So I beat Bioshock. I was very impressed with the story. I was also intrigued about the origins of the game so I decided to play System Shock 2.
I was in for a real treat.
So I found myself a CD copy of System Shock 2. To my shock (pun) it did not run on my computer even after using a patch. Some sort of video card error. For some reason my older PC running XP did run the game using a patch so I was able to play it.
This game is AWESOME. The gameplay is just great. The story is great. The subplots you discover when you listen to various audio logs are intriguing. The enemies of the game both biological and robotic are full of character. The many voices of the Many are wonderful. The AI of the enemies is OK.
I also installed the Rebirth mod which improves some of the graphics of the in-game characters.
Hands down I feel the gameplay beats out Bioshock. There is no comparison. You don't even get an inventory screen in Bioshock. System Shock 2 is more in depth in every way.
I believe Yahtzee said that Bioshock WAS System Shock dumbed down for console users. He was dead on. That's exactly was it is. Normally I am not much a of a PC chest thumper (except to note that a mouse and keyboard combo is ALWAYS a better control system for a FPS). But in this game the keyboard shortcuts and generally more complex control scheme pretty much demand a keyboard and mouse setup.
The gameplay elements that are duplicated in Bioshock are pale comparisons. The system of needing to recharge your various enhancements is absent. This makes Bioshock a much easier game to play and in my view a little less interesting.
It's a much scarier atmosphere in System Shock 2. You are constantly running low on ammo and energy. Your awesome powers might seem great now but if you are not careful in a scant few minutes they might run out of juice and leave you vulnerable. Your bad-ass shotgun that is mowing down enemies left and right might just degrade and lock up on you at a crucial moment. You need to constantly take care of your stuff. A decision to use something in your inventory or gain a new skill can cost you dearly in the next level. This enviroment of uncertainly and paranoia really draws you into the game.
In Bioshock I was running around looking for fights. The supposeldy bad-ass "Big Daddys" can be taken care of in a number of low cost ways. They aren't even hostile until you attack them! Fighting normal enemies is generally cake. You actuallly look forward to it. I never remember running around Rapture thinking "oh shit oh shit I only have 3 pistol rounds left. I am so toast if I run into a...oh crap." I remember doing that alot in System shock.
There is NEVER a guarantee of useful ammo left behind in either game but you notice it A LOT more in SS2. If you happen to kill a Many who has a few shotgun shells left on him you feel like it's Christmas.
The security and puzzle system is also dumbed down in Bioshock. It's MUCH easier hack cameras in Rapture. And they STAY hacked. In System Shock 2 you only get a few mintues of time to disable the cameras or sneak by. Then the cameras come back on. And instead of a few annoying but easily killed or hacked security bots that come at you in Rapture there is a FLOOD of enemies that come pouring into the whole level looking to destroy your careless ass.
In the SS2 world you have to pick and choose which weapons and powers you are going to keep. You CAN'T be a jake of all trades if you want to live. For example I never developed my mental powers in SS2 because I am too busy powering up my technical and combat skills. Now my mental power is helping to protect my health with the assistance of a implant. In Bioshock you possess the magic gun rack and can carry a huge amount of weapons as well as powers.
Story-wise I think that both games have strong points. Bioshock might actually win out because of the emotional depth of the big reveal. System Shock 2 is more a of slow burn.
Overall if you happen to have an older computer kicking around or if you are a wiz at getting older games to work on a newer computer do yourself a big favor and try System Shock 2.