Brilliant does not even begin to describe this game.
Warren Spector came to be known primarily because of Deus-Ex
an incredible game in its own right. However, Spector's been around for much longer than
that, and has been involved in some of the greatest games ever created - System Shock
being one of them.
System shock is a game alright, but stands in the spot light alone. No other hybrid has
brought such perfection to the table, no other hybrid has brought gameplay to a level that
even pales by comparison. System Shock is incredible right from the get-go: even the
introduction sequence, with its great graphics and excellent soundtrack, gives me
goosebumps every time I see it. An amazing presentation of an excellent story, which is
implemented very well indeed.
By far the most spectacular thing about System Shock is its atmosphere. It doesn't take
esque explosions to creep you out; a simple
e-mail by Shodan would suffice. The game induces severe claustrophobia, particularly when
played late at night with high volume levels; exploring an empty space station, constantly
wary of any cyborg ambushes... and Shodan's face taunting you on every monitor!
System Shock is probably the only cyberpunk adventure I've ever enjoyed (that includes
books as well). The simple but effective story, the way it unfolds through e-mail messages
you collect while exploring the station... the detailed surrounding: empty beverage cans
and candy wrappers thrown about the place, blown lamps and panels... and of course,
cyberspace itself, with all of the concepts contained therein. System Shock is magnificent.
The engine is quite good for it's time - not as crisp as Doom or as fast as Descent,
but the highly detailed textures and gouraud shading all around make for an extremely
convincing game world. The CD version supports high resolutions, and with a fast enough
computer (a typical P166 can't handle even 640x400 well, be warned) the game looks simply
beautiful. The game has a steep learning curve, but the controls are so good it's a matter
of a couple of hours before one becomes fully fluent with them.
And finally, the soundtrack is one of the most important elements of the game. Though it's
MIDI (which means you guys without wavetable cards are really missing out), it complements
the level design so absolutely perfectly the game would be so... lesser
System Shock is impressively close to perfection: only two things bother me.
First, the ending sequence is a little disappointing. I was expecting a major cyberspace
combat or chase with Shodan, but that didn't happen; neither was there a particularly
impressive end animation (unlike the intro), the only impressive thing being the "neural
net" System Shock logo.
The second is the game engine. It is beautiful, but it is by no means fast. In 1994, Doom
was already a year old and 486s were becoming prevalent. But even at 320x200, the game
does not run very well on a 486! At over 320x200, the game grinds even on a Pentium-class
machine. I wish it was easier to make newer machines play older games, I bet this game
would rock at 640x480 on an Athlon...
The Bottom Line
A game that beats Deus-Ex in some respects, kicked Half Life in the nads some five years before it was conceived, and gave most
adventure games a serious run for their money in the storyline department. It still amazes
me how little System Shock is known. Get it! Play it! I assure you, it's an experience
of a lifetime.