At the end of the original System Shock, it was believed that the antagonistic supercomputer known as SHODAN had been destroyed by a nameless hacker, leaving the company that created it, TriOptimum, in shambles. But when System Shock 2 arrived in August 1999, it was made clear that SHODAN was only just getting started.
The story of System Shock 2 takes place decades after the original’s, with TriOptimum trying to rebuild their previous success by creating an experimental starship known as the Von Braun. It, along with other ships, respond to a distress signal from the planet Tau Ceti V, on which they discover strange eggs belonging to an alien race known as The Many, a hivemind that takes over the ships’ crews. One remaining soldier on these ships, having been cryogenically frozen, wakes up following The Many’s decimation of the crews, and is contacted by another survivor calling herself Dr. Janice Polito.
The soldier travels through the Von Braun, fighting off infected crew members, and eventually learning that Polito doesn’t actually exist – and that it was SHODAN posing as the doctor. SHODAN tells the soldier that she was responsible for creating The Many during bioengineering experiments (and that a grove containing these experiments had been ejected from the station during the events of the original System Shock, therefore allowing a piece of her to continue to exist), but that they got out of her control and she now needs the soldier to eliminate them. The soldier continues his way through the ships, eliminating The Many’s infected and also encountering other survivors. He eventually has to defeat SHODAN once again, after she reveals to him her intentions of merging the real world and cyberspace.
The game was co-developed by Irrational Games and Looking Glass Studios; Looking Glass had developed the original System Shock themselves, and was approached by Irrational, whose members were big fans of the first title. System Shock 2 didn’t begin as a sequel, but rather an original idea that borrowed some ideas from the original, before publisher Electronic Arts suggested mid-development that it become a true sequel.
System Shock 2 was critically beloved, and became somewhat of a cult classic – but it didn’t perform well financially, and Looking Glass eventually shuttered, which left the rights to the System Shock franchise in limbo for quite a few years. The folks at Irrational eventually developed Bioshock as a spiritual successor to System Shock, which became a critical darling in its own right. In August 2019, Night Dive studios announced an “Enhanced Edition” of System Shock 2 was in development, after the studio acquired the rights to the franchise; this new edition is using the game’s original source code, allowing them to make direct improvements. Night Dive will also be developing System Shock 3, though no release window has yet been set for that.