Shooter System Changed by Pc Gaming Forever

In the summer of 1994, everyone was delighted with Doom 2. Everyone was wrong. The only game that mattered was System Shock.

It was a defining game for me and for the handful of others who played it. Doom 2 was fun, but the shock of the system changed our perception of what the game could be. It was the big step forward of Ultima Underworld with a body system, realistically structured environments, complex AI and a terrible, terrible story of isolation and persecution on board a malicious space station. It was the first confrontation with the megalomaniac computer SHODAN, and I will never forget that.

Some players were confused and disappointed by the restrained opening. The dirty medicinal berries looked pretty boring compared to the Gothic techno fortresses of Doom 2, and beating an unbalanced serving bucket to passed away with a stick didn’t seem so exciting as hitting the high notes with a shot at close range. There may not have been a great sense of urgency in the opening hours, but it was not about the great adrenal release. The systemic shock was the slow build-up, the growing awareness of the scale of the disaster and the horror. You were really in the middle of something absolutely terrible.

Although System Shock was never able to provide a live NPC and enable the cat, they almost always expected to meet one. In fact, everything else about this game was so spectacularly ahead of the curve that it seemed inevitable that someone was around the corner—Alyx Vance from 2004 or so. In fact, they even started receiving messages from such a character. And although they never met—they could never have met—his story was convincing and touching enough to curse the evil power of SHODAN and his robots. Things got worse.

Despite its graphically crude presentation, System Shock delivered the most believable and detailed environments we’ve ever seen. Each of them was perfectly matched—the large airlocks of the spaceport, the clumsy jungles of the bio-spheres and the surprising elegance of the executive suites. More than BioShock’s rapture, the System Shock space station gave a strong impression of a functional thing—a device for living in space.

The structure of the game emphasized this: they went madly back and forth between the different territories, desperately trying to break SHODAN’s control and save themselves and the planet full of people, towards which the deadly station was heading.

It was a story of climbing. They start by knocking over zombies and sniffing around in the trash cans of a finished space station; soon they are exploring the bowels of a supercomputer with destructive intent. They have a range of feelings, from confusion to horror to revenge. And finally there is the dizzying sprint through the Collapsing station, into the brain stem of the animal—in SHODAN. After years of playing FPS games that end at a low point, you might think that there are no good FPS endings there. System Shock tells us something different.

Crucially, SS made her vulnerable. This is not the story of the superhuman warrior from the doom games, but the story of a human being. Sure, you can connect to computers to play cyberspace sub-games, but you are still a person who can walk, stoop, crawl, climb, fall and die too easily.

System Shock may lack graphic brilliance by today’s standards, but its realism and humanity have reached a level as high as any game in the last two decades.

The user interface looks rough now, mainly because it doesn’t have a mouselook. Visuals are also hard on modern eyes. But the powerful musculature of the animal remains: the story with its perfect pace and wild crescendo still beats everything that we can play today. If BioShock had told the story of System Shock Beat for beat, he probably would have scored even higher scores.

The man we have to thank for all this was Doug Church. Really, Church is one of the fathers of the game. His vision of what was needed to create intelligent FPS games inspired Warren Spector to create Deus Ex and Ken Levine to create BioShock. Without Church’s persistent vision and deep understanding of the possibilities that gaming offers, we would not be living in the same game world today. Thanks Doug, I think you saved us all.