LGR – System Shock – DOS PC Game Review

September 5, 2019

[synthesized music] [typing] Looking back through PC gaming past, there are few games that set the bar so high that it almost seems like cheating. Today’s game is one of those games: System Shock. Developed by the legendary
Looking Glass Technologies and published by Origin Systems in 1994. Just look at this package. Man, isn’t it great? Not easy to find boxed, either. Yeah, just look at it. And while you’re at it,
look at this too because it’s curious. “A first-person fight to the
death in the depths of space.” Sounds more generic than a store-
branded variety of Coke called Mr. Tasty, but back in the day, the very
idea was still pretty exciting. And if the premise doesn’t get you excited, well, the people behind it might. You’ve got designer dudes like Warren Spector, Doug Church, Marc LeBlanc and Seamus Blackley, among many others, most famous at that point for their
work on the Ultima Underworld games. They used a completely new
3D game engine here, though, adding things like the ability to
lean and stand at different heights, sloped surfaces, light emitting objects and much more. Unfortunately, while the game sold moderately well and was a big hit with the critics, it ended up losing Looking Glass money in the end. Life’s just not fair, man. Screw you, Life! Inside the game box, you get
an install guide and reference card, an ad prodding you to spend more money
on the game by way of a strategy guide, and the manual, titled “Terminal Access.” [ grunts ] Yes, now this is a manual
I wouldn’t kick out of bed for eating crackers. Not only does it cover all the basics, but it gives you a guided tutorial, goes into some more story details and reveals all the sweet weaponry and
other junk you’ll come across in-game. And finally, you got the game itself
on nine 3½-inch floppy disks. Unless you didn’t, since you got the superior CD-ROM version, which IS totally the one to get since it features enhanced graphics and sound along with tons of spoken dialogue that is absolutely key in making
its world feel that much more alive. Or that much more dead,
as the case may be in System Shock. The game starts off with an absolutely stellar intro, showing off its cyberpunk story and aesthetic. [ female computer voice ]
“7 April 2-0-7-2.” “11:13 PM.” “Hacker begins unauthorized entry.” [ LGR VO ]
The plot up to this point is
that you’re a nameless hacker who has managed to hack into
the TriOptimum Corporate Network. Unfortunately, you’re not very
good at covering your tracks, and you get caught just seven minutes after
accessing some confidential information regarding the space station Citadel. But you’re given a chance at freedom from a TriOptimum guy named Edward Diego. All you have to do is go to the space station and disable the ethical constraints code of the station’s AI system, SHODAN. After you do this, you’re put into a coma to be given a military-grade neural implant that allows you to do even more awesome hacker stuff. Six months later, you wake up
in the Citadel’s medical bay, only to find out that turning off the ethical constraints of a super-powerful omnipresent artificial intelligence probably was not a good idea. After this, you’re given the main menu, which is pretty low on options since they’re only adjustable
once you’ve started a game. So, freaking start a game already! Enter your name and choose from a cool and
refreshing array of difficulty settings. I like this because you can tailor your game to exactly the way you want to play. For instance: like shooting dudes but don’t like messing around with logic puzzles? Just increase one option and lower the other. Simple. Once you get into the game, though,
you’ll want to check the actual options menu and crank up the graphics and
audio settings to something higher. Unless you have the floppy version,
and in that case you’re missing out and you have my condolences. The gameplay picks up with you as the hacker, having just awoken from your coma and having nothing but your wits and
fancy new neural interface at your disposal. So, naturally, you’ll start looking
around for things that look useful because weak people rarely
do well in dark sci-fi universes. In fact, if you die in System Shock, your body is collected and then turned into a cyborg, a slave of SHODAN. Not ideal. As you can see, the game takes
place from a first-person perspective with fully texture-mapped 3D environments to explore. You can either play with or
without a full heads-up display, move around with a keyboard or a mouse, and use the mouse cursor to
use things in the environment. So, yeah, it’s a bit more reminiscent
of Ultima Underworld than, say, Doom, which makes sense, seeing as
several of the team at Looking Glass came from Ultima Underworld to System Shock. And while we’re on this topic,
let me just say that initially it may be tempting to call
this a weak first-person shooter due to the strange controls and such, but that’s looking at it the wrong way. System Shock is more of an
advanced adventure game, with elements more commonly
seen in first-person shooters. Once you get used to using all the separate keys for running, jumping, leaning, crouching, looking up and down, strafing and whatever else, it really kind of becomes second nature. Not only is it surprisingly enjoyable
to control the hacker this way, but it’s almost unbelievable how
far ahead of its time this game was. Now this was released less than a year after Doom and yet it allows a degree of
freedom over your character in a first-person game that wasn’t
commonly seen again for years. Combine this with the story-driven narrative, the ability to progress almost
entirely at your own pace, add atmospheric soundtrack that evolves
depending on where you are and what you’re doing, and System Shock feels surprisingly modern. But, yeah, back to what was going on… Well, Citadel Station has seen better days, as evidenced by the evil robots,
the murderous mutants, the bodies everywhere and the
chilling voice messages left by people who are now nothing but paste on the walls. [male voice]
“I must be one of the last ones who hasn’t changed.” “SHODAN must have altered the healing
machine I installed in Alpha Quadrant.” “It does things to people now.” “I think I saw Beth yesterday, but…” “…she had so many implants, like, couldn’t be sure.” [LGR]
It’s up to you to figure out what’s going on, how to survive and what to do
to stop the source of all this: the station’s rogue artificial intelligence, SHODAN. If you’ve chosen a higher difficulty,
you only have seven hours to do this, which makes it as stressful as balls. Stress balls. To increase stress even more,
SHODAN seems to derive pleasure from dismissing you as nothing but an insect, a pathetic mere mortal that
has no chance of stopping her. [SHODAN]
“When my cyborgs bring you to
an electrified interrogation bench, I will have your secret… and you will–you will–
you will learn more about pain than you ever wanted to know.” [static] [LGR] I’ve got to say, it’s genuinely
unsettling to be lost in the darkness, low on ammo, hearing the sounds
of cyborgs in the distance, and then have SHODAN say
something creepy to top it all off. [SHODAN]
“…installation…” “…my fortress is nearly complete…” [distorted computer noises] [LGR] While sorting through audio logs,
emails and notes left by the former crew, you’ll collect quite a few items that
will help you along your journey if utilized properly. There are 16 weapons, some of
which fire different projectiles and work better against certain types of enemies. Some of these don’t use ammo at all but drain from your own energy meter, which can be recharged at
stations throughout each level. You’ve also got several different
types of grenades and explosives for taking down more challenging threats. Then you’ve got these things call dermal patches which do stuff like renew your health and energy, give you extra melee strength, or Berzerk Mode, remove radiation poisoning and other useful stuff. And you also get some hardware
to augment your abilities with, which cost energy but can
provide seriously huge advantages. Things like a shield system, environmental suit, head-mounted light and a system letting
you see and target enemies around you. And while all this helps, most of the time you’ll
just be wandering the labyrinthine passageways and corridors of each level of the space station, looking for clues as to what to do next, dispatching enemies in increasingly violent ways, and screwing up SHODAN’s plans one step at a time. For instance, one thing to keep
in mind is security and surveillance. So, one way to lessen SHODAN’s grip on an area is to smash up every video camera you see. Once the security level is low enough,
you’ll have access to new areas and stuff. Though sometimes you’ll just need
to solve a logic puzzle of some kind, like this grid puzzle where you must complete a circuit, or this wire puzzle that’s just a process of elimination. Another way of gaining access
to new areas is cyberspace. And this is really pretty spectacular, not to mention unexpected,
if you weren’t expecting it. Which is, uh — that makes sense. So there. Enter a cyberspace terminal and you’ll
find yourself in a surreal zero-G environment with full six degrees of freedom. In here, the goal is to stay alive
long enough to gather new software and unlock secured areas in the real world, among other things. It’s just basic navigation and shooting for the most part and the controls do take a little getting used to, but it’s pretty sweet that you get this break
from the normal routine every so often. It also provides you with some software to apply
to your neural interface outside of cyberspace, of which the most useful is a Pong clone. Okay, maybe not, but having
Pong on your HUD is still awesome and I don’t know why it hasn’t been done
in like every first-person game ever since. Yeah, can you tell I really like System Shock? Because I do. I really frigging do. Even for a game of its age,
it’s awesome how quickly I get immersed in its dark, cyberpunk world when I play it. I mean, Greg LoPiccolo’s adaptive music is phenomenal, the story’s incredibly engaging, there’s plenty of variety in the level designs, it has arguably just the right mixture
of adventure, exploration and action, and I love that it’s almost anachronistic in
how forward-thinking it was back in 1994. Everything about it screams
awesomeness as far as I’m concerned. Well, uh, almost everything… While you do get used to the control scheme,
it still feels a bit clunky, though I know that’s kind of a product of its time. Another thing that gets irksome is the
levels are a bit too maze-like at times, and I got turned around and lost
way more often than I’d like to admit, even with the in-game map at my disposal. Then there’s the ending of the game,
which one might say is a bit of a disappointment. Without spoiling anything, the final showdown isn’t exactly up to the standards
of the craziness leading up to it, but it’s a very minor complaint. What more can I say, really? Well, I guess I can say that
System Shock is one crazy good game, especially for its time. It is showing a little age nowadays, but in my eyes, it’s doing so quite well compared to many of its contemporaries. If you ever get a chance to grab a copy, by all means do so, insect. And I hope you have a pleasant stay on Citadel Station. [monster screams and laser blasts] [synthesized music]

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