Special Note:

Beginning with Hydroponics, this walkthrough was authored by Eric Fortier, the first guest author for VisualWalkthroughs.com.

System Shock 2 Review ★★★★★

System Shock 2, released in July, 1999 by Looking Glass Studios, is one third of the troika of games that popularized RPG/FPS hybrids at the close of the twentieth century. (Thief and Deus Ex being the other two.) There are similarities among all three games, but what sets System Shock 2 apart from the others is a clear, unambiguous cyber-dominatrix of a protagonist: Shodan.

There are certain universal themes that appeal to fans of science fiction, some obvious and some not so obvious: spacecraft, artificial life, zombies, hive minds -- and strong females. From Star Trek's original Number One and Voyager's Seven of Nine to (the newer) Battlestar Galactica's President Laura Roslin and Lt. Kara Thrace (Starbuck) there's no doubting that nerds like to be dominated by forceful women. And you'll find few vixens more domineering than System Shock's Shodan.

For a sample of Shodan's appeal, look no further than her typical taunt: "L-L-Look at you Hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone. Panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect immortal machine." (Audio clip courtesy Bart Klepka.) That kind of confidence is irresistible.

Equally irresistible is the challenge of beating Shodan. This game is hard. Enemies respawn and weapons degrade with use. This is no simple corridor shooter -- the maps are wide open and there is much backtracking. Getting lost and not knowing where to go next while being unable to clear the area of foes can be challenging or it can be frustrating, and I have to confess I found the game quite frustrating the first time I played.

Replayability is excellent, almost required to enjoy this game to its fullest. The first time through was more education than entertainment for me. To succeed you'll need to create a character concept and develop it fully or else you'll struggle with low ammunition and overwhelming opposition from the zombie hordes. A safe strategy is to focus on melee skills so that ammunition can be conserved. A balanced character will require some ranged abilities because the mechanized foes explode on death. Computer hacking assists in accessing locked areas and can turn automated turrets into allies.

The three class factions you have to choose from are Marine, Navy and OSA. A useful oversimplification would describe Marines as the fighter class, Navy characters as the stealth class, and OSA as the mage class. There is considerable overlap (OSA characters have invisibility for instance) and skills can be chosen across classes for the duration of the game. You are not locked into an inflexible path at character creation. I'll be going for a balanced character in this walkthrough -- OSA with decent melee and hacking skills.

Graphically, the game has always needed some help. A calculation error resulted in lower-than-necessary polygon counts so even at its release the game looked chunky. The 16-bit textures are blocky and unconvincing. Fortunately, the mod community has come to the rescue. The screenshots you'll see here are showing off two mods, Rebirth (complemented) and SHTUP. Stylistically, however, the game makes up for the technical shortcomings. Bright, almost Tron-like colors and sleek futuristic design aid in creating an enjoyable atmosphere.

System Shock 2's ability to endure is due to many reasons. Sadly, perhaps one of the greatest is its lack of competition. There just aren't that many RPG/FPS hybrids out there. The appeal is in the combined immersion of a first-person perspective with the flexibility and character development of an RPG. Throw in a good dose of horror, mix with a futuristic setting and cap it all off with a devilish cyber-vixen and you've got yourself one heck of a game.

- Last Update 4/22/11