I’ve been waiting for this for years – System Shock is finally on gog.com.

This is the game we once called the Thinking Man’s Doom. In those days all shooters tended to be described by reference to Doom – but this one had some rather different DNA. Its direct ancestor from Looking Glass Studios was actually a first-person RPG, Ultima Underworld, and while it’s debatable whether we’d call Shock itself an RPG, there are some clear differences to the Doom template.

It’s a slower, more thoughtful experience. There’s more emphasis on exploring, and interacting with your environment. It’s tense and cautious, particularly in the early stages as you creep around with a few paltry weapons, listening out for the chattering of killer cyborgs. Rather than a set of maps to shoot monsters, its levels make up a cohesive little enclosed world, of offices and engineering decks and hangars that make up Citadel Station, a place of which you gain understanding as you progress. Audio logs, found on the bodies of the crew whose bodies litter the corridors, allow you to slowly piece together the tragic story of what happened here. The insane ruling Artifiical Intelligence, Shodan, regularly taunts you; simultaneously dismissing you as an insect yet fixating on destroying you. With her delusions of godhood, she’s one of the truly memorable villains of gaming. Rather than simply looking for keys shooting your way through her domain you must search for key systems such as mining decks and garden groves, and find ways to disable them, to thwart her murderous plans.

It also boasts a rather advanced engine for the day (un fact so did UU). It allows for sloped floors and ceilings, where Doom’s were all made of flat expanses and steps. It let you jump and climb, so no being thwarted by 3-foot walls. you can throw stuff, be it grenades or just random items. These all helped make its world feel that little bit more convincing.

I don’t mean to belittle Doom. Okay I’m sound like a shock fanboy, but believe me I’ve spent hours on Doom too. It’s much faster and smoother while movement in Shock is clunky. It’s more focused on shooting, has more intense and battles against larger numbers of monsters, and it brought us deathmatch. These elements made it a success for pretty good reasons. Still, I reckon Shock deserved a bit more popularity. I idly wonder, if it had sold more, spiritual descendants like Deus Ex would have appeared earlier, or more frequently.

I could blather on longer, but you could also just read my old writeup. It’s one of the greatest games of its sort of the decade, really.

I’ve not yet played GOG’s version, and will report back if there’s anything major to note. They do mention adding proper modern mouselook which would help fix the clunky controls which were one of Shock’s greatest flaws. Widescreen support sounds good also. As does having the game wrapped up and ready to run with Dosbox (or whatever they’ve used to make it compatible with modern PCs). The brilliant, moody sountrack is included too. So this is definitely one of those oldies I’m re-buying even though I already have it on CD.

Anyway, here are a few tips for those of you trying System Shock for the first time.

– Each level has a cyborg conversion unit. Find this, flick a switch to reconfigure it and you will return to it every time you die on that level.
– Destroy cameras and computer nodes to lower the security rating on each level, which opens some locked doors
– Levels 1 to 6 each have a room of computer nodes and a screen showing a cycling numeral. When you destroy the nodes, the screen fixes on a certain digit. Write this down, it’ll save backtracking later.
– Ammo is scarce early on. Save shots from stronger guns. Maybe make note of charging stations then use the sparq (which runs off your batteries).
– The magpulse is death to robots. The flechette is super-useful against the rapidly respawning mutants in the groves. The Laser Rapier is death to anything, if you can get close enough, and especially if you pop a berserk patch.
– Some players find cyberspace annoying. You might want to set it to difficulty level 1 on a first playthrough. (put everything else on 2).