Friday, March 14, 2008

System Shock (1993)

by Looking Glass Studios

Remember games that presented you with so many options and gameplay features and didn't have a tutorial to explain them all to you? Remember games that put you in a three-dimensional maze, barely navigable even while looking at your map the whole time as you tried to kill endless bad guys? Remember games where you saved as much as reloading, because every health point and every energy slice was so precious? You don't have to remember anymore, because that's what System Shock is.

It's amazing how different styles of games change over fifteen years, and what is considered accepted and "the standard." For example, System Shock is a FPS that requires you to navigate several levels of a space station, in a non-linear way. This means that you will have sometimes as many as five different ways to go, some of which may be dead ends, and some of which may lead back to your starting point. Many modern FPS games abandon this, restricting you to one path on the idea that freedom of choice confuses the player and makes him doubt whether he is going the right way, thus lowering his enjoyment (an item debatable for another time).
But one thing that compensates the non-linear level design in System Shock is that there is no real end for each level, so, there is no right way to go out of five different paths. This is also strengthened by the fact that the game allows you and often times requires you to revisit previous levels in order to advance through the game.

System Shock is an innovative game, a game probably about 5-10 years ahead of its time. As far as I can remember from Doom, that was just a (ARROW KEYS) controlled shooter where you go around stale and vacant arenas shooting endless bad guys.
System Shock on the other hand has numerous features that have finally started to become more prominent in today's games. These features include but are not limited to:
- the use of a WASD counterpart and mouse to AIM instead of the arrow keys.
- the idea of both a life meter and an energy meter.
- leaning (left and right)
- crouching and going prone
- picking up data logs
- real-time story goals ("blow up the reactor shields and reset the relay dish antennae" instead of, "get red key to exit level!")
- searching dead bodies for items NOT LIMITED TO AMMO.
numerous enhancements to your character, such as lanterns, jump jets, and shields.
- numerous 'stimulants' to give temporary boosts to your character, such as time-slowing, strength-enhancing, etc.
All of these features were light-years ahead of their time and many games today are still using them.

Unfortunately, many of the positive aspects of the game are undermined by several frustrating issues, including the awkwardly atrocious interface which also takes up nearly 40% of the screen. The interface is overwhelming at first and takes a long time to learn, but if you can get past it, the game is actually a lot of fun and quite addicting.
However, other problems include the games' pacing, which leaves you with the same 4 weak weapons about two hours in, then suddenly barrages you with too many weapons so you don't have a chance to utilize each one.
The game also almost falls into the 'dominant strategy' problem with its weapons. This means that you only use one or two weapons and leave the rest of them unused in your inventory. Luckily though, this is combated by some of the weapons' need for ammo and energy along with each weapons' respective weaknesses.
Another problem with the pacing is the lack of immediate goals. At the beginning of the game you are told you need to disable the mining laser aimed at Earth. I thought this would be the first of many goals and I would reach it within a few hours. In contrast, I was left wandering around five different levels trying to figure out what this laser was, where I was going to find it, and how I was going to disable it. This is actually told to the player through use of small items called "data logs" that you must find and pick up around the station. This is fine and well in theory, except for the fact that it's easy to miss these small logs and it's hard to tell which logs are actually useful. This is because some contain short conversations like "Oh dear. I'm being chased down by evil robots! Please help me!" while others contain vital information such as "Tom, the code to disable the reactor core overload function distributor ray analyzer function reset overload is 4-2-1-7-5-8. Have fun disabling it after our lunch break!"

In conclusion, System Shock is a game way ahead of its time with features that were sometimes too complicated for its own good. However, the game at its core is inherently fun except when its marred by the bad interface, tons of backtracking, and the somewhat odd learning curve.

System Shock



At 3/18/2008 1:24 PM, Blogger ifedajay said...


At 3/18/2008 2:51 PM, Blogger ifedajay said...

Hmm sounds like fun...I don't think I've ever played it though.

At 3/18/2008 5:30 PM, Blogger TheJBurger said...


Relevancy, please!! How are finals. (How is finals?) finals = singular or plural ???

At 3/19/2008 8:09 PM, Blogger ifedajay said...

are, as in 2 done, one to go!

Which is why i'm sitting in the Business school building right now...heheh


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