System Shock 2 Preview

Part RPG and part FPS, Vatical's System Shock 2 will give gamers the four things they love most: good plot, intelligent gameplay, spooky atmosphere, and Internet play.

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In the distant future, humankind embarks on an expedition into unexplored space. It seems the UNN government has been receiving curious transmissions from the Tau Ceti system, and it's sending a faster-than-light ship, the Von Braun, to investigate. In Vatical's System Shock 2, you'll assume the role of one of these brave adventurers. Unfortunately, the journey is less than peaceful. Somehow, during your hypersleep, an alien infestation seems to have infected the ship. Awakened abruptly by one of the remaining survivors, Dr. Polito, you find yourself suffering from amnesia and a pressing desire to flee. To do so, you'll have to make good use of Polito's advice, your cybernetic implants, the ship's log files, and a smattering of abandoned equipment. Of course, before you can leave, you've got to put an end to the alien presence aboard the ship. Duh!

Part first-person shooter and part RPG, System Shock 2 will deliver gameplay that transcends both genres. When you start the game, you have the choice of three affiliations: Marines, Navy, or OSA. Depending on the branch of service you enter, you will embark upon one of three different training missions to acquire the necessary skills. For the Marines, it's combat techniques. For the Navy, it's technology and stealth. For the OSA, it's telekinesis and a variety of other science-fiction mainstays. After your training, it's onto the ship, where the main game begins. Throughout the game, you can acquire ten different skills and up to 35 different psychic powers. Though the game has a variety of specialized weapons, you will be required to learn certain skills in order to put them to good use. For example, the energy-weapons skill better enables you to use lasers, pulse rifles, and EMP launchers, whereas the heavy-weapons skill gives you access to grenade launchers and other assorted big-bang items. Also, unlike the current crop of FPS titles, weapons and objects in System Shock 2 wear down or break. Because of this, you'll also have to master repair and maintenance skills.

What further sets System Shock 2 apart from the rest of the pack is its artificial intelligence. Whereas most FPS or RPG AI is contrived and stupid, the enemies in SS2 ooze with intelligence. Assassins will hide in dark corridors or sneak behind you before attacking. Stronger sentry robots and security turrets will come at you full bore with guns blazing, while zombies and spiders will attempt to outmaneuver you as they rip your body to shreds. Even more alarming, enemy monsters can communicate with one another, calling backup creatures from adjacent areas. Just as Looking Glass delivered in the PC release, Vatical promises the same focus on intelligent AI in the Dreamcast release.

From a multimedia standpoint, System Shock 2 is a good fit with respect to the Dreamcast's graphical capabilities. The PC release ran with minimum hardware acceleration while successfully portraying dark, spooky corridors and ugly, violent monsters. Thanks to the Dreamcast's 300MHz processor and PowerVR hardware, developer Marina Games is intent on bringing across a completely faithful experience. If successful, Dreamcast owners will find themselves in awe of the game's gothic cyberpunk ambience and horror-style suspense. Since ammunition power-ups, weapons, and skill items are sparse, rushing into combat is the wrong tactic in System Shock 2. The game's emphasis on slow, stealthy movement and observational skills makes it more akin to Metal Gear Solid than a Quake clone.

Of course, there's more to life than a wonderful plot, excellent visuals, and intelligent gameplay. While it may not seem like it, quality games are a dime a dozen nowadays. To this end, Vatical has an ace up its sleeve: Internet play. Just as other companies are gearing up releases for Sega's online network in the fall, Vatical's System Shock 2 will feature both deathmatch and co-op multiplayer gaming. If you've been waiting for something to test your Dreamcast's online capabilities, the November release of System Shock 2 may be right up your alley.

[Note: The included screenshots are from the PC version of the game.]

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