Classic FPS/RPG System Shock Returns to PC, but what for?
I was a bit young, but I grew up in a household that had a PC since the early 1990’s. I had a Super Nintendo that I loved to death, but that PC gave me experiences Super Nintendo did not. I remember getting Doom from an older kid on the bus. I think it was four floppy disks to install and like many folks I played that game until my eyes fell out. When my dad decided to upgrade out computer with a fancy new CD drive the same kid hooked me up with Doom II. That’s where I really got hooked on PC gaming. Around the same time as the release of Doom II, another shooter by the name of System Shock had come out. This particular title didn’t become well known until it’s sequel came out, but it’s legacy is undeniable considering creators in the series would go on to make games like Deus Ex and Bioshock. I never got an opportunity to play the original System Shock when it came out, but thanks to developers Night Dive Studios modern gamers can revisit their past and give it a try.
I’m going to come right out the gate and say this game isn’t for everyone. I have mixed feelings about the interface and can’t figure out whether I would have had this much trouble as a kid or if I would have been more forgiving considering the way many old PC games controlled. WASD movement is no problem, but looking up and down plus the millions of little buttons and menus for your inventory will take some practice. I recommend playing in full screen mode and making full use of the newly-added mouse look feature. It made the game infinitely more playable and I really got into the experience. Other recommendations: spam save as much as you possibly can. Levels in System Shock are huge and you will die. If you don’t save you’ll find yourself back at the beginning of the level. I played the game on normal and enemies aren’t that bad, but watching your health can be a problem and I found myself dead on occasions where I assumed I’d survive. Point is, System Shock is brutal and dated. If you can keep a positive attitude and jump over the steep learning curve you’ll find a lot, but if you’re unfamiliar with older PC gaming and don’t have the patience, steer clear. It takes a special brand of patience and appreciation for classic titles to get yourself immersed in the world that is System Shock. Aside from the mouse look and controls Night Dive studios has added new features including new resolutions with smoother textures along with some bug fixes many years in the making. For the purists out there the GOG.com download comes with the original version, too.
In System Shock You play as a hacker caught trying to access files discussing a corporation’s space station “Citadel.” You’re taken aboard Citadel and offered retribution and a cybernetic implant if you’ll help hack Shodan, the artificial intelligence that runs Citadel. You are put into a cryogenic sleep for six months after you receive your implant. You awaken six months later and Shodan has taken over the ship. From that point forward you’ll spend much of the game sifting through e-mails, voice journals, and documents figuring out how to progress forward.
After a few minutes in System Shock you’ll realize this isn’t Doom. The focus is on the narrative and as such there aren’t hordes of enemies like you’re used to. The narrative unfolds through the many documents and e-mails you’ll pick up all around. You can hack terminals, find upgrades for your character, and it almost feels like early adventure games if it weren’t for being armed. It’s a tough nut to crack, but after about twenty minutes or so I started to pick up on the characters and storyline. Upon researching System Shock every single article and review mentions the game’s strong environments. I don’t disagree completely, but it must be said that some of the main music tracks are really silly. Lots of midi beeps and boops that are like a science fiction Doom soundtrack with only a few loops per area. This really pulled me out of some of the scary moments. Despite the music, though, the enemies and areas do have a unique look to them. It’s cheesy by today’s standards, but the garbage can robots and mutants are fun to stumble across and take out. After a few deaths and mishaps with the control scheme I found myself actually listening and reading all the logs and figuring out how to survive. The sheer size of each level makes exploration a blast and you’ll find yourself getting lost and finding reasons to go back and forth throughout the different environments.
It’s hard to recommend System Shock to newer gamers. There is a lot of history here, but you’ll be able to find a lot of what’s great about the series in System Shock 2 which is far more accessible. System Shock is a great game despite it’s limitations. It may not have aged particularly well, but it’s easy to understand what made this game stand out in 1994. Believe it or not, I really liked System Shock. The only thing that keeps me from recommending this new edition is that it speaks to a very specific audience. I don’t see many new gamers taking on the challenge, but it will definitely appeal to hardcore fans of Ken Levine and Warren Spector along with the nerds who were aware of these titles as they were being released. System Shock is really challenging in every possible aspect. If you’re into cyberpunk games and classic PC shooters even a little I definitely recommend giving this game a shot. I’m not trying to scare newcomers away and the new features have definitely boosted the experience, but the appeal wears away if you’re not part of the niche.
Final Verdict: 3 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Night Dive Studios ; Developer: Night Dive Studios/Looking Glass Studios ; Players: 1; Release Date: September 22, 2015 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by System Shock’s publisher.