If you call yourself a gamer and have not heard of System Shock then you should be deeply ashamed of yourself. System Shock quite possibly single-handedly created many of the conventions and elements found in many of today's modern FPS games. Sadly, it was not incredibly popular at the time and was only able to move a small amount of copies. After its discontinuation it was largely unavailable, unlike its successor which was sold on the internet well into the new millennium. If you manage to find it anywhere you should purchase it as it is quite a find. (I personally picked up a copy recently at a flea market which I could not get to run on my vista machine. However, it makes me feel quite giddy to be able to display it next to my large game collection.)
As for the game itself, it was quite revolutionary for the time. It meshed together the perspective and controls of the First-Person Shooter genre, the puzzles of the Adventure genre, and the equipment and inventory of the RPG genre. All of these elements came together to create an immensely epic game.
System Shock controls similar to Doom; You have buttons for forward, backwards, turn left, and turn right and also have two buttons for strafing. However, you also have a mouse cursor on the screen that you use to activate items and aim at enemies. This changes the gameplay slightly, although it still retains the revolutionary feel of Doom and Doom 2.
System Shock diverges from the traditional FPS "Shoot Everything That Moves" mentality quite quickly, though, when it becomes apparent that you will have to utilize strategy and stealth to avoid death. Many enemies are much stronger than you, and you must instead avoid confrontation with them in order to survive. It is also oftentimes easier to destroy enemies by tricking them into walking into an explosive land mine or time-delay grenade than the alternative of shooting them to death.
The variety of weapons in the game is quite vast. System shock has about 22 weapons (combining explosives and excluding the pipe that you start with). In comparison, Doom has only 7. Additionally, several of System Shock's weapons have multiple types of ammo with different effects, basically giving the weapon a whole new effect. Each weapon is unique and fun to use, making collecting them and using them on your enemies great fun.
There are also many different items to gain, some of which heal your health or energy or give you other bonuses. Some also have adverse side effects. When using a Berserk patch your melee damage is greatly increased at the cost of hallucinating (which are very annoying, mind you). Powerups can also be gathered and kept until needed, unlike most FPS games of the time. This allows for a greater amount of strategy when fighting enemies and is often very useful in gaining the upper hand.
You must also enter cyberspace from time to time, which controls similar to 3D space games such as Descent. You must fly around a wireframe world collecting data and defeating bosses in order to open a door or something similar to move ahead to the next area.
The game's story is told primarily through logs and emails that you collect within Citadel Station's abandoned corridors. This is very atmospheric and gives the player a sense of isolation as there is no real-time dialogue between them and other characters (and many of the logs you get were recorded by people who have since been murdered). The story is top-notch for the time, but a bit dated by today's standards.
System Shock's graphics were utterly amazing for the time and are still quite beautiful to look at. They are definitely not as detailed as today's average FPS games, but this doesn't stop it from being pretty to look at. Surfaces are very detailed and lighting is used to great effect. Some areas are brightly lit, while some are pitch black. Some areas even require the player to find some way to return light to the area so they can navigate them.
The only thing that I found more impressive than System Shock's graphics was its physics. There are slanted surfaces galore, the player is allowed to jump, items that are dropped are thrown in the air and bounce off walls, and the player can even ramp themselves off of things. At the time simulated physics was unheard of in most games. Slanted surfaces were usually faked and had no physics behind them, and jumping normally was buggy or also faked for the most part.
System Shock is a great First-Person mashup of genres that was light years ahead of its time and deserves a weekend of anyone's time. Seriously, get it and play it.
NOTE: Read TheGameHippo_readme.txt before playing. Thank you.
NOTE: System Shock is packaged with DoxBox, which is licensed under the GNU GPU v2 which can be viewed at the following URL: http://www.opensource.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.php