The classic that is System Shock turns 25 this week. To help celebrate one of our favorite games on GOG.COM, we thought it would be the perfect time to look back on the classic PC title to see everything it did right.
Let’s take a look at what made the game unique at the time, what it helped inspire in modern games, and discover why the classic title deserves to be played today - whether for the first time, the 50th time, or simply as a trip down memory lane.
System Shock blends sci-fi, horror, and a great story
First, it seems important to discuss a bit about the plot of the game to really help set the mood. In the game, you play as a nameless hacker that has made some mistakes, wakes a terrible AI called SHODAN, receives some fancy hacker implants, and is tasked with stopping SHODAN as it tries to take over the world. Just another Tuesday at the office, right?
The entire experience is cyberpunk to the max and even for a game from 1994, the game’s heavy atmosphere and creepy levels hold up to the test of time. An impressive feat coming from Looking Glass Technologies, the developers behind the game, as many of their previous titles went the dungeon-crawling route with games like Ultima Underworld.
Released back in 1994, System Shock was an MS-DOS game that was available either on floppy disks (9 of them!) or on CD-ROM. While both versions are fantastic, the CD-ROM version features improved graphics and even has spoken dialogue for segments of the story. GOG.COM features the Enhanced Edition from 2015, with higher resolutions and mouselook support for a smoother experience but you still get the classic CD-ROM version with it as a bonus goodie.
System Shock was ahead of its time
When System Shock came out in 1994, Looking Glass Technologies was pushing boundaries in the world of video games. The game featured a completely new engine that allowed the team to produce textured maps, objects that emitted light, and the main character that could look 360 degrees around the in-world levels.
At the time, Looking Glass was “doing too many dungeon games,” according to Doug Church, the lead programmer on System Shock. So with the help of his producer Warren Spector and designer Austin Grossman, the team set out to make a sci-fi, cyberpunk title.
Unlike past games from Looking Glass, System Shock was made to feel more story-like, so instead of having dialogue options (a popular choice at the time), the game presented everything through emails and other types of in-game media. It was an interesting approach and one that we still see in gaming today with a recent example including Fallout 76 from Bethesda.
System Shock was doing things never done before, and while it never hit true commercial success, reviewers loved the title. One review from PC Gamer US
even noted that System Shock “unquestionably raises computer gaming to a new level.” Not too shabby.
System Shock inspired generations of other titles
As mentioned above, System Shock was a game-changer - literally! It was ahead of its time in visual, accessibility, and even story. Looking Glass let gamers finely tweak their settings when starting the game - want to have super challenging fights but easy puzzles? You could do that. Prefer mind-games over shooting-games? Increase the difficulty of the puzzles and make fighting baddies easy as pie.
System Shock’s unique story and storytelling inspired countless titles to come. Some have credited its influence in games like Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil thanks to its unique storytelling approach. Its smooth, engaging first-person action also set the standard for what a first-person game should play like and quite possibly helped jump-start the genre as a whole.
Other titles that definitely owe a lot to the title include Prey, the Bioshock series (created by System Shock 2’s designer Ken Levine), and Dead Space, which was originally conceived as a sequel to System Shock.
Whether you played System Shock as a child or never had the chance to play it, you have felt the influence of this classic title. And now, as it celebrates its 25th anniversary, it’s the perfect time to revisit it!
If you are looking for even more System Shock, a third entry in the series is in the works as well as a remake of the original
from Night Dive Studios. In the meantime feel free to snag a copy of the Enhanced Edition on GOG.COM and own a piece of history, DRM-free, and play this title whenever, and however, you want - no disks or CD-ROMs needed!