Gaming often has a particular problem when it comes to their classics: Technology marches on. This is true for all media, but it tends to hit video games especially hard, rendering many PCs unable to play past classics or often suffering from inexplicably obtuse controls by today’s standards. It’s for this reason you often find System Shock 2 praised more than its predecessor, as for a long time it was the only up to date title many people could actually play; at least until this recent upgrade at any rate.
The story is simple. Caught by the corporation he was attacking, a lone hacker is blackmailed by a CEO into sabotaging the orbiting research facility, Citadel Station. Hacking into its AI, SHODAN, he opens the way for the mutagenic virus developed there to be stolen. Unfortunately, it turns out that removing an AI’s ethical constraints is an exceptionally bad idea, and things soon go wrong…
Many of the upgrades made in this edition make the game vastly more accessible without compromising its fear factor. Many control elements have been streamlined, with elements such as the E key being used to switch between locked and free mouselook, a major improvement over the previously convoluted system. Atop of this, the visual and audio aesthetic has been vastly upgraded with smoother textures, crisper audio and better overall feedback. Despite its age, the macabre horror is still at the forefront of the game, and it’s almost surreal atmosphere never fails to throw you off guard.
Unlike its successor series, Bioshock, you’ll often find yourself scurrying about for survival. While combat is simple, with a shallow learning curve, you’ll be lucky to carry more than a dozen bullets at a time and many foes can easily wipe the floor with you. An indirect approach or isolating certain enemies one at a time is often the only way to go, and taking the Doom approach will just award you a quick death.
All this said however, there are more than a few details which have not aged well. The visuals in particular, while improved, remain very crude in many regards and seem overly pixilated. This sadly removes some of the intended horror, and it’s not helped by some of the other quirks such as diagonal movement being twice the speed of walking forwards. It might be an upgraded game from 1994, but it still has the chunkiness from 1994.
System Shock worth a look to be sure, if only to see the impact it left on the gaming industry and the ideas presented. Just try not to let the hype get the better of you, or you’ll walk away disappointed.
SYSTEM SHOCK: ENHANCED EDITION / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: LOOKING GLASS STUDIOS & NIGHT DIVE STUDIOS / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW