System Shock 2

System Shock 2

A tale of alcoholism, drug abuse, and animal cruelty

What is System Shock 2?

System Shock 2 is a computer game for Windows, released in 1999. It features a mixture of first-person shooting, RPG-esque character building, and exploration. It was the inspiration behind BioShock, which copied borrowed a lot of the gameplay ideas seen in the System Shock series.

If you didn't already know this, then you probably haven't played it before. If so: Stop reading! This page might ruin your fun by revealing spoilers... or by tempting you to "bend" the rules slightly, to tilt the odds in your favour. For maximum enjoyment, I'd recommend that you go through it "properly" first.

What is this page about?

If you know anything about the original System Shock for DOS, you may have come across the infamous "Anti-Walkthough", System Shock: The hacker's guide to sin by Doug the Eagle, in which the Hacker plays with explosives, engages in substance abuse, and just generally does all of the things that a good role model should not. Unfortunately, the sequel is not covered in nearly as much detail as the original game, and is instead reduced to about a dozen bullet points at the bottom of the main System Shock page. The reason given for this is that System Shock 2 simply does not offer as much scope for misbehaving as the first game did:

"It has taken four years to gather enough material to write about, and even that is scarce."

This is simply not true. Through a combination of engine glitchiness and player perversity, it is entirely possible to transform System Shock 2 from a serious and atmospheric game into an emphatic reminder that video games don't have to make sense. I have therefore attempted to do Strange Things in System Shock 2.

And so, without further ado:

Part 1: Join The Navy, See The World

The first thing you'll notice about the distant future is that the UNN are so desperate for new recruits that they'll accept any schmuck who walks in off the street (literally) without so much as a basic CRB check. This is fortunate, because the player character will soon reveal themselves to have a huge drug addiction problem.

Let's start with the basic training booth:

COBOL training is next door.

Entering the booth takes you to a virtual reality training area, in which you are fitted with a (simulated) cybernetic interface and can perform all of the actions that you would normally have access to in-game, such as collecting items and using your inventory. Leaving the VR training exercise returns you to the real world, removing any of the virtual items from your virtual inventory in the process. Most of these items re-appear if you re-enter the training areas again, and some of them constantly re-spawn even whilst you're in the VR area.

We are going to drag those items out of virtual reality and into the real world.

In the VR training area, face the exit teleporter and open your inventory. Click and drag the item you wish to free from The Matrix into the middle of the screen (as you would if you were going to drop it) and walk into the teleporter without letting go of the left mouse button.

Like this.

Upon his return to the alleged "Real World", the new recruit's mental visions of orange juice, crisps, and hypodermic syringes will solidify into physical matter which he will then vomit out on to the ground in front of him.

This works about 50% of the time. If it doesn't, just try again until it does.

Free Stuff!
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

The same trick works in the other training areas, allowing you to extract guns (in perfect condition!) from the Marines training area. But it's the Navy area that really lets you take advantage of your new powers, because it has an infinite amount of nanites (they respawn when you pick them up) and a vending machine. As an added bonus, the Navy training area is explicitly designed to allow you to hack the vending machine, giving you access to better items than the default ones!

Infinite Free Stuff!

By "better items", I am of course referring to bullets and performance enhancing drugs. Bullets are useful, of course, but you'll notice in the image above that drugs are the cheapest, so the chances are that you'll spend a large amount of your ill-gotten gains on them. Strangely, the UNN doesn't seem to have a problem with their new recruit smuggling approximately four hundred hypodermic syringes with him when he flies off to their training camps in order to become a better person.

Incidentally, you can negate the whole point of the psychic training course by ignoring the trainer instructions to "reach out with your mind" and instead collect the bag of nanites by walking up to it and "reaching out with your arms" instead:

"Do you feel your mind expanding?"
"No, but I'm pretty certain that my wallet is."

When you're done mocking both psychic powers and the laws of reality (via the extraction of purely virtual objects into the dimensions of the real world) you can go ahead and join whichever branch of the military suits you best. I usually go for the Navy rather than the Marines, since hacking and repairing are useful skills to have - and we've already established that psi-powers are for dorks, as evidenced by their utter irrelevance in their own training course.

Once you're in space, you'll be asked to choose which skills you want to gain during the first three years of your miltary career. These will vary depending on which branch of the UNN forces you choose to join, so I can't really give you any advice here... other than to keep an eye out for the dancing robot that turns up as you're choosing your mission in the third year.

Dance Dance Dance Dance Dance Like A Robot

Part 2: The Medsci Deck

Waking up on board the Von Braun, it becomes apparent that you'll be playing the remainder of the game as the bastard offspring of agents JC Denton and Gunter Herman from Deus Ex. Gunter Denton seems to be the sentimental type, since he's held on to all of the stuff he picked up at the UNN recruitment centre, three or four years ago - including the crisps and orange juice, which have surely passed their use-by date at this point.

Depending on the amount of time you dedicated to abusing your newly-discovered virtual reality cyber-extraction capabilities, you'll either have a lot of stuff or A LOT of stuff at this point. You're only really limited by your in-game carrying capacity and your real-world patience when it comes to ferrying items from the training area into the game proper, so bring as much or as little as you want to.

Hi, I brought my stuff.

The basketball I'm carrying was not acquired through cheating, by the way - it's a secret hidden item that you can find somewhere near the UNN training centre. I'll leave it for you to discover yourself - I wouldn't want to spoil your fun.

One of the information terminals in this area explains how to equip weapons, just in case the past three years of military duty have somehow slipped your mind. Then again, you have just lost your memories of the last few weeks, so perhaps it has happened before, and the management were simply too cheap to invest in a RAID backup system after the last few guys forgot how to play piano.

Got no psychic powers...

This Door To Nowhere is supposed to be an example of why psychic powers could be useful; there are bonuses over there, but they're out of reach.

Happily, you don't really need psychokinesis for this, as there are a few other ways to get at those goodies. First, go back downstairs:

I've got a computer, though...

Next, face one of those computers, pictured on the right, and hold down "jump" so that the player attempts to pull himself up, as though they were climbable ledges...

...and a lack of respect for physics

...which, in defiance of conventional physics, is exactly what happens. (Yes, that's the top of the computer unit - your head is sticking through it.)

From here, a basic run-and-jump should be enough to get you close to the items. Simply hammer the right mouse button to pick them up as you fall past them.

Gotta go fast.

Alternatively, you can simply run and jump out of the Door To Nowhere if your speed/agility is good enough - if it isn't, you'll fall and take some damage.

Upon approaching the doorway leading to the rest of the Medsci deck, JC Herman will see a ghostly apparition, which speaks to him before disappearing as though it were never there. This is the first warning sign that your use of mind altering substances will have interesting side effects.

Once you open the door, the next steps are to (A) get on the floor, and (B) everybody walk the dinosaur... and to rummage through any bodybags you find, obviously. Dead men have no use for money drugs, now, do they?

There are a few things here that should bother anyone with even a basic grasp of the standard human thought processes. First of all, you're looting the dead, with no aparrent feelings of remorse. Secondly, you're looting DRUGS from the dead, meaning that their own death through substance abuse has somehow not registered as a hugely important warning beacon to you.

Thirdly, the drugs in question are medical hypos, which are supposedly used to avoid dying in the first place. If it didn't work for these poor saps, why would they be any more effective for you?

It was at this point that JC Herman realised that the hit he was getting from the various hypos simply wasn't doing it for him any more, and so he decided to step up his pharmaceutical consumption activities by going to the local chemical storage cupboard directly.

Sorry, were you saying something?
Screw you, lady, I do what I want.

Despite Mecha-Neko's assertion that "There are no safe rooms" in System Shock 2, you will find that there are some places where enemies will not spawn and cannot get to. The best place I have found is the starting room with the upgrade terminals in it - enemies don't generally use lifts without your "help", so dump any extra stuff you find down there. As can be seen in the screenshot above, I often carry all of the chemicals I find on each deck back to that one room, so that they're all conveniently in one place, and so that I don't have to make a (potentially perilous) journey halfway across a deck when I want to find a specific element. You can build a little treasure cave there, filled with a stockpile of back-up equipment, for when your current stuff eventually breaks.

Anyway, the next crime on your ever expanding list should be computer hacking. From what we've seen so far, this isn't actually illegal, as the Navy openly condones (and encourages) the use of 1337 w4r35 obtained from questionable sources on the Internet for both fun and profit. So, whilst you may not be breaking any actual laws, you can still break some basic laws of physics by hacking into things through solid glass:

You can also hack into security turrets simply by walking up to them and use-ing them with the right mouse button. Normally, this would result in Denton looking somewhat akin to swiss cheese, but turrets hidden in recessed areas of the wall are entirely helpless unless you are standing directly in front of them.

If this style of hacking is too lah-de-dah for you, you can still rely on the more physical form of hacking I successfully utilised on every security camera I came across, namely the (Very Solid) Wrench:

Basic Hacking
Pictured: Hacking

Advanced students may wish to upgrade their firmware and enjoy the benefits of the Pro version:

Advanced Hacking
Pictured: Advanced Hacking

You may have noticed that the various "decorative" objects on the walls (such as computer screens, pipes, etc.) can be smashed with the wrench, so you might as well add pointless vandalism to the list of reasons why children should not look up to you while you're at it. You can also kill the poor, victimised psi-monkeys and abscond with their Quavers for a double whammy of animal abuse and alleyway mugging.

Speaking of monkeys, you can search the (supposedly unreachable) monkey corpses in the next area by looking at them through the "sides" of the force-fields in front of them, as there seems to be a gap in the collision around the edges. I don't recall finding any items on them, though, so there's not much point.

Carry on mucking around until you eventually find Dr. Whats-His-Face. As a side note, you should probably turn on the resurrection unit at this point if you haven't already done so.

"Hi, I'm Dr. Search Container!"

You may be aware that the Big Robot who was previously wandering around in the (locked) room containing the ladder to the engineering deck will magically warp out and start roaming the corridors once you extract the door lock code from Dr. Container. Normally he serves as a sort of mini-boss for you to run into on your way back to the area near the main elevator, but that's not quite how it worked out for me when I first played it. You can recreate my experience as follows:

It's sort of a door, I suppose.
Stand here.


Part 3: The Engineering Deck

It's at this point that some of the side effects of the copious quantities of drugs you have been taking start to catch up with you, in the form of ghostly hallucinations, flying service droids, and the downright odd behaviours exhibited by some of the Big Robots found in the cargo bays.

Most of this deck is pretty boring, to be honest, although you can find a single Cyborg Midwife here near the end, away from her usual home on the Hydroponics deck. Most of the fun involves the cargo bays, but it's interesting to note that you can watch the ghost of your own clone commit suicide near command control:

This raises a couple of questions: Firstly, how can a ghost commit suicide? And secondly, how has this guy got an R-Grade Cyber Rig, when it's mentioned in one of the first audio logs you find that they've been illegal for ages?

The main points of interest in the cargo bays are the lifts. If you can lure a Big Robot underneath one and send it down, the robot will be crushed until it explodes, saving you the time, effort, and ammo it would take to do it the usual way.

Once they have been sufficiently compacted into a two dimensional state, you can search their remains for nanites.

Sometimes, though, weird things happen. Robots near lifts might hover up a few feet into the air before the lift gets stuck, leaving the robot floating whilst the lift sound plays continuously. Sometimes robots who are nowhere near lifts will stop animating (or even turning) and will hover about like oversized chess pieces. On one occasion, having loaded a quick-save, I found a Big Robot right in front of me, on the top level of the lift, even though it wasn't there when I quick-saved and there was no possible way for it to get up to where I was.

I'm not quite sure how to do it intentionally, but it's possible to send a droid up on one of the lifts before calling the lift back down again, leaving the droid hovering in place and waving at nobody in particular. You can just about see one to the left of the crosshair in the screenshot below:

You can have some fun with the turrets in this area, as they're not very bright. They will try to shoot you whenever you're "visible" - even if there's another object or enemy in the way. One of the easiest things to do is to get the turret to destroy the service droid shipping crates before the faulty 'bots burst out:

It's slightly more difficult to get them to shoot mobile enemies. Annoyingly, enemies who accidentally hit one another don't in-fight like they do in Doom or Quake, so you have to rely on your dancing skills and creative use of the environment to line them up safely. There's one bit where you can easily get a laser turret to repeatedly shoot the Big Robots in front of it, and there's even a nice big box for you to hide behind:

The box doesn't quite work out as nicely as the convenient bit of wall on the Medsci deck. For one thing, the robot can get past and shoot you if you're not careful - in fact, there's enough room for it to move back and forth, making it look like it's doing a clunky robot dance.

More Robot Dancing.
Every day I'm shufflin'

What really spoils it, though, is the dodgy collision detection that allows the robot to shoot you through the box whenever it feels like it.

This shouldn't happen.

In the interests of science, I tried using the VR Object Extraction technique to "throw" something during the bit where The Many give you a brief tour of their house while you float around like a balloon, hoping to blow up those hissing spider things. I couldn't get it to work, but then I didn't try very hard, so it might be possible somehow.

Part 4: Hydroponics

To Be Continued...


System Shock 2 has falling damage. This isn't particularly strange; plenty of other games have this too. What makes it odd is that "falling" damage applies to all three axes - meaning that you can kill yourself if you slam into walls hard enough.

Should you wish to make your player avatar go splat without bothering with that pesky "gravity" stuff, you can do so via the liberal application of Speed Boost Hypos, SwiftBoost(TM) Implants, and a sufficiently high Agility skill rating. You could also use the Move-A-Bit-Quicker ability available from the (incredibly rare) OS Upgrade terminals, if you don't mind wasting them.

Last updated 20th August 2012 by Thomas Dennis