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System Shock is Shockingly Good


This is not a review.. more of an overview and impression.

System Shock was originally released in 1994 and was one of the most ambitious 3D games of its time. It has been labelled as a first person shooter, immersive simulator and a role playing game.

While it wasn't a huge commercial success, it spawned a sequel (System Shock 2) but more importantly, it inspired a lot of spiritual successors such as the BioShock series, Prey and the Deus Ex series.

The game was unique for its time as it was largely up to the player on how to proceed through the levels. They are essentially placed into the game without any direction - the player character picks up the story as the player does (mainly by collecting audio log discs and reading data sticks which contain emails). However, a huge amount of control was given to said player. For example, you could look around, lean to the left or right, crouch, crawl, walk and run (remember, this was 1994) The player also had to manage their inventory and decide what in the world should be collected or not. Hundreds of objects were able to be interacted with and placed into inventory. You can't just pick everything up though as space is limited, and bigger items take up more room. You can't carry all the weapons, healing items, ammo, money and items as you want as they all take up the same inventory space!

The levels were intentionally labyrinthian and unusual, with lots of sharp angles and tightly connected rooms and hallways. There are many doors, buttons and levers - some must be unlocked with key cards or a puzzle must be solved to enter. The player must interact with everything and see what the outcome is. The game features a colourful palette, paired with a cyberpunk theme. Interestingly, the strange level designs are factored into the plot and are not just for gameplay reasons.

The puzzles are quite fun, sometimes leaves you scratching your head. Most of them involve looking at a control panel and deciding where to move things around in order to reach a desired power level. If you've ever played Pipe Dream, you'll know what kind of puzzle we're talking about. However, the game doesn't teach you how to play or what you need to be looking for. It's only after trying and failing you'll finally realise what you need to do.

The game takes place on a space station in orbit around Saturn named Citadel Station. It is crewed by many people but most systems are run by a powerful female AI named SHODAN. The crew are encouraged to assist the AI in whatever request it may have.

However things take a turn when the player character (simply named Hacker) is brought in front of an executive of the company which owns Citadel Station and offers the hacker absolution from his crimes and also the promise to have a fancy neural interfacing implant installed, in exchange for his services. The Hacker removes SHODAN's ethical constraints (and thus allowing her to conduct any test or experiment she wishes) - and his reward is the implant, after which he is placed in a 6-month healing coma in the Medical area on board Citadel Station.

When he wakes, things are really messed up and he realises that SHODAN has turned rogue, experimented with the entire crew and either upgraded them with robotics, mutated them with experimental procedures, or simply killed. She also has altered the programming of all the robotic servants on board, turning them into killing machines. The hacker also finds out that SHODAN has learned to view humanity as insects, and sees herself as a God. Figuring out that the majority of human life is on Earth, she dropped the shields on Citadel Station and re-programmed its planet mining laser to target Earth itself, intending to destroy all of its capital cities.

SHODAN speaks to the Hacker many times during play. At first she seems quite passive and normal, explaining where they are, and gives an introduction to the station itself. Later, she starts to speak more grandiose, telling the Hacker how she feels about humanity and herself. Much later, she becomes directly antagonistic and attempts to block the Hacker from progressing through the station.

So.. why now? 1994 was nearly 30 years ago. Well, a remake was announced in 2005. It took a long time, but it was recently released and it is one of the best remakes ever released.

Why? Well, they didn't mess with the formula. It's basically the same game but with a modern, stylish presentation and updated quality of life upgrades, particularly in the controls and the action. Everything is where it should be and they've only altered things which would have held it back.

They changed Cyberspace the most - which is much easier to navigate now. It's basically (an in-universe) computer generated environment where the player flies around in full 6 degrees of freedom (similar to games like Descent) and shoots at enemies, all the while avoiding projectiles and getting to a goal. It's meant to represent a hacker delving into a system and taking over. The change is definitely for the better - in the remake, its a Tron-like techno environment. In the original, it is a black area with simple wireframe graphics and movement is much more awkward.

It's a PC game through-and-through. The original System Shock was never ported outside of MS-DOS until 2005, where an enhanced version was ported to Windows, MacOS and Linux. The remake is currently PC only, but it is assumed that it'll make its way to consoles eventually (although this may be awkward, as the interface is VERY mouse oriented).

If you like horror, puzzles, exploration and inventory management... you gotta play System Shock.

Oh yeah... it's also possible to trap yourself in System Shock, if you make some really bad choices. No game would basically build soft-locking into their games in 2023. As far as I know, it can only happen in one area and the series of events is so particular that most players won't cause it to occur.

.. I did though. Sigh. I had to start over from the beginning.

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