Given all this talk about the system shock remake, it’s time to include it in our recurring series where I look at some memorable RPG enemies and monsters.
You may question whether Shock should actually be classified as an RPG. After all, it lacks the sort of character progression and customisation mechanics we normally associate with the genre. You’re not building up attributes like strength and agility, and you don’t allocate points into skills such as guns, lockpicking and interpretive dance.
On the other hand, it clearly has much in common with Looking Glass Studios previous work, the fantasy RPG Ultima Underworld. Even if the mechanics are slimmed down there’s the same emphasis on atmosphere and exploration, on immersing the player in a strange and hostile environment. That led to attributes we didn’t associate with straight shooters of the time – a slower pace, an actual attempt at a plot, more of a structure to your objectives than simply finding keys. Then Shock’s own sequel put overt RPG stuff back in.
So I’m inclined to grant Shock a sort of Honorary RPG status. Or we could just open up the I Hate You series to other games anyway!
(pics taken from Karen’s System Shock Page)
These guys aren’t especially tough, in fact they fold up like balsa wood if you turn any serious firepower on them. They are, however, damn sneaky. While most cyborgs make creepy distorted chattering noises these guys are totally silent. So are their weapons, because although they carry rifles they actually seem to throw shurikens at you. Also, LG liked to hide them in little niches and cubbyholes that you wouldn’t immediately notice when you first enter a chamber. So it’s easy to be caught unawares, with no idea the cyborg was there until you see your health going down. Or you might get distracted a the big noisy clanking security robot in the middle of the room, and not realise you’re actually under attack from multiple threats.
Your first visit to level 3 is probably one of the toughest sections of the entire game, thanks to these manta-ray things. They have a powerful projectile attack that will kill you in just a few hits. They’re also highly durable, while most of the guns you’re carrying at this point are fairly weedy and can only slowly whittle the creatures down. On top of that they are, while not truly invisible, translucent and so can be hard to spot until close.
So you find yourself carefully peering around corridors, looking for that blurry shape flopping around near the floor. Then, when the coast is clear, you sprint like hell for the next doorway. When fighting one you can consider using up scarce ammo for the more powerful magnum pistol, or maybe trying a grenade. Although that may result in somehow throwing a grenade into your own face, due to Shock’s iffy collision detection.
top-tip: somewhere on this level is the laser rapier. It helps a lot! Also from the next level on the game pretty much showers you with ammo for better guns, so subsequent visits to this deck are less stressful.
Because Shodan has been reading Day of the Triffids and thought to herself “now there’s an idea….”. These wandering overgrown tubers infest the garden groves and fling seed pods, denying you the chance to sit down on the grass and enjoy a moments peace and a sandwich. They’re not especially powerful but they do tend to respawn at a high rate. The flechette is your friend here.
I’m kind of cheating and including an entire section of the game here. This was the 90s, so we all figured that hacking in the future would consist of navigating a weird, abstract virtual reality. If that is to be true, technology needs to hurry up as it’s already 20 years later and I’m pretty sure hackers are still sat at a laptop using telnet sessions or something like that.
Anyway, in shock you have these mini-levels where you’re floating around wireframe tunnels looking for passwords and switches to open doors in the real world. Some players found these sections kind of disorienting since the game suddenly becomes like Descent, with no gravity and more 3-dimensional level design. Then of course the network has defences trying to throw you out of the system. Here in cyberspace, basically, Norton Anti-Virus consists of disembodied floating heads that shoot at you.