Friday, May 20, 2016

1PanelReview System Shock 1

Everyone's dead, there's mutants and robots running, an artificial intelligent wants to kill you and it's maybe your fault!

Welcome to System Shock. Now, REMOVE YOURSELF!

There's always a lighthouse, always a man and always a city... We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.
What it is: System Shock

Which is: A FPS/Action-RPG/Adventure game
Created by: Looking Glass Technologies/Origin Systems/Electronic Arts
Year: September 1994
Available on: PC & Mac

This one is one of the earliest FPS titles out there, since it only came a year after the original Doom! System Shock is a cyberpunk first person shooter with elements of RPGs and adventure games. 
Following their success with the 1992 3D dungeon crawler Ultima Underworld Blue Sky Productions was looking to drop the fantasy setting for a huge immersive science-fiction world. After dropping that name for Looking Glass Technologies that's exactly what they did. The studios would be know for exploring this genre through several other cult classic titles before shutting down in 2000, but not before also producing the similar Thief  series. Members of this team would later pursue similar interests at different companies producing several spiritual successors to System Shock such as the Deus Ex games at Ion Storm Austin and of course the true successor (albeit simplified) BioShock games at Irrational Games. But let's go back to the beginning, shall we?

What's Good about it: Our story is set in 2072, it takes place aboard a futuristic space station, Citadel Station.  You are a nameless hacker, captured and forced to hack into the AI controlling everything there, SHODAN - aka the Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network, a corrupt system that treats humans like its playthings. Some people want you to locate and get a virus being experimented aboard the station. You hack stuff, and things seem to have worked out nicely at first. They offer you a super-implant in exchange, but when you finally wake up from a pretty long coma SHODAN now in control of the whole station! What happened?! All you know is that some mutants and robots are roaming all over the place!!
These early 3D graphics are kind of rough, at first, but they also have kind of a retro charm to them. This was a really innovative game for its time. While it's not as clean as its competitors, say Doom or Duke Nuikem, the game also had some great animations and physics already.
It's also not a proper first person shooter, so I wouldn't even compare it to those. It actually takes its interface from earlier Western RPGs and point and click adventure games.
The environments are not only huge but also maze-like. The game doesn't just focus on combat but there's also a lot of puzzles to solve. It's far from a linear experience and there's plenty of backtracking all over this entire world (specially if you're looking for some health in the later stages).
The game has a lot weapons, but you only can actually carry 7 at any time (which is a lot more than most games nowadays!). You can also find several items and hardware upgrades such as shields and other gadgets.
While SHODAN would really get to shine in the sequel, it already had here a very creepy omnipresent lurking presence. SHODAN was actually mostly inspired by the Master Control Program from Tron, in case you do not notice.
The game would sadly be considered a flop back then, it couldn't keep up its popularity against the likes of Doom. But it's still a pretty solid game. It kind of grows on you as you play along, really.
It's not just a simple run and gun like those other shooters, it has a lot more emphasis on exploration and immersion.
The game sports a lot information on screen if you're able to keep an eye on the clumsy HUD, but you can also go full screen (although you will be missing a lot of info from the health meter to the energy meter, items, map, mails, etc. 
Despite not relying on classic RPG-style stats there's a similar sense of progression and experience as you obtain more tools to your disposal.
It's a really tough game, although what really helps save it is that like most PC games then you could save at any time you wanted! I do recommend you setting combat level at the lower setting to really enjoy this difficult game though!
Finally the music albeit limited was kind of awesome for the time.

What's Bad about it: Let's say it right away, the game is a lot of hit and miss, depending on stance on retro games.
One aspect that I kinda miss from later FPS games like Half-Life 1 is that the story of System Shock is mostly told through e-mail messages, this is exactly the kind of game that would have been improved with the story being told to you through the environment rather that reading all these scattered diary logs, even though the CD version added dialogues!
One of the other main issues of the game aside from the presentation is its rather confusing level design, you need to invest a lot of time just getting around.
And the real problem here, even fans know it, the gameplay. It can be kind of overwhelming. This was before any standards were really defined for first person games.
Even more so playing it nowadays. It's kind of a mess. Controls are pretty confusing.. There's just too much cluster on both the screen and in-game visuals.
You can move the mouse freely independent from your HUD screen not just to aim but also interact and manipulate stuff. And while I like the idea, it's another mess to add on top of all that...

Overall: System Shock 1 is far from a perfect game, but it's a cult classic on its own right. It's actually a pretty good game that just suffers from a lot of shortcomings for its own good.

It's also a real antidote to modern games - you won't find any QTEs, no linear paths, no hours of cutscenes for very little actual gameplay here! It needs your full investment for a better immersion!

It's sad it's kinda overlooked..

It's you're interested in the original game, you can opt for the recent rereleases, which promise to fix a lot of issues fans always had with the game. System Shock 1 was finally rereleased last year on September 2015 as the System Shock: Enhanced Edition released through Not only the game can finally perfectly run on modern systems, getting great graphical  updates (resolution and a widescreen option!), but it also fixes several problems of controls. And there's not only that, after a successful Kickstarter campaign it has been announced Night Dive Studios would develop a remake, System Shock Remastered for PC and Xbox One promising a huge overhaul of the original game fans always hoped for!

Believe it or not, the original System Shock was far from a success, it only received a moderate  success and made modest sales, Looking Glass actually lost quite a lot money on it.

Check it Out if you are interested in classic video game history, but you can as easily skip this one for the much better sequel System Shock 2...

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