System Shock 2 helped define survival horror — but it’s still in a league of its own

System Shock 2 Screenshot

The engineering deck in System Shock 2, the classic Looking Glass game released 20 years ago today, is one of the most brilliantly nerve-wracking virtual spaces ever created.

System Shock 2 wasn’t a huge success at launch. It was sandwiched between Half-Life and Deus Ex, two games that redefined the sci-fi first-person shooter. And for many years, it was almost impossible to play legally, thanks to its bizarrely tangled copyright status. But it inspired a generation of iconic survival horror games like Prey, Dead Space (conceived as a System Shock sequel), and most notably BioShock, created by System Shock 2’s designer Ken Levine. And even after two decades, nothing has quite captured the same stark creepiness.

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