System Shock

a game by Looking Glass Technologies, Inc.
Platform: PC
User Rating: 8.0/10 - 1 vote
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System Shock
System Shock
System Shock
System Shock

Goo. erk. Lummcc. Cripcs. Gosh. All standard vocab for characters in Whizzer And Chips, The Beano and Buster. They also happen to be the first words that spring to mind when trying to describe Origin's latest blockbuster. System Shock. It's a bit on the good side, you see. In fact, if you held an electronic "Crap Game Detector" right next to it. you wouldn't hear even the faintest of "bips" (unlike holding it next to. say. a shareware version of Frogg-er. which would cause your Detector Unit to glow white and explode). It's one of those games which is capable of transforming even the most swinging, jet-setting, live-to-party cavaliers amongst you into sad sacks of flesh, sitting alone in a dark room gazing at a flickering monitor into the early hours of the morning. It's that good.

Now some of you will have looked at the screenshots already and can be forgiven for thinking that this is just another would-be Doom-beater, bound to disappoint. There are certain similarities, after all - the first-person 3D-viewpoint, the "abandoned Space Station" setting, and the glistening pools of blood all over the floor, to name but three. Don't be misled - System Shock comes courtesy of Origin and Looking Glass Technologies. the people responsible for the Ultima Underworld games. It's not a crappy rip-off knocked together in two weeks by a bunch of no-hopers: it's a sleek, sexy (yes. that's right - SEXY. If this game came up to you at a party you'd try and get off with it right there and then), brilliantly designed, and challenging chunk of software, crammed full of sci-fi gizmos, mind-mangling puzzles. nasty surprises, ultra-violence, and more neat little touches than 100 episodes of The Simpsons. But before you rush out and buy it. sit down and read on.

On the storyline

The story behind System Shock runs roughly as follows: you're a hacker. A really good one. You could plug an old Rolf Harris stylo-phone into a phone socket and retrieve the launch codes of every nuke in the world in five minutes flat if you wanted to. Of all the hackers in creation, you are the hack-iest. You get the idea?

Anyway, one day, whilst hacking merrily through a high-security database, the unthinkable happens. You get caught. Armed men kick your door down and ferry you off to a great big space station. But instead of locking you in a cell and taking it in turns to beat you up. they make you an offer you can't refuse. Well, one of them does anyway: the slightly shifty head of security. All you have to do is to use your hacking finesse to remove "ethical constraints" from the Artificial Intelligence (known as Shod-an) which controls the Space Station. This, in retrospect, was a silly thing to do.

Anyhow, in return for your help, you are fitted with a military-grade neural implant - which basically means they stick a computer in your brain, allowing you to do all kinds of neat things, like store messages, map out levels, and target bad guys. However. brain surgery isn't the kind of thing you can undergo with just a pinch of local anaesthetic, so you're placed in a six-month controlled coma immediately after the operation to give yourself time to recover.

The game starts when the six months are up. You've just got out of bed. And would you believe it. while you were asleep, things apparently got a bit nasty. Everybody seems to be dead. There are robots and mutants running amok. Worse still. Shodan's the one behind it all. and he wants to use the resources he has on the station to destroy all human life throughout the galaxy. So. in the time-honoured tradition of video gaming, it's all down to you. You must single-handedly travel through the entire station, working out just what the hell happened, whilst trying to avoid the army of bad guys who are (mainly cyborgs under Shodan's control) out to get you. and eventually destroy Shodan completely.

It's all a bit daunting. They never set you easy tasks, do they? There aren't any games where the final goal is nice and simple, like fetching something from the shops. Cuh.

On the engine

The first thing you notice about System Shock is the freedom of movement its engine allows (anyone who's played Underworld II can more or less skip this bit). Unlike Doom, which has a pseudo-3D layout (which works perfectly well for the purposes of mindless, fiin-packed violence). System Shock gives you the real thing: "proper" 3D. You can walk underneath platforms. You can squeeze through tunnels. It's got slopes in it. You can look up at the ceiling or down at the floor (and not just for novelty value either - there's always something worth finding). Furthermore, you have more control over your body. Want to lean around that corner to see if there's a varmint lurking there? Go ahead. Fancy crouching down so that you can enter that cramped little hatchway? Be my guest. Spotted a ladder? Climb it at your leisure. In the mood for jumping? Jump away, my friend. Or perhaps you just fancy a nice lie down? Heck, you can do that too. You can do more or less anything you can do in real life, except scratch your arse (they're no doubt saving that one for System Shock 2). Better still, it's possible for you to discover tons of cool, hi-tech widgets which allow you to do stuff you can't do here in dull old realityville: the power of flight, for instance, is there for the taking. That's one in the eye for British Airways.

Now, the control system. Hmmm. I'm not too per cent convinced on this one. Underworld veterans will have no problems here, and can dive straight in with gay abandon. Call me a flailing imbecile, call me an unwieldy buffoon if you like, but I found using the mouse for movement a complete nightmare. Unlike, say, Doom (sorry to keep mentioning it. but it's kind of hard not to), where mouseketeering is a simple joy.

System Shock (like Underworld) requires you to point at the side of the screen in the direction you want to move in, and then hold down the mouse button. It's unavoidable really, since you've got to use the mouse to point at icons, etc., but it resulted in my first attempts at guiding myself through the corridors ending up looking more like "Pub Crawl Simulator", as my character rebounded off walls and stumbled into holes left, right and centre. I found using the keyboard for movement far simpler, although it occasionally led to wrong-key confusion in the heat of the action. There's nothing more disturbing than the indignant rage you feel when a baddie blasts you to pieces while you're headbutting the wall with your finger on the wrong key. It won't happen too often, though and it's nothing you can't cope with.

Still, the complicated controls are necessary to enable both the easy manipulation of objects and the varied movement options at work here, so I'll stop my bleating. Being able to look up and down and crouch may not sound that exciting in black and white, but when you find yourselflying down on top of a ledge, inching forward slightly, and peering down into a room below, trying to train your sights on a mutant's forehead before he shoots you, it is. So there.

On involvement

System Shock is as absorbing as a 2000ft sponge. It sucks you in until you're irretrievable. They could use it in prisons to quell riots. Install a pc with System Shock on the hard drive into every cell, and after a few hours even the ones who bang their fists on the walls yelling obscenities at the top of their lungs 24 hours a day will be sitting quietly in the corner, bathed in monitor light. While I was playing it, one of my flatmates became a spectator, initially by accident. He was walking past my monitor, looking for a cigarette lighter when he glanced at the screen. "Oooh", he said.

"that looks good, what is it?" - and that was it. He never actually played it, he just sat there watching for hours, drinking cups of coffee and making suggestions. At one point, he had to go out. When he returned I got quizzed about all the new sections I'd explored and the new things I'd discovered. And this is from someone who has never shown interest in any pc game ever before.

If ever there's a game you can "get into" in a big way, then here it is. Atmospherically, it's immaculate. It sounds wonderful, with a multitude of sci-fi samples effectively employed. The graphics are. as you can see. fantastic (as for what it looks like in action, read on) -plenty of moody lighting and enough changes of scenery to prevent boredom from setting in. The pace is fairly slow, but absolutely compelling. No matter how frustrating any of the puzzles may become, they can never conquer the sheer determination and curiosity you soon develop. (If you're a scaredy cat. you can always alter the difficulty settings at the start of the game.) I really wanted to make it to the end and give Shod-an what for. The blend of exploration, problem-solving, info-gathering and beating things to death with lengths of pipe is perfect. There's so much to do here, it makes my head spin around. It just never seems to end. Wave goodbye to real life.

On gadgetry

One of the many and varied joys of System Shock is the number of gadgets you can muck about with. These gizmos tend to fall into the "tv remote control unit" class (i.e. after a few minutes you'll wonder how you ever did without them), rather than the "Innovations Catalogue ffee with your Sunday Paper" class (toothbrushes with rotating bristles, air ionisers and alarm clocks with telescopic sights, all of which cost a fortune and are of less use than a pocket guide to "Fun Things to do in and Around Slough"). Take Sensaround vision, for example. This basically gives you a rear-view mirror in which you can spy any unsporting beasts who reckon they can sneak up behind you. Test-drive it for a while and soon you'll never venture into a dark, scary room again without switching it on. Not good enough for you? Alright then, how about some Jet Boots? Interested now? Ha. Thought so. Most of the gadgets can be upgraded as you progress (you always start off collecting v 1.0 of the relevant widget), becoming more effective along the way.

Now. what good is all this technology if you can't maim people with it. eh? Well, praise the Lord, because there's an extensive selection of kill-ware hanging about too. Electronic land mines, frag grenades. Magpulse beam weapons, even light sabres; you name it, if it's hi-tec and scary then you can pick it up and obliterate someone with it. It's like a psychopath's toy-room. The variety of weapons is essential, since some are not effective against certain types of beastie (a gun which fires tran-quilser darts, for instance, is a tad useless against a metallic droid). Experimenting with them to find out which gun works against which baddie is all part of the fun.

And hey - if you're going to wander about murdering things, you may as well go the whole hog and neck loads of drugs first right? Yep, it's Drugstore Cowboy in space. Start off with a few tame ones (Healing drugs. Stamina boosters and the like), work your way through the "Smart" drugs ("Genius" intelligence boosters, which help you solve problems), and finish off with the 60-second excursion to Hell that is the Berserk Combat Booster (dangerously coupling increased upper body strength with vivid and colourful hallucinations). Yes, if it's zany, madcap fun you're after then you can not do much better than flailing about in a psychedelic haze, frantically clubbing mutants with your ol' length of pipe (the most useless weapon, but also, and more importantly, the funniest one), until their heads burst open like over-ripe melons. Blecch!

On Cyberspace

Being, as you are, a Hackmaster extraordinaire, you can also enter Cyberspace (a highly-fashionable resort at the moment) whenever you chance upon a suitable computer terminal. Cyberspace is weird; you float around in a wire-frame void, collecting nuggets of data and pieces of software. Important pieces of data are often protected by ICE Security blocks which you'll have to drill through to get at the goods. There are also virtual security guards out to get you (usually in the form of pixillated "hounds"), so it's just as well that you can shoot them with a virtual gun. Navigation is tricky, and there are loads of twisty little tunnels to get lost inside.

The most useful thing about Cyberspace is the information you uncover there, such as access codes, for one. It's also possible to unlock security doors from inside Cyberspace. Matthew Broderick never did that in WarGames. The least useful, and therefore, coolest, thing about Cyberspace are the hand-held games you can pick up there. Yes that's right - hand-held games. Little miniversions of things like Pong and Missile Command which you can play in one of your viewers while you're walking around the Space Station. It's got to be the neatest "neat little touch" I've ever seen in a game.

On dying horribly

As is often the case with this kind of thing. System Shock is fraught with danger. Around every corner, underneath every ledge, and behind every pillar, is something that wants to murder you. There are contaminated radioactive sectors which will poison you. Of course, you can always protect yourself, if you're lucky enough to find yourself a body shield or a rad suit, but more often than not, you'll find yourself in fear for your (virtual) life. The best advice I can give you is to search every corpse and cupboard you see, in order to collect the all-import-ant healing medipatches.

Come across an auto-surgery machine and it'll heal you completely. It is also a good idea to mark these, and other important finds (such as Cyberspace terminals) on your automap. To find them later you need not refer to the map itself - a wireframe icon will actually appear in the playing area, to remind you where you are.

On the big catch

Sounds good, doesn't it. Sounds far too good, really doesn't it? There just has to be a catch. Well, slap my thigh. There is one. We're talking "no matter how good you think your pc is, it ain't quite up to scratch" time here. We're talking 8mb minimum ram. Are we talking 386DX? I don't think so. 486SX? Naaah. We're talking Pentium time here. Well, nearly. You see, all this sophistication inevitably carries a price. To really get the most out of System Shock, it's highly probable that you'll have to upgrade your pc. Because with anything less than the recommended specs, the whole thing runs very slowly. A system shock indeed (and a fairly obvious pun, too).

Usually, this kind of thing gets me riled. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's processor-hungry window-dressing which will make a game look fantastic in the Preview section of a magazine, but leaves the majority of us playing it in jerk-o-vision because we can't afford Pentiums. I've got to be honest with you here, though. I still love the game. There isn't any window dressing. It's just a pretty powerful program which requires a powerful system. Sorry everybody. It's time to dust off your wallets. Maybe I'm jumping the gun here. It really is hard to say. My review copy was an unfinished Beta version: I just about managed to get it running on my 486-DX250 (which only has 4MB ram), and it was playable, but by no means smooth. Trying to play in full-screen mode Was even worse. We ran it on a Pentium and cried tears of joy, it was that beautiful.

Hopefully, the finished version will include an option to reduce or increase the amount of detail on-screen, and thereby speed things up (such an option did exist in the Beta version, but it didn't actually change anything. Bah.)

Look, it was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn't it? Finally there is a game that is actually worth upgrading for.

On and on and on

So. There you have it. Or rather you don't. There's a whole heap of things I haven't mentioned. There isn't enough space here. There aren't enough trees in the world. And besides, you're going to have stacks more fun uncovering it all for yourself.

Look upon it as a cerebral version of Doom. An entire little world for you to explore and conquer. It's a huge game that's going to keep you going for weeks, if not months, without flagging. If you've got a ninjascopic pc and time to spare, then you really can't go wrong here. Origin & Looking Glass, I salute you. System Shock, I crown you King of games. Long live the King! Long live the King!

Download System Shock

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

The TruePlayers

And so the ThiePlayer Labs continue their authoritative delve-cum-penetration into the sci-fi sewer system that is System Shock. Last month, we ushered you through the first three levels of the game and guided you like a father to the end of the first phase - destroying the laser. Read on then, for the next thrilling installment.

Part Two

Okay, so weve combed through the minutiae of the medical (level one), research (level two), and reactor (level r) levels, accumulated some entry level hardware, enabled the shields, and destroyed the space stations laser. Unfortunately, Shodans next plan is to dump his mutation virus on Earths fair face. Hes been developing the virus in one of the stations groves (simulated Earth "gardens), way up on level six. We have to stop him somehow. But first we have to get through levels three, four and five. Ouch.

Level Three

Take the elevator on level two or r to level three. Ready your weapons. This level is tough. Its packed with "invisible" flying mutants. Theyre not completely invisible; more translucent, but they fire deadly purple fireballs and are very difficult to kill. Your best bet is put your lantern on, dip your view to look at the ground, and ready an automatic weapon such as the am Flechette (found on level R last month). When you see one, fire off a burst to get its attention and then back off steadily, pummelling it with lead. If its far away, lob a frag grenade to weaken it, but be careful - level three has a low ceiling and narrow corridors; you could easily end up dismembering yourself. Another thing before we continue: these invisible (inviso) mutants tend to keep reappearing when you die, or leave the level and come back. Dont even consider a room "clean if youve died and been regenerated since you cleaned it.

Considering the dangerous nature of this level, your first stop should be the regeneration bay to the west at 23. Run straight here, ignoring any mutants en route if you can. The switch to unlock the door is on the left. Get in there quick and deactivate the Cyborg regeneration.

Basics

The basic layout of the level is the same as the others. A central area (containing a cargo lift to levels four and five) is surrounded by a square corridor which leads, at four points of the compass, to the maintenance areas. You cannot get through these as yet. You will have to come back later to explore them, so dont be put off by the map. Basically, you just need to explore the parts of the level that you can reach, destroying cameras and collecting goodies.

Your next stop should be the cpu room at four. Watch out - there is a queue of servobots waiting to have a go at you. This area is a place of relative safety as the inviso mutants cant fit around the corner. The maintenance office door is blocked by Shodan security which, as ever, you will have to return to later. Make your next port of call, the large dark and scary room at ten. It has a regular guard of three inviso mutants tucked behind the crate, but the energy station here is worth the risk. Head up the gravity lift at 12 for some goodies and some Interface Demodulators (take one and leave the rest - youll need it later).

The Head

Exit that room and pop carefully round to room 13 to collect the new, faster Sensa-round v.2 which will give you a useful rearview mirror. Nip into 14. grab the Hornet ammo, and climb the ladder to find a short cut passage back to the energy station room. Room 16 contains the Relay Analyser (useful for later - dont waste your time with it now), and a Magnum 2100 - if you dont already have one - at the end of the crawlway. The Energy Station at room 17 is faulty and will chop a whopping 40 per cent off your health if you use it. Room 24 contains the gruesome remains of Abe Ghiran, including his severed head. TAKE THE HEAD. No, really. You will need it later. Do not lose it.

If you have explored all the rooms that you can, then you can safely leave the level for now. However, before you go, climb the ladders at 19 and 21 to find some batteries and a Laser Rapier respectively. Ignore the rapier - it's completely useless. Head into the central room and kill the mutants therein. A switch - found low on the western wall behind some crates - will raise the block at 18 to reveal two concussion grenades. Enter the cargo lift and thumb the button for level four.

Level Four

Level four is the storage level and, therefore. is cleanly segregated into seven or eight storage room-lets, accessed from the main junction at 12. The level is heavily populated with sec-i robots and Cyborg warriors, so get your magnum ready if you want to survive. Give the storage areas a wide berth to begin with and head instead for the descending corkscrew formation at two. Tread carefully - a few nasty robots are buried around the last comer. To be safe, chuck a few cone grenades down there and then reap the goodies. Now make your way immediately to four and then onto the restoration bay at five. Check out the secret passage at eight (lots of goodies) and clear the passage, at six, of mutants. Note the keypad locked door at seven. Youll come back here later.

Now explore the northern side. Read Aubreys log at three for a clue as to what lurks behind one of the storage room doors (an essential Environment Protection Suit). Ignore the radiation door at 26 (we could open it in the beta version of System Shock, but it wouldnXbudge in the full version). By all means pick up the riot gun at ten. but - frankly - its useless. Theres much better hardware on offer later. Go to room 16 and the energy station therein, and stop off at 17 to destroy the cpu nodes (do not forget to note down the number on the monitor). MacLeod and Wangs logs make interesting reading. Apparently MacLeod stashed some plastique somewhere on this level. Hmmm....

Storage Rooms

Now youre ready to backtrack to the start room and to head west to the storage room. Watch your step around here. Almost every door has a couple of sec-1 robots waiting behind it. Go into room 12, destroy the cameras, and head directly north. Take the eastern passage, through 21, and head up firstly to room 13. Again, be cautious. Three Cyborg warriors are waiting within and they throw frag grenades at you. There are a few goodies here, but the best stuffs at 15. To get to 15 you have to turbo boost over the slide. If you miss, you fall onto three primed landmines and die. It is prudent, therefore, to nip around to 14 first and destroy the landmines with a well-aimed sparq shot from afar. If you do land at 15. youll probably be assassinated by the two sec-1 robots which lurk behind the doors to the east and west. The best approach is to inch your way up to the lip of the ramp and then throw some landmines right in front of the doors. Then, when you boost over, the robots are destroyed before they can even step out of their cubby-holes and get a bead on you. Once youve performed this athletic task, scurry back to 12 and explore the regions to the south. Go to room 24 first. Again, this location requires a degree of athleticism. A switch in the south-east corner activates the gravity lift in the centre, which, annoyingly enough, cycles through red and green. Time your jump well and it should carry you aloft, allowing you to side-step delicately onto the force bridge. An essential log lies beyond in room 25. Once youve dispatched the robots, dig it out. The log tells you that the first digit for the door at seven is an 8.

Painful Activities

Now the time is ripe for room 19 - as good a challenge for your Shock skills as any other. Basically, your aim is to reach room 20, high up and seemingly unattainable on the north wall. The process to get there can be split into three easy steps:

1) Firstly, face east and use boost to fly into the nook at a. Destroy the camera and look down. See lots of shapes below? Good. These are nasty, little RepairBots and they have to be destroyed. Do this by lobbing a few frag grenades below and then jumping down yourself. There may be a few stragglers so watch out.

2) Search all the crates and then make your way around to d. Destroy the crate here and you should see a switch on the floor. Flicking the switch enables the flickering force bridge around the circumference so you can reach room 20, but also, alas, opens the doors at c, freeing very nasty, angry, little Cyborg warriors.

3) Shoot as many as these warriors as you can from below and then make your way back to your starting position. Cross each section of the force bridge and save every single time you manage it. Eventually, you will reach room 20. Aside from the goodies, room 20s main prize is the lumps of plastique. Take FOUR of these and leave the rest. Its all you need.

Back

Back on the beaten track; ignore room 23 for the time being (the door is blocked by Shodan security) and head for 27. Watch out here - about four zero-c mutants are floating above your head. The next stop is room 31 - the most annoying room in the game. Basically, the aim is get past the two grates and into the corridor at 30.1 used the jump jets (on level five) to flick the switch high in the north-east corner of the room which opens access to 30. Technically, you can flick the switch in the north-west corner (which deactivates a gravity lift) and then fling yourself against the green arrows on the western wall. Apparently, these cause you to stick to the walls, enabling you to then reach the essential north-east switch - we never managed to do it - if you cant either, progress to level five and retrieve those jump jets. For the time being, however, lets assume you managed to get to 30. Alongside some juicy goodies (including, ironically enough, said jump jets) you should find the last camera on the level which, when destroyed, will lower the security level to zero per cent. This means you can head straight for door 23 and into room 22, where youll find Sabos log. He tells you the last digit for the storage room door is also an 8. Head straight back to seven and key in 848. The door will open and the E-suit beyond will be yours.

Now return to the cargo lift and select level five. Ready your weapon...

Okay, okay. Were getting there. Albeit, gradually. Level five, the flight deck, is not too hard, but its quite windey and you can easily miss passages. So go slowly. Also, the regeneration bay is hard to reach on this level, so just take it easy. The layout, just like all the others, is the old central-hub and surrounding sections ploy. To the north is flight bay one; to the south, bays two and three; to the south-west, bay four; and to the south, the flight deck.

As you enter the level, you receive e-mail from Pavorski on the flight deck (remember her from level two?). She and her companions are on their last legs and need help, desperately. I wouldnt rush to the flightdeck at 30 if I were you; no matter how quickly you get there, shell be dead. Take, then, a leisurely stroll around the main corridor, making sure you find the hidden door at seven (and the Energy Station at nine). Head clockwise around the main hub and go directly to Diegos office at 15 (watch out for the zero-G mutant) to find some interesting documents on his whereabouts and his role in the whole Shodan affair. Note the lift at 14 to level six (ignore it for now) and head instead for room 17. Dispatch the sec-i robots you find there and jack into CyberSpace.

After a fraught encounter with the Cyber minions, you should come out with Bay door three (16) and the Armoury door (18) unlocked. Plunder the armoury and then head to flight bay one (13) for a gruesome clue to what happened to the personnel on this level.

Go back to the central hub, round to 21, and explore the two flight bays (23 and 25). Watch out - these areas are densely populated with robots and mutants. Youll notice the escape pods at 24. You cannot get into these at the moment, so ignore them. Instead traverse you way towards the biohazard area at 26 (if youve picked up the E-suit from level four, then youre laughing). Explore this region thoroughly. Dont miss the regeneration bay at 29, and then head for the flight deck at 30. Everyones dead of course, but youll find the Cortex Reaver easy to dispatch. Pavorskis last log makes disturbing reading. It seems Shodan has arranged a contingency plan should his mutate all of mankind plan fail. He intends to use the stations four high-powered antennas to download himself into the Earths computer network. Oh dear. Anyway, ignore this new piece of good news for the time being. Instead, head for flight bay four (31) and solve the puzzle to create the force bridge at 11. We didnt manage to create a complete force bridge. You can get over it if theres one piece missing. On your way back round to get up to 11, pop into 33, crawl through the triangular walkway and explore areas 34 and 35 for more goodies. Go round ton and explore section 36 to find the jump jets and a new version of the lantern hardware. Now would be a good time, if you have not already done it, to go back and complete level four. Otherwise, your aim should now be level six. Before you go, jump jet across to 37 and reap the harvest of batteries therein.

Level Six

Level six, the executive level, is one of the largest and hardest levels in the game. Its split into two distinct sections and, for once, avoids the typical central hub design of the other two levels. The first section, to the north, where the lifts from levels three and five take you, contains the lifts to two groves (Gamma and Delta at 10 and 15 respectively) as well as a Cyberjack (at five), and the Admin access card (22) which will allow you access to the second section. The level is also massively populated with magnum-armed Exec-Bots (give them a dose of their own medicine) as well as a reasonable scattering of warrior and sec-i robots.

Your objective here is to jettison the virus-infected Beta grove (accessed at 30). To do this, you have to enter the two remaining groves (Alpha and Delta - Gamma grove has already been jettisoned), find and then enable their individual jettison controls, and then flip the jettison master control at 40. Then you have to go to the grove lounge that you want to jettison and pull the lever there. This is no mean feat.

Your best bet, to start off with, is to explore the first section of the level six and the two groves you can get to. You can give yourself a head start by jacking into Cyberspace at five and unlocking the Beta Grove elevator and the storage room door (at 39) from there. Next, find the regeneration bay at three and activate it. Also, while youre here, thoroughly explore areas 12,11,13, 16, and 21 for mega goodies. Aaron's log at 12 will tell you of a secret crawlway to the cpu room and the master jettison control, while Perry logs will inform you that an executive maintenance conduit code is needed to get through the door, and that Shodan has been flashing the code on the screens, at seven, for days. Room 21 is of particular interest, not only for the all-powerful RailGun hidden therein, but your first encounter with a Cyborg Enforcer: tough pieces of cybernetics which are regular features of later levels. Before you explore the groves, take a moment to collect the Admin access card from the banquet hall at 22 (its buried under some body-parts, so look carefully).

The Groves

The two groves you can reach at 15 and 10 are quite nasty pieces of work. Populated with Gor-Tigers, mutated planets, spongethrowing mutants, and sec-1 robots, and with all manner of uppy-downy bits in their layout, its quite easy to expire in an untimely fashion. Also, there are no regeneration bays in the groves, so if you die, you're dead. The best strategy, if you think youre going to cop it, is to high tail it back to the lift and get back to level six pronto. And then die. Basically, you need to get to the jettison enable controls on each grove, but before that you invariably have to destroy all the cameras. Thats not too much hassle -there are only about ten per grove - but they are tucked away, so keep your eyes peeled. The moment youve enabled the jettison controls, get out. Dont waste time questing for goodies. Youll just get killed.

Back To Level Six

Once youve enabled both accessible groves, youre ready for the second section of level six. With the Admin access card youll be able to enter room 23. This area is a bit nasty. There are Exec-Bots and sec-i robots lurking in all corners. The best strategy is to crawl into the room, pick off the robots on the first level, and then, still crawling, lob a couple of grenades into the belly of the room. Thatll do it. Once you are victorious, explore the area of interconnecting corridors beyond, not missing the energy station at 25. Watch out - Exec Bots doth prowl this area. Note that the Beta lift is at 30 (dont go there yet), and aim towards room 33, exploring every nook and cranny en route. Open the door at 43 with the correct code, which is 711, and then crawl your way through to 36 where you will find the cpu room. Destroy the nodes here, note down the number on the monitor (as ever), and then crawl further on to 37. WATCH OUT! Before you enter room 37, tool up, heal up, stick your shield on and pray.

Were talking about six Exec-Bots and three sec-i robots. Dispatch these babies very carefully and then leap down and thumb the switch at 38. Then run, run, RUN! The very tough Cyborg of Edward Diego will appear and attempt (probably very successfully) to kill you. To dispatch the Cyborg, get back up to the crawlway and lob profuse amounts of grenades in his general direction. Once hes gone, you may think you have killed him. Big mistake. He transported out before you killed him. Hell crop up later. We assure you. In the meantime, enter his office. Note the master jettison switch. You cant pull it yet - you need to yank the jettison enable in Beta grove first. However, you can plunder the storage room at 39 (which can be opened from Cyberspace at five). While youre there, open the experimental teleport device and warp to 41 in the north. A neat short cut, non? Heal up and head for the Beta grove lift at 30. Charge up at 25 and make sure youre packing as many first-aid kits and battery packs as possible.

Beta Grove...

...Its a nightmare. Theres no map for this section, basically because all you have time for is to find the jettison enable switch and get the hell out. The whole level is one big bio-hazard area. If you dont have the E-suit (from level four), you might as well not bother. The only way to survive is to pack yourself with some serious hardware (the Magnum 2100 or the flechette), dont bother with your shield (the E-suit needs all the energy you have), and take a reflex patch before you go up there. If youre low on health or energy, swallow those first-aid kits and batts big time.

To-Ing And Fro-Ing

If you survive Beta grove intact and also manage to flip the jettison enable, you now have license to return to the master jettison at 40 and pull that big ole switch. Unfortunately, a relay is malfunctioning and it doesnt work. This means that you have to return to level three and fix the problem. Hurray. Returning promptly to level three, youll find two things: a) the previously-locked doors to the maintenance areas are now unlocked, and b) all those nasty, invisible mutants are back in force. In a nut-shell heres what you must do:

1) Go to the maintenance office at four and collect the log which has now been downloaded in the obvious receptacle. 2) It tells you Relay 428 has malfunctioned and gives you an incomprehensible map to help you find it. 3) Go straight to Relay 428 (at 25), watching your step - sec-i robots are all over the place - and destroy all the cameras you see. 4) Double click an interface demodulator on the faulty relay. It will be fixed. 5) Explore the remaining three maintenance areas, destroying cameras and robots until the security level has dipped to zero per cent. 6) Go back to the maintenance office and open the door at five (previously blocked by Shodan Security). 7) Note the retinal scan lock. Use Abe Ghirans decapitated head (Youll find it at 24, remember? And we told you to keep it?) on the lock. 8) Enter the room beyond and scoop up the E-suit v.2 (radiation protection suit). 9) Dont forget to explore the secret door at eight. 10) Return to level six and go straight to the master jettison enable at 40. 11) Pull the switch. BE CAREFUL. The very moment you flick the switch, lots of robots descend on your position. Nasty. 12) Dispatch said robots and teleport back to 41. 13) Make your way back to the Beta grove lounge. Watch out here too - the place is swamped in virus mutants. 14) Pull the jettison switch. 15) BOMBS AWAY!

Hurray! Youve scuppered Shodans plans for ever. But whats this? An e-mail from Rebecca. Shodan is attempting to download himself into the Earths central computer network using the antennas on level seven? Oh no! It'll just have to wait until next month....

LEVEL THREE (Maintenance)

  • 1 Lift to two
  • 2 Lift to six
  • 3 Cargo lift to four
  • 4 CPU ROOM, four servobots, two detox
  • 5 Blocked by SHODAN security.
  • 6 Retinal scan lock
  • 7 E-Suit v.2, two Teflon
  • 8 Two EMP, two cone
  • 9 Two medi, two nitro, two cone, first aid, MagPulse
  • 10 POWERSTATION
  • 11 LOG
  • 12 Four interface demodulators, four 2100, four EMPs, four Logic
  • 13 Sensaround v.2
  • 14 AM Hornet
  • 15 LOG (Harvey)
  • 16 RELAY ANALYSER
  • 17 POWERSTATION (faulty)
  • 18 two cone
  • 19 Five Batts
  • 20 Four Hornet
  • 21 Laser Rapier, SEC-1 Robot
  • 22 Magnum 2100
  • 23 REGENERATION BAY
  • 24 LOG (Ghiran). Decapitated head.
  • 25 RELAY 428
  • 26 RailGun
  • 27 Mark three Assault Rifle
  • 28 AM Flechette
  • 29 Two MagPulse

LEVEL FOUR (STORAGE)

  • 1 Three medi
  • 2 Cyborg warrior
  • 3 LOG (Aubrey)
  • 4 Cyborg warrior
  • 5 Restoration Bay
  • 6 Gor-Tiger Mutant, frag
  • 7 Keypad unlocks door
  • 8 Hidden door: three l-CAD batts, two nitro
  • 9 Cyborg warrior, two Hollow 2100
  • 10 Two DC Slugs, Riot Gun
  • 11 Teflon, Turbo-motion booster v.2
  • 12 Four cameras
  • 13 Three RepairBots, three Cyborg warriors, two medi, four frag
  • 14 Landmines
  • 15 Two SEC-1 robots, two batts, Target Identifier v.2
  • 16 LOG (MacLeod). LOG (Wang)
  • 17 CPU ROOM. Batt.
  • 18 ENERGY STATION
  • 19 Two MagPulse, seven RepairBots, one Gor Tiger. a) Ledge b) Gravity lift c) Cyborg warrior d) Switch
  • 20 Three AM Hornet, two 2100, three Mag-Pulse, two Medi, one reflex, one detox, ten plastique
  • 21 Two SEC-1 robots
  • 22 AM-27 Flechette, LOG (Sabo)
  • 23 Doors blocked by SHODAN security.
  • 24 RADIATION AREA. Three SEC-1 robots, crate (two detox)
  • 25 Two SEC-1 robots, two Hollow 2100, Target Identifier v.2, two 5V Tranq, LOG (MacLeod)
  • 26 Radiation door.
  • 27 Zero G-Mutants, crate (EMP)
  • 28 LOG (MacLeod). E-SUIT v.1. Magnum 2100.
  • 29 Two MagPulse, one l-CADD.
  • 30 Nitro, Jump Jets v.1, genius, RF Slag
  • 31 Annoying room

LEVEL FIVE (Flight Deck)

  • 1 Expect e-mail
  • 2 LOG (Travers)
  • 3 BIOHAZARD AREA
  • 4 Switch
  • 5 First aid
  • 6 LOG (McDan). Crates (two EMP)
  • 7 Hidden door
  • 8 Genius, medi, cone
  • 9 ENERGY STATION. Mark Three Assault Rifle Mark three Mag shells
  • 10 Two Batt
  • 11 Tricky, floaty lifts
  • 12 Cyborg warrior, five tranq, LOG (Schuler)
  • 13 FLIGHT BAY one. Cyborg Assassin, LOG (Travers)
  • 14 Lift to level six
  • 15 Diego s office. LOG (Diego), Zero-G mutant
  • 16 Locked doo.
  • 17 CYBERJACK, three SEC-1 robots.
  • 18 Two Hollow 2100, MagPulse, medi. mine, two cone
  • 19 Magnum 2100
  • 20 Turbo-motion Booster v.2, LOG (Kell)
  • 21 Entrance to Flight Bay two
  • 22 Two SEC-1 robots
  • 23 FLIGHT BAY two. LOG (Kell.
  • 24 Lifepods
  • 25 FLIGHT BAY three. Two Avian Mutants, one Autobom.
  • 26 BIOHAZARD AREA. Lots of robots
  • 27 First aid
  • 28 BIOHAZARD AREA. Two Splinter, LOG (Travers)
  • 29 REGENERATION BA.
  • 30 FLIGHT DECK. Cortex Reaver, Target Identifier v.2, LOG (Pavorksi), Mark Three Assault Rifle, three mines, 2100 heavy, DC clip
  • 31 FLIGHT BAY four. LOG (McDan)
  • 32 AUTOBOMB ABOVE!
  • 33 LOG (Travers)
  • 34 Energy Shield v.2, magpulse, SEC-1 robots, ER-60 Blaster
  • 35 First Aid, two detox, two EMP, mine
  • 36 Jump Jets v.1, Lantern v.2, first aid, 2100
  • 37 ENERGY STATION, two 1-CADD, one batt

LEVEL SIX (Executive Level)

  • 1 Lift to level five
  • 2 Three SEC-1 robots
  • 3 REGENERATION BAY
  • 4 Two Exec-Bots. LOG (Aaron)
  • 5 Main hub. CYBERJACK. LOG (Aaron)
  • 6 One Cyborg warrior. One Exec-Bot.
  • 7 Monitors
  • 8 Lift to level three
  • 9 Alpha grove access
  • 10 Lift to G1 (Alpha)
  • 11 One Exec-Bot. Two Cyborg warriors
  • 12 Two Viewing Room. Medi. LOG (Aaron). LOG (Perry)
  • 13 Target Identifier v. 3
  • 14 Delta grove access. Night Sight v.1
  • 15 Lift to G4 (delta)
  • 16 Cyborg warrior, Hopper, three Exec-Bots one MagPulse.
  • 17 Exec-Bot.
  • 18 GAMMA GROVE access.
  • 19 Lift to G3 (gamma).
  • 20 Servobot.
  • 21 Enforcer Cyborg, three Exec-Bots, four ServoBots. RailGun. Batt.
  • 22 ADMIN CARD, two Flechette.
  • 23 Two SEC-1 robots, two Exec-Bots
  • 24 You cant get through these
  • 25 ENERGY STATION. LOG (Perry)
  • 26 Medi, first aid
  • 27 Two medi
  • 28 Two stamup.
  • 29 Two Gor Tigers
  • 30 Beta lift
  • 31 Cabinet (medi)
  • 32 Switch
  • 33 WATCH OUT! AUTOBOMBS!
  • 34 Two deto.
  • 35 Two ML, first aid, switch
  • 36 CPU ROOM. Batt. Bio Monitor v.2. AM Hornet
  • 37 Two SEC-1 robots, five Exec-Bots. LOG (Wilkin)
  • 38 Edward Diego Cyborg
  • 39 LOG (Diego), papers, MagPulse, shkr, nitro, 2100, two cone
  • 40 JETTISON ENABLE MASTER SWITCH
  • 41 Experimental teleport
  • 42 ADMIN access required
  • 43 Conduit access door. Code=711

I must admit to not having seen this game running for a particularly lengthy period of time (only about 15 minutes or so)... but allow me to quickly add that what I have seen - even in so short a span - is enough to convince me of what we all suspected anyway: in other words. System Shock is going to be something very special indeed. I mean, let's face it, how many games can you name where you get attacked by Dusty Bin attacked by Dusty Bin (from 3-2-1) within 30 seconds of booting up? It happens in System Shock. Start the game, walk down a ramp, turn right walk into the first room and there's Dusty, leaping about all over the shop! Nightmare. But I'm digressing. So where were we? Ah, of course... we were nowhere.

Or nowhere with any real substance, anyway. In other words, we're in the depths of space. But why space this time? Easy. It's because LookingGlass Technologies - having become a bit bored of coding Underworld's elves, goblins, trolls and so to as far away possible from file kind place where characters say such things as "forsooth, 'tis a merry hat" and have stupid names like "Kkaaanda". (In System Shock people are called things like "Shodan" instead). Over to a LookingGlass spokesperson to get it from the horse's mouth:

"After doing all those dungeons we basically wanted to try something a bit different. What we were really into doing was a pure, unadulterated Cyberpunk game, but Origin wouldn't let us... so we did a sci-fi game with Cyberpunk overtones instead." In other words; what they've done is made a Cyberpunk game set on a space station. So what's the basic storyline? Back to the LookingGlass spokesperson:

"It's initially pretty straightforward. It's the year 2072 and you've just come out of a sleep tank as the lone survivor aboard a remote space station. Immediately, you receive a desperate holographic warning about Shodan: a ruthless, super-intelligent computer system that has seized control of the station's robotic security forces and biological-research facilities. (Your ex-space station colleagues have been mutated into genetic nightmares.) Moreover, Shodan has already set its sights on Earth's plentiful resources. And you know what that means...."

Yes, we know. It's a race against time. And Dusty Bin robots. But you'll be glad to hear that there's more to System Shock than just legging it around a space station with a big gun. (Besides, it's already been done to mega effect in Doom.) So, System Shock is puzzly too. Plotty, puzzly, thinky and killy... all in equal measures. (Unless you decide to change the measures, of course, and you can... you can tailor the game to make it as puzzly or actiony as you like.

But anyway, back to Shodan, the rogue computer. We know System Shock has puzzles (dials, buttons, locked doors, codes and so on) and we know there are Dusty Bin robots (and worse) to fight with. But if we're in a Cyberpunk game, rather than just a sci-fi game, is there a cyberspace or what? Over to the spokesperson again.

"Yes, of course there's cyberspace. You have to fight all the droids and horrific monsters first, sure, but the whole point of System Shock is that eventually the only way to defeat Shodan is to jack into cyberspace, using a neural interface, and deactivate him from within."

Strictly ninja PCs only?

So there you go. If you're a William Gibson fan I expect you're now having an orgasm, so I'll leave you to get on with it while I tell everybody else what the LookingGlass spokesperson said about the actual mechanics of the game: how sophisticated the code is, and so on....

"Well, we've got a completely realistic physics system, with variable gravity and so on. And regarding the graphics of the enemy creatures, we have a higher pixel density than we had for Underworld II: if you've got an 8mb machine, you can count on four times the density..."

Uh-oh, so are we talking another one of those Origin games that only works properly in America (a country where everyone owns a Cray Supercomputer the size of Mars)?

"No, it's okay. Don't worry. The game runs okay on a 486-33 (although the frame rate wouldn't complain if you had a local bus card). But let me get back to the coding: System Shock it fonstantly. It's what irfB usually happens with 11s. We and do a game that we don't quite know how to do, and so we end up trying new things, playing them, r letting others play, getting their feedback, and then we rewrite big parts to make it better. For instance, the combat and user interface has been written quite a few times. And we've got a much better 3D system now than we had for Underworld. A more arbitary geometry can be produced... like we've got floor and ceiling slopes, rather than just steps. Also, each tile area has its own lighting value and such, so pools of light, dark shadowed corridors and glowing power centres can be created." "Sounds like Doom," you may be thinking. And, yes, it does look pretty Doom-ish - having seen 15 minutes of the game for myself I can certainly vouch for that.

But there are certain elements that are even better than Doom. For instance, the ability to look side to side, not just up and down (with no weird bitmap bending in sight - it's all pretty flawless), but, also, the fact that you can actually "look around corners" too. (In Doom you have to slide your whole body into a room, meaning any nasties inside are alerted. Not so in System Shock.) Oh, and as well as the looking up and down and around corners, you can also crouch and even lie down and crawl. (Fancy a claustrophobic trip through a long ventilation pipe a la Aliens? As those mega-annoying Burger King adverts say: "You got it!".) Oh, and you can climb walls too... and, apparantly, there are some "jet boots" or something somewhere in the game. (You'll doubtless know what that implies.) Anyway, back briefly to the LookingGlass spokesperson for some final "techy talk":

"Underworld is still the only game where you can look up and down, or where you throw objects and they bounce and land somewhere rather than in the middle of a "square" and so forth. For System Shock, especially with the more complex lighting and the fact that the player really can look anywhere, the technology group really worked hard to make the core-perspective mappers fast... and the Tenderer as well was worked on quite a bit. We spent a lot of time writing assembler code, profiling and moving stuff around. Integrating our new physics system - which was meant for less dense environments - also took some work. And coming up with an expressive interface, where you can do everything but don't feel like you're in an F-15 simulation, also was a serious issue."

What a stunner

So what else can I add about System Shock that you won't have (a) gleaned from the screenshots or (b) assumed from LookingGlass Technologies' superb track record? Not a lot I suppose. I'll end, then, with something that excited me while I was watching the opening part of the game (just after Dusty Bin had been dealt with). Okay, here it is. Exciting moment number one. It's the first laser gun you find, which is just lying around. Being so near to the beginning of the game, it's obviously a crap gun. Yes? I think we can assume that. But the point is that even for a "crap" gun, it's totally smart. Not in its destructive capabilities, I'll admit, but the point is that you can alter the intensity of the beam. It's better even than the phasers in Star Trek... they've only got Stun and Full Power. The "crap" gun in System Shock, however, has a sliding scale. Call me a sad bast, if you like, for being so impressed by such a tiny thing and how it's only a "pretend" gun and so on. But think about it: the attention to detail on such a titchy item, so near to the beginning of a massive game, can only auger brilliantly for the rest of the proceedings. God knows what excellent items and ideas await in later levels... especially once you start "jacking" into "cyberspace" using your "neural interface". (Oh no, that William Gibson fan has started coming again.)

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