Thanks to abandonware and Bit Torrent, I was able to get a copy of the full Enhanced CD-ROM version of System Shock. For some months, I got marvelous references and anecdotes from my friends about this game; and everyone told me that I really should give it a try if I haven’t played it before.
When I launched the game and began to crawl through the dungeon, I felt a dizzy sense of nostalgia. I thought that perhaps I was getting old… I was suddenly teleported to my teenage, when all games were in VGA resolution and got a General MIDI soundtrack. I thought that perhaps the same thing happened to my granddad when he watched those boring old movies from the ’40s and ’50s on the TV. As a matter of fact, I got a attack of Bruce Hornsby’s High Fidelity: Five excellent and historically classic games on VGA resolution: X-COM 1. Elder Scrolls. Civilization. Monkey Island, for God’s sake! The names kept flowing on my mind, as I was clearing the first level, ignoring the pitiful low-resolution graphics and the puny soundtrack. I whacked, and smacked, and smashed and diced everything on my way, asking myself where could SHODAN be, the ugly supercomputer that was responsible for all the mayhem that got loose on the station where I was. And suddenly, something happened that changed my life. SHODAN sent me an e-mail.
I cleared the whole level, and it only lasted one single room. I placed a foot on the threshold, and SHODAN appeared abruptly on my screen. She (I can’t, and I won’t dare to, refer to her as ‘it’) told me with a disarticulated voice: “Enter that room, in-in-INsect, and I will be you-your graaaaveeeeeeeeeeee”. I shivered. However, I entered the room and the threat became reality. I was killed by a horde of cyborgs who reached me at my back.
This is a perfect example of what you will find in System Shock. In this game, you will become paranoid. If you discover a weapon that is more powerful than the ones you already got, the game won’t be easier but harder instead, since SHODAN will send you cyborgs proportionally as mightier as your new acquisition. Enter a room that is strategically important for SHODAN, and she will retaliate. Hardly.
Perhaps an example will be more clear that my asserts. I was ready to blow a laser beam, one of the main quests of the game. Since I have cleared the laser level already, there were no moors on the coast. I entered the laser beam room. Nobody. Confident, I approached the button that I’ve had to push in order to accomplish the objective. A horde of big, powerful, armed to the teeth cyborgs appeared and roasted me. In my last few minutes of life, SHODAN appeared on my intercom unit. She told me, laughing: “I KNEW that you would came here! I suppose that you realized that already.” B*tch.
I know. This is only a tiny piece of source code, only a IF x THEN y ELSE z sentence (I put in on BASIC). The game was prepared to launch that attack and to reproduce one of SHODAN’s sarcasms whenever I entered that room to achieve the quest. But the guys at Looking Glass have accomplished that this seemed real, and not only a cause—effect line in the source code. Besides, I really hated SHODAN more than before after she fooled me like this! And she did it more than twice. Always, as a matter of fact.
To get it short, the beginning of the game could seem disappointing, but sooner System Shock reveals itself to be an incredibly addictive and realistic adrenaline rush. The atmosphere is perfectly well done, because as long as your begin to discover (and listen to) log files from the former employees of the station that refer what happened on the station when the mess started (like Resident Evil, but 4 years before the Capcom blockbuster series), and as long as the character of SHODAN begins to grow to become the perfect villain, you start to believe that everything you experience in the game is real. You really end up believing that you are there, becoming paranoid, expecting endlessly retaliation from SHODAN for everything. The marvelous fact about it is that this “effect of reality” (as the French linguist Roland Barthes called it) is accomplished with 320x240 VGA graphics, and General MIDI soundtrack.
System Shock does not have to envy nothing to Thief or System Shock II. It is a real must. If you call yourself a gamer, a gourmet of the gaming experience, you got to do me a favor: get a copy of System Shock, install it, and finish it. As you can read from my review, and from other ones, this game still kicks butt eleven or twelve years after its release, and there’s not so much games that can say the same with pride.