System Shock

released on Sep 22, 1994

A seminal cyberpunk first-person exploratory adventure game with RPG elements in which, waking up in the Citadel Space Station, a lone hacker has to survive corrupted enemies and collect audio logs and equipment from former station workers in order to shut down SHODAN, the station's artificial intelligence that has killed everyone on board and now intends to destroy the world.

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SHODAN is the best villain ever put into a video game. That alone wouldn't sound like much in proving it's a great game, given it just implies a tight narrative but nothing about how it plays, yet this is actually a huge deal because I'm talking about her in a gameplay sense. Looking Glass' design philosophy was always to simulate the balance between a player making active choices, and the game master responding adequately in tabletop games. SHODAN is a living representation of Citadel Station, and a pure evil game master on top of that, as the bridge between the concept and execution of this "simulated game master" idea bringing it into more literal territory with a computer trying to kill you. Everything that goes after you in the game and every trap that befalls you is SHODAN. She sometimes unfairly sweeps the rug from under you, locking you in game over scenarios or opening up monster closets, but this combined with her voicework only adds to realize her in a way no other villain has ever achieved. Each step you take in Citadel Station is a fight against SHODAN herself as she's always finding ways to one-up you. Standard action-adventure game progression is flipped on its head as you don't know what to predict and must carefully observe clues, manage resources and take notes to get further while expecting the worst, stooping into straight up dungeon crawler territory more with each level. This slow-paced approach to a fast-paced genre is what separated System Shock at first from contemporaries, but you could really argue this is just an extremely abstract form of adding in more "realistic" mechanics; it adds a lot of believability ducking behind cover as you desperately fiddle with the user interface to reload or consider opting for the specific position on the screen you'll throw a grenade from, just imagine a few animations instead of a user interface being fiddled with and it suddenly clicks. System Shock juggled tons of concepts modern games still struggle with relatively effortlessly; from the precision in combat only VR games seem to have given a shot, to genuinely tactical and intimidating firefights while exploring an immersive environment. It may seem sloppy at first, but taken as a whole, it's extremely elegant.
The thing barring most people from enjoying this genuinely amazing game is that the user interface and controls are too clunky and dated... or are they? Really, I think it's just the visuals that date this game. We live in a post-Cruelty Squad post-Receiver world, it's not like these unorthodox approaches are out of place now, they're usually just prettied up... or slathered in shit in the case of Cruelty Squad. Either way, if those games can be enjoyed for what they are now, what's stopping someone from enjoying System Shock today too?

~fps retrospective 2~
for the start of the immersive sim this is pretty good, it feels really hard to get the hang at first but once you keep playing you understand it more and appreciate its story.

One of the most quintessentialy laurie-core game. Early 3D pixel graphics fps? check. Extremely clunky and complicated interface? check. Good storytelling? check. Gameplay requires you to stop and consider your options carefully? check. Open ended MetroidVania progression? check. Masterpiece.

I've been playing this game from March 19th and I have to say I'm impressed technically for the way they managed to make a FPS RPG that feels so organic in the interaction with the environment and makes the characther extremely vulnerable in the way a "trashy heavy metal" B movie action game like Doom couldn't do, even if the environments feel repetitive because it's 10+ hours set in a claustrophobic space station.
But I don't like the way the story is only tied to practical clues in registers you find around to progress in gameplay that someone left before they died, it's not an active effort from the protagonist and other characthers to solve the mystery happening right now, like, say the signal infiltration of Bionic Commando; nor is it a gathering of interesting lore that describes the state the world was left in and the battles of will and ideologies of the people you never met, like, say, the pearls in Rain World, or even another game from this period I've played called Bioforge. It's just a bunch of people fighting a crazy computer with a god complex like your typical sci-fi story. Yes, SHODAN is intimidating but feels like just another common A.I. villain that wants to get rid of humanity. The most interesting characther I found in the records you encounter is Diego, who was a traitor to his other companions only to save his own skin, showing the anxiety of the situation everyone was put in.
However, I'm not saying I don't like the game, far from it, it's engaging for me gameplay wise (that's why it's a 7/10 in MyGameDB) but I don't think it stands very strong as a piece of art. The thing is... The game crashes on me when leaving the Alpha Grove so I will have to keep playing some other time after I solve the issue 🥴. Very interesting to play in my Android Device with the MagicDOSbox emulator, a physical keyboard for movement, and my configuration that makes the clicks feel like a tactile screen, this is how I feel the protagonist must be accessing the different buttons in his HUD 🤣
Edit 5/1/2023: The issue seems to come from a weird way the game resets the position of everything for some reason. Maybe it's the excessive respawning of enemies in the groves that crashed the game, I think my save file may be totally screwed.
Edit 5/2/2023: Mercifully downloaded a save game from earlier in the game and replayed what I had done in level 6, going for the Alpha Grove first for the game not to glitch out. Might continue sometime soon

god, more games should have you buried in diegetic UI. smothered in it. absolutely fucking loaded with it. if I'm ever a juiced up hacker cranked with the best hardware and software money can buy I want my vision to look like I have 25 tabs open with half of them playing classic windows media player visualizers
you can get three cameras on the back of your skull. there are line graphs that convey... chi waves? your character functions like he's completely bogged down at 100% capacity and simply can't operate all this military grade technojunk simultaneously; his body and brain holding back his evolutionary potential. that the control scheme is so initially acidic to modern sensibilities only increases the potency of its crude integration -- fumbling the keys early on is how you know it's real
citadel station is a future dungeon, a space crypt, a raveyard. everything pulsing and whirring, angular and abstract. halls looping in and around eachother like a maze of knotted cables. mutants slinking around the derelict corridors, robots of all shapes and sizes out to eliminate the interloper while the chaotic midi soundtrack builds its strange alien tension
SHODAN's watching, insect, and even your slightest progression depends on crippling her security systems enough to get out from under her thumb. prepare for Small Hacker Humiliation while she taunts, teases, and e-mails you incessantly like you're on some kinda mailing list for perverts
believe it not this is what folks thought the internet looked like in the 90s and it scared them silly. cyberdogs still prowl your parents' nightmares to this day, go ask them and watch their faces turn white as memories of wireframes come rushing back
but who cares about that, you can switch on your rollerskates or jetboots and zoom over ramps with a laser rapier in hand to dice up some bots on the other side. you can lean your body in way contortionists could only dream of to smoke a cyborg with a magnum from behind cover. you can find enough plastic explosives to make stillman puke and blow up the big shell
before you know it you've merged with the machines, unable to remember how you ever struggled to get comfortable in your new skin
it's astonishing that this was released in 1994. in a catalog full of masterworks System Shock might be Looking Glass' opus; a vision of the future unbeholden to the present or past
p. s
no one ever brings up how Greg LoPiccolo (music, sfx) went on to be project lead on Thief, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band -- and that's fucked up