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System Shock (DOS)

89
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  RussS (781)
Written on  :  Sep 27, 2009
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars

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Summary

Massive potential that is now only recognised in hindsight

The Good

System Shock is a proper experience, not just a excuse to shoot some guns or a complex story weighed down in an indirect interface, but a story casting you directly into the action to make you live out the experience yourself. As such it spreads itself across the genres, with elements from the action, adventure and RPG genres, all blended so you don't even think about them instead you just get on with the game.

The story really seems to do what it can with the technology available at the time, set in the future you play a hacker who is caught hacking into SHODAN, the computer controlling a space station. To avoid punishment you make a deal with the SHODAN's boss to make some 'alterations' to the system in return for some bio-upgrades for yourself, made at the station. While you're recovering from surgery something happens on the station and you awake into a living nightmare of a computer wreaking havoc, which you must stop. The story may seem generic, but it's pretty original for computer games (at the time) and succeeds in creating horror as it is you that's at the centre, it's also a story that make maximum use of what computers could handle. They couldn't handle interacting with real characters, so instead you deal with demented robots but unlike DOOM, you know why they are doing, they've been re-programmed and you can stop SHODAN from making more by shutting down sectors of the station. It's this level of though that really makes for immersion overcoming the 2.5d graphics and low resolution.

The space station also feels likes a real space, not just a collection of corridors and rooms designed for an ultimate fight arena, the levels conform to the external shape of the station, and you have to pass through the same floors of the station several times to complete the game. Though this doesn't feel so much like repetition as no doubt you'll have upgraded yourself on your return. Your hacker self is also a good chance to make use the limited draw space of the screen and also provide the chance to upgrade yourself and provide many features the game can offer but you can't do in real life, such as eyes in the back of your head.

It's not the lonely world of the average shooter though as you piece together what happened through abandoned crew entries scattered through the ship and communication outside on how to stop SHODAN, a liveliness that transcends the technological limits and finds DOOM 3 copying it nearly a decade later. This makes the whole thing feel real, like you're properly abandoned on the station and have to stop a computer which mocks you as you continue, again a computer game is the perfect vessel to display a computer enemy.

The Bad

The main gripe I had with the game is the control interface, mouse-look systems hadn't been developed at the time, leaving all movement and looking to be done with the keyboard, never much fun for looking up and down. However the mouse is used to interact with elements on the screen, such as aiming guns, done independently of moving around, which can make for some very confused action moments as you fiddle with the controls.

Of course the graphics could be better and I'm sure that's what will drive most people to check out the games sequel first, but for it's time and with the CD-ROM higher resolutions it is still worth playing.

The Bottom Line

It's been said before, but this is the game that should have had the effect of DOOM on the gaming world, if other games had used this as a role model FPS games wouldn't have become so associated with mindless violence. It's a game that whose thinking is ahead of it's technology, though it knows it's bounds and works within those to never let them deter from creating an excellent playing experience.