By Daniel Courtney
The predecessor to the much-loved cult favourite System Shock 2, and direct inspiration behind games like the Deus Ex and Bioshock series, System Shock is finally available on GoG after 21 years of legal purgatory.
For those utterly unaware of the game, System Shock is the magnum opus of Looking Glass Studios; released in 1994 for MS-DOS, System Shock follows the exploits of an unnamed corporate hacker who agrees to remove the ethical constraints of SHODAN, the A.I intelligence aboard Citadel Station, in return for government dismissal of his cyber-crimes and a military-grade neural interface. Of course, everything goes horribly wrong, and SHODAN decides that she’s better at playing God than working as a glorified Siri, and so begins slaughtering the populace of Citadel Station before the hacker awakens from his cryogenic sleep. System Shock was, perhaps, one of the most innovative and important games ever made, pioneering many staples of game design we see today, such as: a truly 3D environment, fully voiced audio logs, an interactive “boss” who communicated with the player throughout the game, and an entire arsenal of complex, entertaining gadgets, bombs, weapons, and cyberspace hardware.
Unfortunately until now, System Shock hasn’t been an easy game to acquire. Far too rare and expensive for the average gamer to purchase a physical copy of, and likely too problematic to get running on modern computers, most gamers simply haven’t had the opportunity to get their hands on this masterpiece. A dedicated group of fans however did go through great efforts to create “System Shock Portable” and provide, what was for many years, the only convenient way to play the game. They even created mouselook mods (present in the Enhanced Edition) and better monitor resolution options, which have now been expanded upon in the newly available version. But now with added widescreen mods, remappable keys, fixed game bugs, and a ton of manuals, strategy guides, and soundtracks, as well as a larger platform to distribute the game, thanks to Night Dive Studios, System Shock is now able to reveal itself to a new age of gamers and entertain as well as educate everyone on a slice of gaming history.
Night Dive’s Enhanced Edition plays just like a modern game, so although there’s a fair bit more complexity in its play style and level design, the controls themselves will seem familiar and easy to pick up. The game looks beautiful – for its age – and the textures and vibrant colours of each level pop and catch the eye. It never fails to keep you engaged, awe-struck, and scared out of your wits. SHODAN’s scratchy, cybernetic voice never fails to make your skin crawl, and the game’s catchy electronic soundtrack never fails to keep you excited. The hordes of cyborgs, mutants, and terminator-style robots have never been more frightening and detailed than in the enhanced version’s widescreen; it’s both beautiful and terrible to behold.
Cyberspace, which was admittedly rather difficult to control and navigate in the game’s original version, is now much simpler and enjoyable to play. In fact, it’s the only version of this game I’ve played (and I’ve played them all) where I could stand it. The wireframe levels were often difficult to distinguish amongst the black background on lower resolutions, making you slam into walls repeatedly, and the control both with mouselook and without seemed to work sloppily, but now with the enhanced version the entire aspect of System Shock has been opened up.
It’s a miracle we’ve finally gotten System Shock again, and a miracle that this enhanced version is so pristine and well valued with a ton of interesting goodies. Go out and buy the Enhanced Edition if you haven’t already. You’ll be playing a great game as well as immersing yourself in a significant piece of gaming history. “In my talons I shape clay, crafting great features as I please. System Shock Enhanced Edition: the title suits me well.”
System Shock: Enhanced Edition is available digitally on PC via GoG.com.