODAN sends shockwaves throughout the world. The events on Citadel station lead to a general rebellion against the government by a mega-conglomerate. TriOptimum, the corporation that created SHODAN falls nearly into ruin. The Unified National Nominate (The UNN), a paramilitary Junta, steps in to fill the power vacuum.
Thirty five years later, Nobel Laureate Marie Delacroix, working under a grant from the dwindling resources of the skeletal TriOptimum corporation, publishes preliminary research findings on a faster than light mechanism. Hungry to get their hands on this technology, the UNN allows TriOp to develop a prototype. The unit performs successfully and work begins on the first FTL starship, the "Von Braun."

The UNN will not allow TriOp to undertake a mission, however, unless an element of the military is attached. To that end, the UNN "Rickenbacker", a heavy destroyer, is literally tethered to the Von Braun. The mission is launched in early 2114.

A few months into its historical journey, the situation is deteriorating. Tension is growing between the civilian elements of the Von Braun and their military counterparts on the Rickenbacker. Things are almost coming to a head when something remarkable happens: The ship receives a distress beacon from the surface of Canopus 5, hundreds of millions of miles outside of colonized space.

A team is sent to investigate the beacon. However, when they return, William Bedford Diego, Captain of the Rickenbacker (and son of Edward Diego) orders an entire deck of the Von Braun cleared of all personnel.

A week later, the players awake from cryogenic sleep to discover that they've been implanted with military grade cybernetic implants. The surgery has destroyed their memory of recent events…They remember neither going in for the surgery, nor what has happened since. They soon realize, however, that something terrible has happened aboard the Von Braun.. They find guidance in both the helpful voice of a surviving crewmember and the logs and emails from those who were not so lucky.

Shadows envelop the decks of the Von Braun, and strange shapes lurk in the darkness. The ships' defenses act as executioner to their former masters for the crime of humanity. And behind it all is the cold voice of a virtual nightmare thought long dead….

Cool plot, eh? Here’s what else we can tell you:
SHODAN, the same computer from System Shock 1 will have a strong presence in the game. How she survived Citadel, and what she’s up to this time around is something that you must play the game to find out. Up front, the key villain in this game appears to be "The Many" (note the classic sci-fi name), a race of worm-like creatures that form a collective sentient consciousness. This is sort of like a cross between the Zerg (StarCraft) and the Borg (Star Trek).

It seems that SHODAN, who controls all things robotic & cybernetic, and The Many, who control all things organic, are at war. When they entered the ships, they immediately cannibalized the crews into their armies of mutants & cyborgs.

There is also Xerxes, the computer aboard the Von Braun, who serves an unknown purpose. Dr. Polito is the only other human, as far as we know, who is still alive on the ships, and seems to be your only ally. She will communicate with you over a com-link, giving you vital instructions. The communications will be one-way only.

The story will unfold via emails from SHODAN, The Many, and Polito, logs from the dead crew, and flashback-like visions called "apparitions," where the player uses a piece of hardware known as a Psi-Amp to view events that have happened in the near-past in certain places.

All ‘cut-scenes’ (aside from the intro & endgame) will be rendered in the game engine.

Solitude is something the SS2 developers felt was very important to the success of SS1, so you can expect more of the same in that depertment.

System Shock 2 is not mission-based. It has an overarching storyline broken down into organic "chapters" that often overlap each other. The game will have an overarching storyline, but sub-missions will organically appear throughout the game. Some threads will block other avenues of gameplay (for instance, a key to a door that must be passed to proceed further in the game) and some threads are presented simultaneously ("repair a shuttle" and "reboot the security network") with each thread leading to its own portion of gameplay. This allows us to allow a player who is stuck in one aspect of exploration to proceed in others (an analog version of multiple mission choices). The game is made to be as non-linear as possible, with many, many different ways to solve each problem, and though there is only one ending, there are almost infinite ways of getting there.

RPG Mechanics

System Shock 2 will be a true RPG, with character classes, stats, and the whole shebang. Before you leap into the game, you have to create your character! Character creation is a far cry from the standard D&D style dice-roll ordeal. Rather SS2 offers something closer related to the pen & paper RPG "Traveller".
Character gen takes place totally in the game engine. You start off four years before the game begins, with a totally stats-less generic person-like thing. As you wander about the city-streets, you eventually find your way to the military recruitment office, where you being to create your character. The first thing you encounter is a Basic Training area, in which you can practice things like picking up objects and pushing buttons, and an Advanced Training area, which has separate sections for weapons training, psi training, and tech training. None of these have any effect on your character skills. After you've finished playing with the training areas, or if you skip them, you go down the hall to a place where you choose which branch of the military you're going to enter. After this choice, you go to a space station where you get a choice of three different missions, which grant you different skills. Then you get a debriefing screen telling you what really happened on the mission. Iterate this twice more. (The mission choices are different for each branch of the military, in case that wasn't clear).

There are three character classes:

Marine: This is the ‘fighter’ class. This is your weapons expert, who will be naturally better at handling weapons, and using brute-force. He will be the most skilled at weapon maintenance and modification, and all other combat oriented skills.
Navy: This is the ‘thief’ class. This class has an emphasis on technology skills, mainly hacking and modification. I say ‘thief,’ because this is the guy who you want to be if you plan on getting through the game by sneaking and trickery rather then guns blazing. The hacker type can, of course, infiltrate computer security systems, take control of remote gun-turrets, and also research alien technologies and figure out how to use alien weapons more quickly.

OSA Officer: This is the ‘mage’ class. This character is basically a professional psionic. This character is given powerful spell-like abilities whereby he can turn monsters against one another, shut down electrical machinery, and even preform all-out assaults with powerful psionic blasts. However, if you screw up while using your psi powers you can hurt yourself by "overloading." Fans of Babylon 5’s Psi-cops should be drooling now.

The psi-power (OSA) character is probably the most advanced character to play. Second would be the hacker-tech guy (Navy), followed by the weapons specialist (Marine). All are challenging, but playing as an OSA or Navy requires more thought.
In Shock2, you're not locked into any monolithic character path. (anyone who played the Underworld will know exactly how this works) A player who begins the game as a marine is free to develop as a hacker after his initial vector is chosen. SS2 doesn’t stick to a hard-line class system like some other RPGs like DD do.

Character development happens in one of two ways. The first is via hardware upgrades. As the player goes through the game, he or she will find various add-ons that you can plug into yourself to grant you new abilities. However the player only has room for a limited amount of these upgrades, so you must pick and choose which ones you want to keep and which you leave behind. Your choices determine what kind of character you are. The other way is via cyber-modules. These are gained from Dr. Polito, who transmits them to your personal computer as a reward whenever you complete a certain sub-quest, or they can be found throughout the ships. You can then take these modules to terminals at key places on the ship, and the terminals will ‘teach’ you skills. (Just like in the Matrix!) Again, there are more skills to gain then there are cyber-modules, so the player much pick and choose which skills he or she will want to learn. A player may be tempted to form a "jack of all trades" character. Though this is possible, remember, a jack of all trades is also a master at none.


The Concept:
System Shock 2 is what TTLG fondly calls an Action-RPG. It’s like a RPG, with player stats, and an evolving story-line, but unlike a RPG in that there is little-to-no character interaction. It’s like an action game in that it is every bit as action packed as the best shooter, yet unlike an action game, as it requires complex thought, puzzle solving, and sometimes very passive ways of solving problems. System Shock 2 is less focused on presentational elements (though it have quite a few Half life style in engine cinematic sequences) and much more centered on providing a world with incredible depth of simulation and interaction. SS2 provides the player with a nearly endless variety of tools (both from a weapons/tech items perspective and a character skills perspective) and lets them approach problems as they see fit. Shock 2 is about ultimate improvisation.

The Enviroment:
The levels of the game are broken down into "decks" and the player can travel back and forth between levels, leaving an item behind only to be able to pick it up again later. There are no outdoor levels; as a sci-fi horror game, indoors suits System Shock 2 better than open outdoor environments. However, the levels in SS2 are not in anyway small, quite the contrary in fact. As you know, each level is going to be a deck of a ship, and these are big ships. As far as over-all size goes, SS1 to SS2 is like UW1 is to UW2. Yes, that much bigger. If you have no idea what I just said, just sit tight knowing that it’s a very big game.

One of the key elements that the developers felt was very successful in mood-setting for System Shock 1 was the solidarity of the player. System Shock 2 will continue the tradition, granting the player only one or two oh-so-close-and-yet-so-far NPCs to interact with.

Since you will be able to re-explore areas and decks that you have left behind, as in System Shock 1, the situation where a player may be wandering for hours through empty halls may present itself. The developers didn’t want this to happen, so they implemented monster re-spawning. Now, this is not the common random respawning that people have learned to hate in most FPS, this is a complex ‘wandering monster ecology.’ Where as the game detects a dwindling of the monster population, it will spawn a few more, hopefully while the player isn’t looking. Since System Shock 2 has enemies on ‘patrol routes,’ rather then set locations, (that is, unless SHODAN told a robot to guard a door, the enemies will not have one key room or place to stand: cyborgs will have patrol networks, mutants will wander about aimlessly, etc) it makes this seem even more natural.

Gameplay Styles:
One of the key focuses of the player is to go unnoticed. If you broadcast your presence, the enemy will bear down on you relentlessly. The best way to stay as unnoticed as possible is to pay key attention to the security system. The security system has eye, cameras, that monitor most parts of the ship. If a camera sees you, the security system will be activated and enemies will spawn in around you to kill you. Obviously this is a bad thing. There are basically three ways to get around this. A marine character can simply snipe or bash the offending cameras. A psionic can use his or her powers to render themselves invisible. The best way, however, is via the hacker character, who can hack into the security system and disable all the cameras on the deck in one swoop! This seemingly perfect solution is not so perfect, though, for the security system may be re-activated at any time, or a failed attempt to hack would set off the security alarm instantly.

Fans of Thief will be happy to know that the same system of shadow dwelling is still utterly intact, just de-emphasized. There are much fewer deep shadows to hide in, and your enemies, such as robots, don’t always rely on white light to see you with. So basically, yes, you can hide in a shadow if you find a good one, but no there is no indicator to tell you that you are hidden, and no you are not totally invisible to everyone.

Re-playability will be a key issue in this game, since there is no one way of doing anything, and no way possible for you to do everything in one game (due to the differences in characters, and some skills granting you access to some avenues of gameplay, and other blocking some off), plus, of course, the multiplayer.

Psychic power & your personal energy pool don't regenerate over time in System Shock 2, as the developers felt that this encouraged players to sit around, doing nothing while points slowly recharged, so psi-hypo stims will be needed to restore psionic power, and battery packs & recharge stations are needed to restore energy.

The Interface:
The interface in System Shock 2 is a pride and joy of the developers, since they worked so hard to get it oh-so-cool! The interface had two modes, a action mode and an interact mode. The action mode is the mode the player will be in while he or she explores and fights. The mouse controls where you are facing, and the keyboard your movements. As for movement, there are of course the usual ducking, crouching, and leaning. (usual for an LGS game, that is) The player will also be able to pull themselves up on ledges, like in Thief. The left mouse button is your trigger, and the right takes you to the interact mode. While in the interact mode, the keyboard still controls movement, but the mouse takes on the form of a pointer for interaction with the world. (you can still turn your head via key-commands). To get back into the action mode, you need simply right-click on a non-functional area of the screen, hit tab or hit the button at the bottom of your display. When in interact mode, you will have access to your inventory, and MFDs. The inventory in is done like in X-com, meaning there will be a rectangular grid representing your backpack, and each item you put into it takes up a different about of grid units. A long item would take up three vertically, a small only one unit, a very large item may take up six units, and so on and so forth. Your characters strength stat will determine how much you can carry. Also like X-com, most RPGs, is a pseudo paper-doll-like-thing, where you can don armor, and place items in your right and left hands. There will be mulit-functional displays (MFDs) which provide everything from hacking and research menus, to viewing your stats and email messages.

The auto-map will work very much like the auto-map in SS1, but much prettier. Since this is a fully 3D game, many may wonder why the map is only 2D. This is because you are on a starship, with decks, and a starship, with decks, like a seaship, with decks, has DECKS, so doing a 2D representation of a 3D space really is not hard, since all the decks are quite flat.

We have good news & bad news for hearing impaired players. The good news is that all logs and emails will have full text caption. The bad news is that none of the cut-scenes have text caption.

The Hacker’s Craft:
As the game plays out, the character will find many artifacts that he or she basically is clueless about. Be it a odd piece of technology from SHODAN, or a strange organic artifact from The Many, the player will have to research the item in order to understand it, and maybe even use it. Research is performed by your headware, as you put it, and takes both time and ingredients. If you want to research something new, either because it's more important-looking or because you don't have the requisite ingredient at that time, then you suspend the research and start something else. Suspended research doesn't lose the progress that's been made. Once you research an item, you will either be able to use it, learn how to damage a foe more severally, or any other type of useful information. In SS2, knowledge is power.

Nanites are to the hacker character what weapons are to the marine – totally vital. Any hacking attempt will exact a cost in nanites, as do purchases from a matter replicator. Hacking, in fact, is not the cyberspace arcade game found in System Shock 1, although it bears a resemblance to the logic puzzles in that game. Hacking combines a probability based game with mild logic twisters as the player tries to deactivate three nodes in a row to overcome an electronic security system. Shutting down a node is a matter of hacking skill (and the right equipment), but picking the right nodes to attack can be a puzzle in and of itself (we think...). The player also uses Ice-picks to aid hacking.

Cool Infobits
Shock 1 & Arcade fans rejoice! Just like SS1, SS2 will have mini-games which you can play in your MFD. Way too cool, eh?

You can eat and drink in Shock2, but you don't have to. (You get food from the local Valu-Rep, of course. Or you find it in recreation areas or perhaps in dead mutants' pockets.) Eating and drinking restores small amounts of hit points. Alcoholic drinks restore hit points, but reduce psi points! You can also smoke cigarettes, which as far as I can tell just does you damage.

Destructive players will be happy to know that many things in the environment are totally destroyable. Computer terminals, screens, ducts, some windows, etc can break quite up nicely.

The game is 1st person only. There is no 3rd person mode.

Cyberspace, from S.S.1, is still around, but it’s changed. It will only be in the training mission and the endgame. Expect it to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a game.

Saving works the way it does in most games, with a quicksave feature & a handful of save-game slots.

System Shock 2 has four static difficulty levels (unlike the highly configurable difficulty of System Shock 1), ranging from easy to impossible. (I hear it truly is). The dynamism of SS2’s difficulty system is, however, more strongly based on what type of character you choose to be, since a full blown marine will have an easier game to play then a full blown psionic.

Some Tools:
System Shock 2 is an increadbly object rich game! Thanks to the PC Pardox preview, we have a small list of some of the things you will encounter, along with the game-fiction description of each:

Hack Soft: This piece of software was developed by a rogue group of former TriOp employees who grew disgusted with the secrecy maintained both by their employer and UNN security forces. While officially illegal, this soft has been mass-replicated and rapidly disseminated to virtually every corner of patrolled space. When equipped, it enables one to hack into many computers aboard ship, permitting the user to access restricted areas, shut down security systems, alter replicator databases to allow purchases of previously restricted items, and execute a variety of other nasty tricks.
Rad Patch: Kathryn Delacroix, the chief engineer aboard the Von Braun, was well aware of the imperfections inherent in the rushed development of the ship. Notably, the coolant system of the ship had a chronic cracking problem, leading to the widespread leakage of hazardous materials. While these leaks are easily detected and usually quickly fixed, she demanded that an excess supply of ChemCal rad hypos be distributed throughout the ship. Unlike most of her cautions regarding conditions on the Von Braun, this one was actually heeded. Most effective when used shortly after the hazardous event, anti-radiation hypos inject small amounts of an agent commercially known as NukeTralizer. This agent radically accelerates the half-life breakdown of many potentially hazardous compounds.

Replicator: The ValueRep Series 12 Replicator is 'One Stop Shopping' at it's most literal. Replicators use state of the art fiber-helix long strand protein to synthesize almost anything the customer could demand. Essentially, the Series 12 culls a huge database of protein codes to item match user selection. The replicator then uses a variable number of nanite machines to create the desired product. The Series 12 is a consumer version of the Replicator and therefore collects nanites from the customer to facilitate the process. ValueRep (itself the primary consumer products brand of TriOptimum) has made a small fortune out of illegally engineering its replicator database to 'overcharge' customers, skimming a residual amount of nanites in the transaction. While each Series 12 contains a database for each citizen that determines what types of items they may legally replicate, these devices are notoriously hackable, and are therefore nearly single-handedly responsible for the proliferation of firearms in such slum sprawls as Los Angeles, Ramsey and Vladivostok.

Psi Amp: Developed by Esper Industries, a critical branch of TriOps military R&D division, this controversial device allows psionically abled individuals to amplify and project their powers into the world. Before the development of the Psi Amp, Psi Powers were mostly detectable in a lab environment. The Amp contains and inhibits the normal diffusion problems inherent in Psi phenomena. The amp also allows the user to effectively channel their innate Psi powers to a number proscribed effects. This device caused furor in the Psi community, primarily because of its obvious military applications, but also because of the Amps tendency to define Psi powers along a few specific (and generally utilitarian) axes.

Soda Can: Invented in the early part of the 20th century, soda was created as a refreshing beverage, a mixture of carbonated water and corn syrup. For such a trivial seeming product, soda and similar beverages fueled the rise of the first two mega-corporation, the names of which are illegal to publish by UNN Information Ordnance #234/fd34. Net rumors suggest that these two corporations' market skirmishes turned into physical ones, promulgated by the destruction of offshore bottling plants by hired mercenary squads in 2023.

Nanite: Efficient Nanite based technology was introduced after a series of radical experiments at the University of Masala in '78. Nanites are microscopic machines that are capable of being programmed to perform a nearly infinite variety of tasks, from forming themselves in a replication grid to form into arbitrary objects, to fighting bacteria and viruses in the human bloodstream. In other words, nanites (combined with replication tech) created the "every material". The UNN Currency Redefinition Act of '82 opened up the door for moving financial transactions to a strict Nanite basis.

"Stat" Diagnostic Bench: Hospital recuperation has taken on speed and comfort with the introduction of this device, modeled after a military test unit. Introduced by MedQuest, a division of the scientific arm of TriOp, the bed is designed with special nanite based polymers which alter their position and temperature to best suit the patient. These beds can monitor medication, alert staff to emergencies, and record and cyber diagnose most forms of physiological and psychological distress. When the Van Wyck Medical subsystem is attached, the med bench can also perform advanced medical procedures.


First-Person Shooter
Survival Horror
Irrational Games
Original US Release Date: 
August 11, 1999

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