Originally intended to be a standalone title, its story was changed during production into a sequel to the 1994 PC game System Shock. The alterations were made when Electronic Arts—who owned the System Shock franchise rights—signed on as publisher. The game takes place on board a starship in a cyberpunk depiction of 2114. The player assumes the role of a soldier trying to stem the outbreak of a genetic infection that has devastated the ship. Like System Shock, gameplay consists of combat and exploration. It incorporates role-playing system elements, in which the player can develop skills and traits, such as hacking and psionic abilities.
System Shock 2 received positive reviews but failed to meet commercial sales expectations. Many critics later determined that the game was highly influential in subsequent game design, particularly on first-person shooters, and considered it far ahead of its time. It has been included in several "greatest games of all time" lists. In 2007, Irrational Games released a spiritual successor to the System Shock series, titled BioShock, to critical acclaim and strong sales. System Shock 2 had been in intellectual property limbo following the closure of Looking Glass Studios. Night Dive Studios were able to secure the rights to the game and System Shock franchise in 2013 to release an updated version of System Shock 2 for modern personal computers. OtherSide Entertainment announced in December 2015 that they have been licensed the rights from Night Dive Studios to produce a sequel, System Shock 3.