Name: System Shock
Developed By: Looking Glass Studios and Origin Systems
Published By: Origin Systems
Year Released: 1994

Description: System Shock was a 'hybrid' computer game that combined a DOOM-like first-person perspective with RPG-like character advancement and a strong plot. It was unique, and like most unique things went underappreciated in its own time.

The game's plot begins when the player character awakens on a space station in orbit around Jupiter. Due to an extended period of cryogenic sleep, partial amnesia has set in. As the player explores the immediate surroundings, it becomes apparent that something has gone amiss. The player is then contacted by an agent from an approaching starship and is told that the artificial intelligence that controls the station, an entity known as SHODAN, has freed itself from human control and is using the station and its human populace to conduct experiments that will eventually end in the destruction of the human race. As the only being on board the station not under SHODAN's control, it is up to you to foil her various schemes.

Notable: This was the third game developed by the conjuction Looking Glass/Origin group (Ultima Underworld I and II being the first two) and it definitely represents the pinnacle of design on both sides. The Looking Glass engine was a work of art - pretty, fast, and customizable in a way that hadn't been seen before. Origin supplied an equally impressive game design and backstory.

The game is also notable for the debilitating terror that it tends to inspire in people who play it. Something about this game strikes the fear chord in the brain in a way that other games just don't. Quality cutscenes and voice acting added to the experience.

My Opinion: One of the best games ever made. While the final sales numbers were adequate, the game was not a runaway bestseller when it was released because people were expecting a DOOM-alike and got a deep, rich RPG done in a first-person perspective instead.

Notes: Two versions of this game were released for the PC - a floppy-based version that ran on 4 meg machines and a CD-ROM version that required 8. The CD-ROM version is superior, since it uses higher-resolution textures, includes voice acting and rendered cutscenes, and has a slightly rewritten storyline that helps the plot unfold more smoothly. There was a Mac version of the CD-ROM, it's a near-perfect conversion.

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No other game has come close in the atmosphere department so far.

No other game has had me nearly pissing in my pants and having a heart attack simultaneously.

No other game has made me feel "in there" the same way.

It grabs hold of you and doesn't let go until SHODAN is sent to /dev/null. And afterwards you feel like going back to it again.

Made in 1993, it still puts all other FPS games to shame. Last year a sequel was released, and is not bad either. But the original 'Shock is just something special.

An RPG term, specific to AD&D, to describe what happens when a character sustains unusual trauma (massive damage, brief exposure to hard vacuum, Disintegrate spell on the kidney, etc.) When the DM determines the character has experienced a system shock, the character must make a saving throw to avoid penalty. A high CONstitution will help prevent incapacitation due to system shock.

This game really intensely disturbed me. I've played hundreds of games over the years, including a dozen in first person perspective, so I'm rather jaded and find most games boring and deja vu now, and don't play much. Anyway, I got tired of coding one day last summer, so I downloaded System Shock off an abandonware site, since I had read someplace that it was cool. (Looking Glass is bankrupt anyway)

For the first hour it's just an ordinary game with a clumsy control system. Then something strange happens. Over the course of 2 days of playing on and off, I gradually become more and more immersed without realizing it. When I get to level 3, I edge carefully out of the elevator into the almost pitch black hallway, listening carefully for sounds of monsters, and I literally jump in surprise and fear when I'm shot by an invisible monster. At that point, I was hooked.

Starting from level 6 (the scariest level, for me) I'm shaking with fear, my hands and body are cold, I'm constantly looking to the sides in case a cyborg attacks me in real life, but I can't stop, I have to get up to level 9 and kill that bastard SHODAN who did this to me. When I finally win after 13 harrowing hours, I lie back in relief for 5 minutes relishing my victory over one hell of a game. I couldn't sleep for 3 days afterwards: I kept leaping up at every sound and seeing SHODAN's terrifying face everywhere in the darkness, even in my Sailor Moon poster.

I don't know why this game had such an effect on me: I've never seen anything like it. Not even close. Not in another game, book, horror film or any other form of entertainment. The graphics in System Shock suck by today's standards, but somehow there's a mix of fundamentally scary elements in that game that really hits home.

I don't dare play System Shock again. I can't afford to spend any more nights without sleep. But it's definitely my favorite game ever.

System Shock was not a commercial hit, that being said many still feel it is one of the greatest game that has been made. While created in 1993, it is normally in the top 50 lists of many game magazines. To start with the main character is known as a "hacker". While "hacker" is used in a bad connotation when you start to play he seems to have become a white hat hacker instantly. Over the game it is true you must utilize this knowledge to break into computers, so this can be forgiven.

System Shock has a moderate control scheme, perhaps the scariest enemy ever and an excellent story.

The story of System Shock is complex. The intro to to the game informs you that while breaking into the Tri-optimum computer network you were caught. Instead of prosecution, they hired you to work on an AI called Shodan and in return give you Neural Cyberlink Upgrade (you literally become a cyborg). The opening dialog gives you an idea that Shodan tries to stop your reawaking. As you awaken from the healing process, the station is silent.

At the time of publication there wasn't a game like System Shock. System Shock failed monetarily due to being too outside the norm. It also was weakened due to the fact that Doom was released a year before and the graphics are "worse". Some players will consider that the game is better, rawer because of that fact.

System Shock has voice acting for e-mail and logs, another feature not seen often in the early 90s. The game's other fault is that the full version required a Cd-Rom when other games were on three to four floppies. Today the game shines if you can make your system run it.

A shining feature of System shock is that there is changeable difficulty, to start the game you must first choose your name (not a major plot point). Then you are allowed to choose how hard you want the plot, the cyberspace, the fighting, and the puzzles to be. Each difficulty is graded on 1-4 and can be set separately of the others, 1 gives no challenge, while 4 gives impossible level challenges in all but puzzles.

As stated before this game is what Resident Evil wanted to be, though in a different way. It starts of slowly at first you will walk through a couple rooms, killing a few of Shodan's creatures. Slowly Shodan will notice you and talk to you. Her speech is as the evilest and vilest villianess that you hope to hear. "You insolent bug. When my children bring you to me you will know pain." "You may have destroyed these nodes but I will make sure you can't destroy another." Quite often the enemies AI is just plan mean when it talks to you, taunting and crude.

When playing through you will feel like the AI is a real person and you are fighting against her. By the time you reach the final level you are scared silly about fighting it out with her. In addition each of the enemies are hard the first time you met them, but then you find their weakness and it eases up.

Overall I would have to say that this is one of the best games of all time. If you have played System Shock 2, this game will make you understand the story. If you haven't and enjoyed Deus Ex but can take a loss of graphics, attempt to try to find System Shock, as it is a lost treasure.

And if you get the message about salted fries. Search the Internet, it means your computer is too powerful to play it, but can be fixed with a simple command that I can't remember.

NB: Windows 2000 has created 2 new major problems with this game. The first is that you will need to find a sounds card emulator for 16 bit (assuming you have something more powerful. This can be found by some guys who produced a small program called vdmsound.

Second is the "salt the fries" error about memmory needed more VCPI memory (what I have been told) this can't be gotten on Windows 2000, so you can't play, except a hacker named Mok has created a alternate executable to run that will solve this problem. Thank god, Shodan will continue to be hunted!

Vdmsound can be found at http://ntvdm.cjb.net/ and will work with many old games.

Good fan fiction isn't found easily. However, Shamus Young wrote an on-line novel, titled Free Radical, which is an excellent adaption of the System Shock storyline.

Some qualities of the novel include in-depth knowledge about artificial intelligence, encryption and hacking - topics which the author lectures with an authority and passion not quite unlike the kind you would expect from books by Neal Stephenson. The novel manages a fine balance between the intellectual, claustrophobia and action. It covers most of the topics we've come to expect from cyberpunk, like evil corporations, street ninja and cyberspace.

It can be found on www.shamusyoung.com

System Shock is different than a lot of other games in that while there are a lot of different weapons available, only a few of those are effective against a particular type of enemy. This forces you to constantly switch back and forth between weapons and ammo types. This highly rich and intellectual selection of ways to dispatch the enemy is one of System Shock's drawing points for me. The only downside is that you can only hold a small selection of weapons at any one time ..

System Shock also differs from its sequel System Shock 2 when it comes to weapons. In Shock 2, the weapons require skill upgrades to use, and then ammunition is extremely scarce and must be hoarded appropriately. Weapons also degrade. In System Shock, there are a TON of guns (those TriOptimium people sure are worried about security), and a lot of ammo lying around. You can pick a gun right up and start using it .. and they don't jam ..

System Shock Weapons

Lead Pipe: This is the first weapon you run across. It's not bad for bashing on weaker enemies, especially for the ones found on the first level.

Laser Rapier: Upgraded pipe. Uses internal power, but highly effective against pretty much all enemies .. if you're brave and get close enough to use it. This weapon is the best defense against those annoying invisible mutants on the Maintenance Deck.

SV-23 Dart Pistol: This is the first projectile weapon you run across. It's not too bad against first level enemies, and can be used to smash cameras. It takes tranquilizer darts or needle darts, of which there are plentiful supplies. The needles will dispatch first level mutants and cyborg assassins, but not much else. The tranquilizer darts are fun for stunning mutants and running by.

Stun Gun: Thoroughly useless weapon that stuns mutants for a short time .. it makes a cool sound though.

Sparq: This is the first really useful weapon you find, and it runs off the wall socket (internal power). You can adjust the power output setting. It shuts down if you fire it too much and goes into cool-off mode. You can vaporize corpses with this.

Blaster: Upgraded sparq. More damage, but uses more power.

Ion Beam: Upgraded blaster. Highly effective against enemies, but sucks down the battery real fast.

Minipistol: Another really good gun. It takes standard or teflon coated rounds, of which there are a ton on the station. The teflon rounds are better against robots and cyborgs. Good for smashing cameras. Not good for much else on the later levels.

Magnum: Upgraded pistol. Takes hollow point or heavy slug ammunition, of which there is a crapload on the station. This weapon is highly useful against cyborgs and security bots, hang on to it.

Mark III Assault Rifle: Upgraded Magnum. Takes magnesium or penetrator ammunition. The magnesium rounds are very effective against later-level enemies and is in abundant supply. Penetrator ammo is awesome against bots but you won't find much of it. This gun is worth keeping around.

AM-27 Flechette: Submachine gun. Takes splinter or hornet ammunition, of which there is a lot of on the station. Generally effective against most later-level robots and mutants, but takes several shots. Not as powerful as the assault rifle.

Magpulse: Fires EMP bursts. Takes magpulse carts, of which there aren't too many on the station. Very very deadly against all robots and cyborgs, but useless against organic enemies. This is one of the most valuable weapons in the game.

Riot Gun: This gun shows up on the cargo deck, and fires rubber bullets. I wonder if this was put in the game as a sick joke?

Rail Gun: This gun fires these slow, explosive shells that are remarkably ineffective against most anything. I've only found ammunition for this one on mutant cyborgs. Use it to smash cameras.

RF-07 Skorpion: Upgraded flechette gun. Takes slags and heavy slags, of which there aren't much on the station. It will mow down practically anything though ..

Plasma Rifle: Fires these plasma shots that bounce around. They can bounce back into you though ..

I would say I favor the Magpulse the most because it is so awesome against robots, and doesn't hurt you if it hits the wall close to you. The laser rapier is also one of my favorites ..

Grenades

Grenades are a a really great part of System Shock because they require a fair amount of skill to use right. Most offensive grenades will hurt you just as much as they hurt the enemy if you don't throw them far enough, or get away fast enough. Grenades are also really cool because you can toss them into a pile and then set off the lot of them from far away with a well-placed blaster shot. This is useful for getting rid of Edward Diego when he appears.

EMP Grenade: Won't hurt you, but really hurts bots and other mechanical baddies. Makes your screen flip like a broken television for a second or two though, pretty cool.

Frag Grenade: Standard grenade, hurts pretty much everything (including you). Good because it does splash damage. May require several to dispatch harder enemies.

Gas Grenade: Pretty good against biological enemies like mutants. Does squat against robots though.

Nitropack: Stronger explosive grenade with adjustable timer. Toss it and get the fuck out!

Concussion Bomb: Kind of like an upgraded Nitropack. Uses the same sort of timer. Toss and bolt.

Earthshaker: Same type of timer as the nitropack, but blows a lot of shit up. You won't find many of these. Run like hell after you light off one of these..

Land Mine: Just like the name says. These are useful for blowing up Edward Diego.

I sort of wish you could slap an extra unit of plastique onto a bot and duck behind a corner ..

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