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SummaryWelcome to Citadel Station, insect, where I, SHODAN, will make your life a complete misery
The GoodSystem Shock was the first Looking Glass game I played, and it remains one of my favorite games of all time. When Night Dive Studios acquired the rights to the series a while ago, they released an enhanced edition of the game, featuring widescreen support and various game fixes. Soon after, they also launched a Kickstarter for the remastered version to be released in 2018, and this was successfully funded. The reception to this remaster was very positive, and I celebrated this piece of news by revisiting the original game from 1994.
Inside the box, you get a install guide and reference card, as well as an advertisement for the System Shock I.C.E. Breaker, Origin's own strategy guide for the game. Also, you either get nine floppy disks or the enhanced CD, and the manual (dubbed “Terminal Access”) which features information regarding the game mechanics , a guided tutorial, and some more story details. If you have the pirated version of the game at the time, it was worth buying the game at a computer store just to get a copy of these freebies; but these days, you can always purchase the Enhanced Edition from GOG or Steam.
System Shock takes place in the year 2072, where a hacker is caught trying to access the computer system at TriOptimum Corporation, a massive corporate monopoly focusing on research, defense, and commercial manufacturing. Edward Diego, the arresting officer, offers to drop all charges against him if he does a little job: hack into SHODAN, the super-computer that controls Citadel Station. After SHODAN is hacked and its ethical constraints removed, the hacker is taken to Citadel where he is put into a healing coma on the station's Medical level, to be injected with a military-grade cybernetic implant.
He wakes up six months later only to find that something horrific has happened. Crew members were either slaughtered, or converted into mutants or cyborgs, and it is believed that SHODAN was responsible. As the hacker, your job is to find out what's going on and get to the bottom of it. You can pick up a few goodies to help you get started, including a basic weapon that will deal with the first few enemies you encounter, as well as a multimedia data reader that you can use to access e-mails and logs. The data reader forms part of your hardware upgrades, and there are further upgrades you can get throughout the game.
System Shock uses an advanced 3-D engine and incorporates features that were not found in generic first-person shooters, such as the ability to look around, change your perspective, leap across gaps, and crouch. Much of the game is spent cycling between different interfaces, and the game can be controlled with the keyboard or mouse. I found it much easier to cycle between interfaces using shortcut keys and doing the rest with the mouse. There are two multi-function displays on both sides, and you can choose the type of information that you want displayed. I like to display the automap on the left MFD, so that I can keep track of where I am going, and what areas of the level that I have not explored yet.
The game is packed full of atmosphere. As you explore the station, you can hear doors opening and closing, and hear the occasional “robot chatter”. It also feels as though SHODAN is watching your every move as she blocks your access to certain areas on each floor, warns you not to enter a certain room, and sends reinforcements to your location the more cyborgs you kill. There is nothing quite like walking around in a room in total darkness, hearing robot sounds every five seconds, and possibly hearing taunts from SHODAN.
Also adding to the atmosphere are e-mails and logs that also play an important role since they tell you about SHODAN's latest plans and how you go about disrupting them. Most of the communication comes from logs made by crew members detailing what was happening on the station and what they were doing moments prior to their deaths. I enjoyed listening to the logs made by Bianca Schuler, who had plans to use the isolinear chipset to deal with SHODAN, and managed to make her way to level nine before Diego finds out and has one of his cyborgs execute her.
System Shock lets you customize the game to your own satisfaction, by modifying different settings related to certain elements such as combat, puzzles, and plot outlines. Don't like rewiring things that allow you to bypass locks and other exciting stuff? Sure, have the game do it automatically for you. Want to explore areas without the threat of enemies firing on you? Walk around Citadel Station undetected and explore at your own free will. Don't like to play games that can take days or months to complete? Impose a seven-hour time limit on yourself, and see the introduction and ending in just one sitting. You can do this configuration before the game starts, not while you're playing it. So if you just begun a new game and realize that you made a mistake, then that's too bad.
There are sixteen weapons in the game, and some of these are more effective against certain types of cyborgs. There are often two sets of ammo for each weapon, and ammo is in abundance so you can never run out of a certain type. A few weapons use up no ammo at all, instead relying on energy cells to work; and since you run out of energy every time you make use of these weapons, it is important to use an energy charge station scattered throughout the levels. Explosives can also be picked up and used if you want to save ammo, and this is ideal for killing enemies that are in a limited area.
From time to time, you have to “jack” into cyberspace, and this is where you can get software upgrades and push switches that will unlock certain areas in the real world. You can also enter data streams that lead you to different areas where you will meet enemies that become aggressive the further you progress through each level, even going so far as appearing the moment you enter cyberspace. I like the way you can see different partitions from inside the one you're in, showing you what you can expect later. And if you're lucky, you will also be able to download mini-games to your interface and play TriOp's take on Space Invaders, Pong, and Tic-Tac-Toe.
I have to say that the level design is brilliant as well. The walls and floors are unique, and each level is structured differently, but they have one thing in common: the four quadrants in the middle that you need to explore. My favorite bit of level design is the Security level, where there is this central shaft that you have to go up through to reach the Bridge, then before you go through the last door, you can look down quite a distance to where you started. I wish that most of the levels were like this.
The soundtrack for each level is brilliantly composed, and it varies depending on your actions like doing combat with an enemy or walking through an area. Because of this variation, you won't probably get to hear the full soundtrack unless you pause the game. Some of the soundtracks are creepy as well, such as the ones heard when you explore the groves on the Executive level.
The CD version of System Shock adds full speech for the e-mails and logs, delivered by Looking Glass employees. The background noises during these audio transmissions are impressive. When SHODAN speaks, for instance, you can hear sirens in the distance. This version also adds a new install program and adds more resolutions other than 320x200, so that the graphics and text will be much clearer. Since the CD version is far superior to the disk version, LG suggested that the CD version should be a separate game, but Origin wouldn't allow it.
The BadThere are some gameplay issues that I found annoying. I found myself running out of ammo at a crucial time such as dealing with enemies. Since there is no automatic reload, I found myself going into the weapons interface and either selecting another weapon or do a manual reload, giving the enemies more of a chance to turn me into a cyborg. Also, there are a few areas that have only one door “broken beyond repair”, which is a waste of map space, in my opinion.
The Bottom LineSystem Shock tells the story of a hacker trying to stop SHODAN and her plans to destroy Earth. In order to get to her, tasks must be performed to thwart her experiments which will ultimately destroy Earth. There are ten levels which the player must explore fully for any cameras or hidden passages. Cyberspace must be entered to get additional information and unlock doors in the real world.
Everything about System Shock is futuristic – the graphics, music, and sound effects. The highlight of the game has to be listening to SHODAN's voice, ordering her children around. There are two versions of the game: a disk version and an enhanced CD-ROM version. By playing the CD version of the game, I felt that its full speech gave some depth to the game. There are differences between the dialog and the spoken text, and for that reason, I wished that I had played the disk version first.
Even if you're got an pirated copy of the game, it's worth it to go grab a legit copy just to get the cool stuff inside it; and if you can't, you can purchase the Enhanced Edition from GOG with everything included. As mentioned in the introduction of this review, there is a remastered version in the works, but will it be any good?