SYSTEM SHOCK / Origin / PC

System Shock is the first in the lineage that would become Bioshock or Bioware or Bioforge or whatever game it was all you kids were hot for about a year ago. It's more of a "spiritual predecessor", though, as it has a different plot and setting. This is the first of a two-part series that would pit you against the delightfully malevolant AI-gone-berzerk named Shodan, in a game that is fundamentally an FPS but borrows mechanics from all sorts of other genres - adventure games, logic puzzles, the game even anticipates the "tactical stealth action" genre by having you sneak around enemies, hack systems to disable security and clear paths, and destroy surveillance cameras. There's even a touch of "survival horror" in limited ammo mandating conservation, and just the general theme of freaky mutant things popping out at you unexpectedly.

The story is that you're a k-rad hax0r in the standard cyberpunk future of giant dark techno-metropolises and corporate rule. While searching for robo porn you hax into one of the biggest corporations on the planet and access some secrets about a space colony they are developing or somesuch. However, your dumb ass gets caught, and the corpo security police are at your apartment before you can even say "ZOMG0ZORS SUXXX!!!" Fortunately for you, however, the VP of the corporation wants to employ your l33t skills to modify a new AI they've developed, and he promises you some military-grade neural enhancement implants if you get the job done right. Which you do, and the VP delivers, but the healing process from the surgery takes 6 months in some Michael Jackson hyperbaric chamber. The VP sends you to their resort for your recuperation ... the same one operated by the AI you just worked on. As you can probably guess, when you finally wake up, things have gone Seriously Wrong on the space resort, and you start off with just your l33t haxing skills and a lead pipe to get you out of this jam.

It's a fantastic concept, with an environment that's very detailed and interactive - you can play with nearly anything you see in the game in one way or another, and many of the computer systems can be hacked to various effects, which takes you into a "cyberspace" mini-game in Shadowrun style. As an FPS, it's passable - somewhere on a level between Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM. And the ongoing story is pretty great as well, with a support group who wants you to try to get the station under control emailing you periodically with updates, and Shodan spamming your inbox with her weird taunts to disturb you (as well as screwing with the environment) now and again. The sound is also fantastic for the time and the MIDI music is pretty good too.

So what holds this one back from complete Awesomeness? Unfortunately, it's the controls. You can use the standard keyboard movement/mouse setup, but it doesn't work quite as well as it does in other games. The main reason for this is that Looking Glass bizzarely chose to assign movement to the ASDX keys, when the standard (for quite some time before this came out) is WASD. I have no problem with learning a new control scheme, but making it one button off of a very familiar industry standard almost seems like taunting the player. It's a bizarre decision that I still can't figure out, but it can be circumvented by using the arrow keys instead ... but then you lose having the strafe keys conveniently positioned right nearby (and if you're on a laptop, it's pretty awkward hand positioning too.) All of this would have been a complete non-issue if they'd given you the ability to map keys to your liking, like most other games do ... but they didn't! You also don't get "mouse look" - the mouse just moves a pointer around the screen, and you have to use the arrows to actually move and change the perspective, and another set of buttons (a la Heretic) to look up and down. It's not a totally unworkable scheme, but it's cumbersome and requires more re-learning of the player than it really needed to. Hit boxes and collision detection with the enemy with melee weapons also seemed at least a little weird and random.

Frankly, the interface is also just downright cluttered. I appreciate the depth, but there's too much going on here, especially for a game that revolves almost entirely around constant surprise attacks. Manipulating the inventory in a tense situation is just too much of a pain in the balls, and interfacing with the game in general takes a little more effort than it really needed to.

The game requires more investment and patience than usual - more than I wanted to give it to get very far in the game - but there are certainly plenty of things here to reward you for it, and fans of Shadowrun-type cyberpunk stuff will likely be pleasantly surprised by it if they missed it the first time around. Personally, I'd rather just play the sequel, which was basically this whole concept re-iterated with a better interface and better graphics.


Links :

* System Shock Portable (high-res recompile of the game)
* Looking Glass fansite

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
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