I've never played the first System Shock (please post to the forum below if you can tell me more about it), but I do know that you play the part of a computer hacker with cybernetic implants, and that as the game starts you wake up having undergone surgey and with no memory of recent events... but you quickly find out that things are not as they should be.
You end up having to match wits with and eventually defeat the space station's AI, SHODAN. But a good AI doesn't stay dead for long...
In the second System Shock, you wake up having undergone surgey to implant cybernetic modules and, yes, you've got no memory of recent events. You're a crew member of the first every Faster-Than-Light ship, and it soon becomes apparent that something has gone very wrong. As for what... you'll have to find out.
If it sounds like System Shock 2 is merely a carbon-copy of System Shock... having not played the first game, I can't be sure, but I doubt it. For one thing, computer game technology has come a long way since System Shock's Doom-style graphics... and System Shock 2's plot is so intricate and involved that there's no way it could be compared disfavourably to its prequel.
System Shock 2 is a game of fighting skill, wits, and exploration ability. You have to explore the decks of the FTL ship, collecting logs of the crew members for information. Complete key tasks and you will be rewarded with Cybernetic Modules, which can be used to improve your statistics, your technical abilities, your weapons skill or your psionic powers.
One of the most interesting aspects of System Shock 2 is the amount of choice you have in how you solve various problems. On my first journey through the game I decided I would specialise in hacking and technical skills; I could have chosen to work with weapons, or to improve upon the psionic powers of my mind.
The path you choose determines how you will solve any particular problem; a hacker may deal with an enemy by taking control of a local gun turret, a psionics master by creating a field of invisibility with their mind, and a weapons freak by blowing it to pieces.
As the game unfolds, then, new abilities and skills become available to you; you'll have to think your way past a number of problems, blast your way past a number of enemies, and navigate your way to the very top of the ship and your final goal.
Something you will immediately notice about System Shock 2 is this: it is scary. Very scary, in fact. Suspense, incredibly detailed sound effects, good use of lighting... everything is designed to make you feel just how vulnerable and alone you are.
The second thing you will notice is the difficulty level; System Shock 2 is not easy. Difficulty settings of 'easy', 'normal', 'hard' and 'impossible' are available... I would be surprised if many people have successfully braved the latter. If you've got little experience with first-person shooters, you're goint to have to go for 'easy' to stand a chance.
Graphics are not amazing; some of the textures don't look quite at home and the models aren't massively detailed. On the other hand, they're quite good enough to be effective... just nothing to write home about.
The physical engine, on the other hand, certainly is. Computer games haven't quite reached the stage where 'physics' is a recognised category when awarding marks; but in System Shock 2 you can throw an object and watch it clatter realistically to the floor, you can mantle up onto ledges as high as yourself, you can really appreciate the kickback from a powerful weapon. The application of physical laws to produce a realistic environment is become more and more important, with today's advanced games... and System Shock 2 is a good example of this.
As for the sound... the game uses sound absolutely perfectly. Playing the game on a naff two-speaker system, I hardly dare to think what it would be like with a Soundblaster Live! card and four-point speakers... just don't play it in the dark, is my advice.
A patch can be downloaded from the internet which allows cooperative multiplayer games; but, to be honest, this isn't something you're going to use unless you've a home LAN, a fair amount of patience, and someone equally computer-game-oriented to play with.
To summarise, conclude, and generally finish off the review... System Shock 2 is an excellent single player game. It isn't simple, it isn't easy; but if you're looking for a challenge, System Shock 2 is a good choice. Those of you who enjoyed Half-Life will love the in-depth story line and great single player game. Quake and Unreal fans will find their skills useful, but they'll need to put a lot more thought into this one.
Buy this game if: you like first-person shooters but want more of a storyline and like the idea of hacking, using psionic powers, and generally gaining an advantage over the enemy in any way you can.
Don't buy this game if: you've played Quake and didn't like the controls, or couldn't get used to using the mouse. You're going to have to move pretty sharpish at times. Also, if you don't like the idea of having to think sometimes rather than just barging in with guns blazing, this isn't the game for you.
System Shock 2 requires a 3D graphics accelerator; 64Mb of RAM is strongly recommended (level changes will take ages, otherwise), but you should be able to get by with a PII-233 processor or higher.