11| System Shock II

Released: August 11th, 1999

Available On: PC (All major OSes)

Bioshock is a very mediocre game. After being hyped to Atlantis I actually purchased the game for my PC during its launch day on August 21st 2007. The thing is, is that at the time I was also at the point of wrapping up the original Deus Ex. I found Deus Ex to be a memorizing and highly enjoyable experience. With well designed maps, an immersive world, a well done mixture of the FPS and RPG genres, the game quickly became one of my favorites at the time. My only complaint with it was the brain dead enemy A.I.. However, despite enjoying the game so much, I was under pressure to finish it as soon as possible. The reason? Bioshock was releasing that day. The game was receiving praise to no end with many saying was the natural evolution of the first person shooter/RPG hybrid genre with revolutionary storytelling. I finished Deus Ex just a few hours after Bioshock was unlocked for downloading. The ending of the game was fantastic and it made me pump to play the evolution of the genre.

After some time with Bioshock I was extremely disappointed. Sure, the presentation was top notch. The graphics were insane at the time and the art style was beautiful. There was ton of cinematics throughout the game making me feel like I was playing a movie, and the character design was great with the Big Daddy's in particular scaring the shit out of me. The issue with the game was anything relating to the actual gameplay. The map design was pathetic. So simplistic to the point where there were fucking arrows telling you where to go. Yes, you could turn them off, but the entire game is designed around this handholding and even with the arrows off the map design is still ridiculously simplistic. The RPG elements seemed a monumental step back from what I was expecting coming out of Deus Ex. They were very simplistic and as basic as you can make them. There was virtually zero penalty for dying as you immediately respawned at a nearby "checkpoint" in a regeneration chamber. The list goes on and on. Suffice to say, I found the game disappointing.

From what I understood at the time, is that Bioshock was a spiritual successor to a title named System Shock II that came out eight years early. I wouldn't sink my teeth into this game until half a decade later. If playing Deus Ex prior to Bioshock made me disappointed in Bioshock, then if I would have played System Shock II before playing Bioshock then my disappointment would have instead morphed into venomously hatred. Playing System Shock II well over a decade after its initial release resulted in my being glued to my computer. The game was phenomenal in so many ways. And literally addresses every issue I had with Bioshock.

To start off, the level design is light years ahead of Bioshock. Despite taking place on a spaceship rather than an actual city, System Shock II's maps are far more complex and layered than anything in Bioshock. Every area has multiple floors all interconnected with one another that are filled with different secrets, items, and other interesting things to discover. In order to actually progress in the game you need to actively explore the area. Rather than relying on arrows on the ground to prevent the player from getting lost the game instead just uses ingenious visual cues and constructed areas to give the player hints on where to go, but not enough to the point where it is handholding. The game's maps manage to properly find the balance to not be cryptic enough so the area doesn't feel like a maze, but not streamlined enough so that it doesn't feel like a tunnel.

There are also the game's RPG elements. There are so many different stats, weapons, and gadgets to play around with that the title arguably feels more like a RPG than FPS. It's fascinating to see how changing different stats and settling on different weapons change the play style of the game. Particularly when they are all well suited in different situations. Especially when you can either choose to be good and using weapons or psychic abilities.

The final improvement I enjoyed was the game's approach to immersion. To me, I sometimes feel that at times less is more when it comes to being immersed in a game. Sure, interactive cutscenes are nice and all, but they only maintain their effect in small doses. System Shock II understands this. While it does have its share of interactive cutscenes, must of the immersion comes from the gameplay itself. Huddling in a dark corner of a room, being in the opposite side of the exit, as two large dangerous creatures are walking in the room randomly looking for prey. Coming across a torn up body with blood all over the room and finding a recording of the person detailing their situation as they accept their inevitable fate. These are things to me that sell a game, while Bioshock didn't have these moments absent in it, it did feel like it took interactive cutscenes as a primary focus.

In terms of the type of game System Shock II is, it is pretty much Bioshock, but on a spaceship. A character embarks on a flight in a spaceship only to wake up and find out that everyone is either dead or has turned into some type of horrific creature. It turns out that the ship has been hijacked by an extremely evil super A.I. with goals of taking over the world. It is up to the player to destroy the A.I. before it is too late. Things are obviously a bit more complicated than this, but it's a general summary. The title revolves around an atmosphere of emptiness and loneliness as it plays the whole "in space no one can hear you scream" card. Here however it works very well being that throughout the player's journey they will come across countless dead bodies and recorded journal entries of the victims detailing their situation in a haunting manner. Just like Bioshock these leave cues of the bigger picture of what's going on. It's a very innovative way of storytelling and it comes to no surprise that this is used so much today as demonstrated not only by Bioshock Infinite but also by titles like The Last of Us and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

System Shock II was way ahead of its time in virtually every aspect. It's unfortunate that the game didn't get the commercial success it deserved. Despite that it has not only become a cult classic but an absolute mandatory classic PC game playthrough. It is easy to see why. The game has aged phenomenally, partly due to it's tried and true game design and partly due to modem FPS game design going backwards over the past decade. If you're someone who tried their hand on the Bioshock series and felt that the series needed a little bit more meat during it's course, I can't recommend System Shock II enough.

Posted by Punk Rebel Ecks Sat, 14 Jan 2017 17:51:36 (comments: 5)
Tue, 17 Jan 2017 10:35:56
Never played it.
Tue, 17 Jan 2017 14:46:40
gamingeek said:
Never played it.

Let's change that.

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 12:20:24
Nice try Nyaa
Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:57:32

I loved the Bioshock games personally. Especially the first one. I have the System Shock games on Steam which I want to play one of these days.

Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:46:03

Well expecting Bioshock to be an RPG is kind of weird, it's a straight up FPS. And a great one! Extremely well designed, probablybthe best world and story in a FPS outside HL.

Log in or Register for free to comment
Recently Spotted:
Login @ The VG Press
Remember me?