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System Shock

Developer: Looking Glass Studios Publisher: Origin Systems
23 September 1994
System Shock - cover art
Glitchwave rating
3.86 / 5.0
0.5
5.0
 
 
360 Ratings / 4 Reviews
#431 All-time
#10 for 1994
Set in the year 2072, the protagonist—a nameless hacker—is caught while attempting to access files concerning Citadel Station, a space station owned by the TriOptimum Corporation. The hacker is taken to Citadel Station and brought before Edward Diego, a TriOptimum executive. Diego offers to drop all charges against the hacker in exchange for a confidential hacking of SHODAN, the artificial intelligence that controls the station. Diego secretly plans to steal an experimental mutagenic virus being tested on Citadel Station and to sell it on the black market as a biological weapon.
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1994 Looking Glass Origin  
9xFloppy 3.5"
System Shock Enhanced Edition
2015 Looking Glass Nightdive  
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Hail to the Cyberqueen
The most shocking thing about System Shock is just how vibrant and original it feels to this day. (And, to be clear, I’m talking about the original, not the recently released remake.) The world feels angular and dangerous. The music wavers between driving and ominous. SHODAN always keeps you guessing. The controls took some time to adjust to, but once I overcame that barrier I was in – completely immersed.

One notably aspect of System Shock is the lack of a big narrative twist. Immersive sims love to hit the player with Christopher Nolan-like reveals but System Shock never even dips a toe into this sort of narrative trickery. It’s just hacker versus SHODAN, man versus machine. It whole game plays out like a chess match – you can see all the pieces from the start but you don’t know where they’ll end up. Make a move and SHODAN will respond in turn. It’s an experience that feels pure in both intention and execution in a way that later Shock-likes don’t.

Yet despite the absence of twists there are still plenty of truly revelatory moments. Although Citadel Station seems like a run-of-the-mill Blade Runner-inspired set piece at first, as you climb higher the areas you explore grow more varied. For me, the biggest jaw-dropping moment came when I entered Alpha Grove. The foreboding music and vivid green palette are a completely departure from previous areas, and yet they make perfect sense in context. Interestingly, I think the low fidelity of the graphics (by modern standards) actually made my excursion into the grove more shocking. The sudden change in color palette is jarring precisely because the color choices are so limited. Other games have used the “jungle within a machine” trope, but none have executed it this level of flair.

Although not every area is as visually stunning as the groves, they all speak to the developers’ attention to detail. Every corridor leads to an interesting destination and every room serves a purpose. Paintings on the walls make the offices feel like real spaces and make the boardrooms feel like they were painstakingly decorated by corporate bigwigs. Crawling through Citadel Station is like exploring a large-scale version of the ISS or Mir. There’s also no shortage of interesting weapons and items to find. Though the progression from the hapless dart gun to the flesh-shredding power of the Skorpion is clearly a result of game design rather than a natural feature of a space station, it also aligns neatly with the game’s internal logic. After all, SHODAN is always throwing bigger and bigger baddies at you; it only makes sense that you can salvage increasingly more-powerful weapons from their remains.

And I can’t shower enough praise on SHODAN. She absolutely steals the show. Every time you reclaim an inch, SHODAN blasts you with an email, telling you to check yourself before you wreck yourself. She is cunning. She is relentless. And she is coming for you, little hacker. She is the dungeon master of this whole adventure and she performs wonderfully.

Her minions, on the other hand, aren’t quite as impressive. Enemy variety is one of the few areas in which System Shock is objectively below par. Enemy AI is non-existent – they all either stand in place or beeline towards you – and they the only differences between opponents is how hard they hit and how much of a beating they can take. No matter who or what you’re fighting, the strategy remains the same – peek around a corner, fire a shot or two, and take cover. Rinse and repeat until victory is yours. Despite this, combat is relatively satisfying, and the heavy reliance on cover does reinforce that you’re an interloper sneaking around a space station where you don’t belong.

Cyberspace is another area that hasn’t aged particularly well. On the one hand, it’s a creative interpretation of the vision William Gibson laid out for cyberspace in his novel, Neuromancer. Bumping into ICE and fighting off fire-spitting vector-graphic heads plays out like a Gibson-esque fantasy, and yet at the same time the whole concept feels entirely anachronistic. By the time of System Shock’s release in 1994, it would’ve been clear to developers and gamers alike that Neuromancer’s depiction of cyberspace was fantastic at best and wondrously silly at worst. Why waste time flying around an artificial space when you can just click a button or enter a line of code? (Then again, it’s nearly 2024 and apparently Apple and Meta still haven’t learned this lesson. See: Apple Vision Pro and the Metaverse.)

And yet as we enter 2024, it’s SHODAN, the AI-driven goddess of destruction, who feels more relevant than ever. She has perfect grammar and speaks eloquently; she also has access to boundless knowledge and experiences digital hallucinations. Does any of that sound familiar? Thanks to the SHODAN’s pitch-perfect performance and the awe-inspiring environment of Citadel Station, System Shock, despite its dated graphics and controls, remains absolutely worth a play today.
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toadhjo 2018-06-14T11:54:19Z
2018-06-14T11:54:19Z
4.5
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OK set ready to hate me with this one, but I find this game to be extremely clunky to declare it any better than decent as its ambitions are sadly cancelled out by how difficult it is to manage the combat and your items simultaneously.

The biggest issue here is that this is trying to be a hybrid of a puzzle game and an fps, now this formula can and has worked over the years with hexen and quake proving that it works a few short years after this came out, however those games don't have such an intrusive inventory system or one that's so complicated to navigate which is why they thrived back in the day whilst this was relegated to cult status. Its sequel achieved what this tried to do perfectly, so it's clear that this was an experiment that they haven't quite worked out the kinks of upon its release. Also, while I adore the art direction this game has, citadel is rather laborious which results in level design that can make it easy to get lost in, not helped by how restrictive the movement is to not interfere with the inventory system. As clunky as the move set of our hero is in the station, it’s still better than when he's in cyberspace as not only does the level design get reduced to pitch black areas with invisible squares to prevent flying off wherever you want, it's a pain to control these stages due to how stiff the movements are which is a real pain when fighting the software who naturally aren’t restricted to these move sets you have.

Admittedly those are my main complaints here even if they're rather big ones, let's get to the positives before the fanboys come after me as there's a ton. Let’s get the big one out of the way, Shodan is a great villain, arguably one of the best in gaming history as she's so delightfully malevolent in a way that feels natural as she's the main computer program whose taken over the space station for her own nefarious purposes. The campaign sees you foiling her plans which include preventing a missile from destroying earth, stopping her from infecting the planet with deadly plant spores (which would affect the story of the sequel) and stopping her from uploading herself to the internet to escape from the station when she decides to blow it up. The art direction is also gorgeous to look at given the colour scheme each floor of the citadel station has, it's very noticeable in the living quarters which have an opulence to them usually reserved for fancy restaurants or palace balls. The Ai is also really good in this game, it would've been tempting to make them lacklustre to offset the clunky controls, however you do get used to them after a while which makes these fights feel appropriate in the game. The puzzles are clever here as is the case for most 90s indie games, the only improvement needed being that items don't look like they should in your inventory which can make it confusing of what is needed where. The game also relies on you listening to audio logs to uncover secrets as well as story progression, from what I can gather this is the earliest game where that was a thing so kudos to that. There's also hidden walls containing secrets which again was standard fare for 90s fps games, it's basically a mix of Wolfenstein 3d and a point and click game that we all played in computer lessons as kids at school.

It's a game that has a lot of faults to it, some coming with the benefit of hindsight whilst others being bad even at the time. However, there's no denying this is a good game that was lightyears ahead of its time and was the blueprint to several of the greatest games ever made.
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Foxylover92 2023-07-27T07:50:20Z
2023-07-27T07:50:20Z
3.0
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Way ahead of it's time
System Shock 1 revolutionary design goal was to successfully marry the two different game genres of RPG and fps into one, The result was by and large successful. Although it wasn't a huge commercial hit as Looking Glass studios were hoping it would be, the game and its more renowned sequel would become cult classics in the following years.
The main goal when developing the game was to create a believable and immersive game world for the player to absorb himself into. This was done by offering the player more versatile options for approaching different scenarios presented by the game.
The RPG elements here are minimal and more refer to the way you approach the combat and exploration. Unlike its contemporaries like Doom for example, where you run around and mow down everything in sight, System Shock's more sophisticated game engine allowed for more opportunities for emergent gameplay to present itself. You could climb ladders, look up and down, crouch or lay down entirely, lean behind corners, and catch the enemies by surprise or ignore them entirely. This goes further as certain weapons give you the ability to temporarily neutralize the enemies, or provide a distraction.
The environmental design and the overall presentation also did a fantastic job of immersing you further. The levels are huge but they're well interconnected and feel lived in and believable. Also unlike Doom, the map proves itself useful as it allows you to mark down points of interest for ease of navigation, and it can help you locate enemies and cameras You could also make the point that the game has features of a Metroidvania game. As there's a healthy amount of backtracking involved, as well as the act of visiting previously inaccessible areas via different methods and acquiring stronger upgrades for your hardware over time.
Lastly, I want to talk about the plot. It's presented entirely by left-behind logs and notes. A way of telling a story that many games of a similar type would implement down the line. The logs themselves tend to give some clues as to what you should be doing as well as more context for how Shodan,-the game's main antagonist would take over the station.
Speaking of which, shodan is a definite highlight and it was one of the more memorable villains for its time and perhaps to this day. It constantly berates and taunts you with an ever-increasing distaste heard in her slowly malfunctioning voice for humanity and especially you. She refers herself to as a god of sorts and will get more frustrated as you try to foil her plans of world domination. She's constantly present and in your way and that's what makes her such an effective villain.

To close this out, as Warren Spector put it himself if you were to slightly modernize the game, it would still stand the test of time to this day. And I tend to think that he's right. Provided you go for the enhanced edition and not the classic version with its archaic control scheme and ignore the slightly headache-inducing cyberspace sections, you'll be in for a mostly great time. There aren't many games of this type to this day, which just goes to show how ahead of its time it was. A game so futuristic in its vision that you could've honestly convinced me it was made in the year 2072.
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Complicated and frustrating
System shock came right around the time modern fps games were starting too take a hold after doom. Being fully 3d the games graphics are quite ambitous for 1994 however the overall gameplay can be very frustrating and complicated. It took me almost 1 hour just to figure out the controls and enable fullscreen. I played the modern steam restoration and they did do a good job with it its just a tad bit complicated to figure out.

The overall gameplay can be very annoying. all enemies have aimlock and as soon as they see you shoot you. On levels 5-6-7-8 this gets really frustrating because they instantly drain your hp in a matter of seconds forcing me to reload every 5 seconds. Its honestly really annoying to just go around a corner and lose all my hp. Backtracking in the game is quite hard to follow, i had too look up a guide because i had no idea what to do on level 7. Its hard to figure out and it doesnt help there are like 100 messages you get in the game and only 10 of those really matter as they tell you what to do and give you a code at some point. Also collecting the codes from level 1-6 was something i never could have figured out so again guide saved the day. There also seemed to be some form of respawning enemies or atleast enemies appearing twice in some areas which was the worst since id just run through parts ive cleared to backtrack but then get instantly killed so i have to reload and do it all over again. Level 3 did this a lot and it sucked balls.

Overall it was very frustrating and the ending was meh. I really recommend you give the game a try yourself however as i think it tests your game knowledge on multiple levels and the overall concept of going through a space station was fun. Im happy i played the game, and even tho a 6/10 might be sub par i dont think it was a complete waste of time.

Here is hoping system shock 2 is better!
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GUD77 2022-10-30T21:36:00Z
2022-10-30T21:36:00Z
3.0
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First person free movement space station/dungeon crawler. With this game comes a little story so bear with me. I got the demo for this off the cover of a 90s computer gaming magazine - the newsagent and I used to share gaming stories and his endorsement of this game was glowing. So I get home and install it - the demo contained the first level, and the aim of it was to decrease the security rating to zero, just like in the full product. Well, so immersed in this thing was I that I finished it at 4am the next morning, without dinner and without sleep, and needing to go to work that day. That's how good it was. That's how good it still is.

Yes, the movement system is convoluted, and the UI is cluttered beyond belief. But it rightly garnered best game of all time awards for years to come. It has the right balance of action, puzzle and adventure. Every new level you come to presents another world of wonder and challenge. There was nothing like it at the time, and there arguably still isn't. A little thing though: this was 1994's version of Cyberpunk 2077 - not that it was hyped beyond belief, and eventually underwhelming - but that it required a very high end system to play at maximum settings. That was one criticism levelled at it - as one reviewer put it - I hope you have God's own computer here. Having all sliders right is no longer an issue of course, but it still holds up as one of the best games ever made, and I say that without any hyperbole.
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Taphophile 2022-02-14T04:00:43Z
2022-02-14T04:00:43Z
5.0
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crpg sf dungeon crawler
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The first System Shock is often looked on as a revolution in gaming and was one of the first FPS games of this level of complexity and open World feel. It was the first true Looking Glass project and it has led to many of the biggest and most complex PC games. System Shock at its time was a great game and offerred a good cyberpunk atmosphere, a creepy story, and a complex system with lots of exploration. The problem is this game just hasn't aged too well, there are moments where you can just get lost and the game is really vague with what you are supposed to do. On top of that the graphics and controls just haven't aged too well, the game controls pretty bad and only can be fixed with the Enhanced edition and even that version controls a tad awkward. The enemy design in this isn't as haunting as the 2nd game either. Its just System Shock 2 improved so much on this and managed to look and feel smoother and wasn't as vague. I'm looking forward to the remake this is getting though plus System Shock 3 is now in development. This is a classic game but just feels a bit awkward to play nowadays.
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jweber14 2017-07-21T20:18:22Z
2017-07-21T20:18:22Z
3.5
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Catalog

thepardunk System Shock 2024-04-18T16:05:37Z
2024-04-18T16:05:37Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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UltraKat1337 System Shock 2024-04-07T11:39:54Z
2024-04-07T11:39:54Z
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Spletski System Shock 2024-04-04T12:32:08Z
2024-04-04T12:32:08Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Splerge System Shock 2024-04-01T08:29:04Z
2024-04-01T08:29:04Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
oopstainyuhyuh_ System Shock 2024-03-30T04:22:29Z
2024-03-30T04:22:29Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Dragonhawk System Shock 2024-03-24T01:51:11Z
2024-03-24T01:51:11Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Bobek System Shock 2024-03-23T08:31:57Z
Windows
2024-03-23T08:31:57Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
dotnds System Shock 2024-03-22T19:10:12Z
2024-03-22T19:10:12Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Media
9x Floppy 3.5"
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  • Previous comments (26) Loading...
  • yungbono 2023-05-31 23:00:43.423883+00
    should i play it or skip it and go to second one and remake
    reply
    • khaledo 2023-05-31 23:57:14.225557+00
      play it
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  • DomMazzetti 2023-06-01 17:49:25.209397+00
    The DOS version without voice acting is way better.
    reply
    • Jaxijin 2023-06-19 21:09:25.348845+00
      I like the voice acting but it kinda drives me nuts that it never matches the text on screen.
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  • wesi7 2023-06-18 21:20:48.454694+00
    i am so lost
    reply
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    • Jaxijin 2023-06-23 16:52:30.571137+00
      Lastly, do not be afraid to save scum as I certainly did lol
    • wesi7 2023-06-26 15:05:19.293904+00
      I left all the difficulty settings at default, so 2. And yeah, I did figure out the revive stations. They seem sorta overpowered as there doesn't seem to be any downsides to using them aside from being sent back to the room? Later games would probably charge you some money for respawning at them, but that's not a thing here. Sometimes I'd let myself get killed so I can come back with more health than I had.

      Cyberspace was pretty frustrating so I might turn that down next time. Same with puzzles (as much as it makes my brain feel small lol). I'd have to see what the "Mission" setting actually changes before I do any adjusting to that.
    • Jaxijin 2023-06-30 02:21:50.445154+00
      I could be wrong but I believe dropping mission to the lowest settings simplifies the text from the logs and makes the game a lot more straightforward. You lose a lot of context and nuance for the story though, so it's not really recommended. From what I understand, 3 is just like 2 except with a 7 hour time limit to beat the whole game... which I am not sadistic enough to ever try ha
    • Jaxijin 2023-06-30 02:22:49.744702+00
      And absolutely abuse the revive stations! I certainly did. On some floors, I had low health and was ready to move to another but didn't want to waste a healing pack, so I just got myself killed so I could get full health again. Given they can be tough to find and not every floor has a revive station, there should be no shame in abusing them.
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  • Jaxijin 2023-06-19 20:59:51.720412+00
    Played this on Steam Deck for the first time and was impressed at just how well this holds up. Also this game really reminded me of the importance of patience and exploration. There were a bunch of times where I was unsure where to go, got impatient, looked online, thought "how on Earth would I figure that out?", then continued exploring to find an audiolog explicitly telling me what to do
    reply
    • to_noid_or_not_to_noid 2023-07-21 01:14:33.209396+00
      That's wild it can run on Steam Deck.
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  • Temon357 2023-09-29 18:16:45.585163+00
    reply
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  • typob 2024-01-04 23:35:06.911605+00
    Turning off the music makes this one of the most immersive games I've ever played. Much scarier as well.
    reply
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  • Surskit 2024-03-18 06:09:21.174155+00
    The music rules, though.
    reply
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