SYSTEM SHOCK by Looking Glass Technologies/Origin Systems

Reviewed by Doug Bauer

            Computer      Graphics        Memory         Hard Disk Space
Minimum     486-33        VGA             4MB            35MB 
Max/Rec:    486-50                        8+ MB

Control:    Mouse, keyboard; joystick, Cyberman optional Sound:      Adlib,
SoundBlaster/PRO/16/AWE 32, MPU-401 General MIDI, GUS

Reviewed on: 486-66, 12 MB, Orchid SoundWave 32 (SB + GMIDI), DOS 6.0.

SYSTEM SHOCK is the latest creation of Looking Glass Technologies, best known for their groundbreaking ULTIMA UNDERWORD series of games. System Shock is a departure from those games -- although it is a first-person perspective 3D exploration game like the Underworlds, it has a futuristic setting. The graphic engine and physics model is a big step up.

You wake up from a healing coma after a cyberjack implant operation and suddenly realize that something is terribly wrong! The space station is overrun by mutants, cyborgs and robots -- all serving Shodan, a "ruthless artificial intelligence." As you explore the station, you find dead bodies of crewmembers, piecing together their log entries to figure out what happened and to find clues as to how to defeat Shodan, all the while fighting for your life.


The mouse interface is similar to Underworld's. By moving the cursor in the viewing area your movement type is determined. Holding down a mouse button causes the movement. Personally, I found it much easier to move using the keyboard. The mouse cursor is also a crosshair, and by pressing the other mouse button, your weapon is fired at that location. Pressing the left button once causes what you are pointing at to be identified -- a nice feature. Everything on the screen can be identified.

At the top of the viewing area are status bars (health, energy) and posture indicators/controls. By clicking on the posture controls, you can crouch, lay prone, look up and down, and lean to either side. This can also be controlled by the keyboard. You can move while crouching and you can also "crawl". This allows you to go through low passages. The fact that all objects in the environment everything is 3D-rendered means you can do things like crawl under desks! You can also run, jump and climb.

To the sides of the viewing area are selection buttons for turning on and off various "hardware" which you acquire during the game, such as enhanced sight, navigation, body shields, etc. These items consume energy which can be replaced by fresh batteries or "power stations." My favorite item has to be the "skates" -- when these are activated, you careen around at a high rate of speed (with the view tilting to each side as you go around corners). Lots of fun. :)

The bottom of the viewing area is devoted to inventory, data, automap and targeting (if so equipped). These displays are HUDs (overlayed) in full screen mode and can be turned on and off.

The environment is fully 3D -- you can walk under and over bridges. Some objects, however (things you can pick up, dead bodies, etc.), are fixed bitmaps.

Much of the game is exploration. The levels (8 main levels) are large and quite complex. The automap is an absolute necessity and allows map notes to be entered. Secret doors/floors, twisty passageways, objects and clues abound. Security cameras and computer nodes must be destroyed to cripple Shodan and ruin his plans.

There is a fair amount of puzzle-solving as well. There are the usual button/lever puzzles and locked door puzzles along with putting clues together (moslty found in crewmembers' logs). Some puzzles are multi- level (you will have to go back and forth between levels). Some puzzles are just that -- puzzles -- like rewiring access panels. These are, however, generally simple and can be solved with a little trial and error.

To solve some puzzles you must enter "cyberspace" (enter the computer network). This is a game-within-a-game where you move around in a wire- frame 3D environment to gather data, activate some switches, etc. There are polygonal enemies, cyberspace weapons and powerups as well. I found the cyberspace segments to be a nice change of pace if nothing else.

Finally, there is combat. You have a wide array of weapons available to you. Most are some form of gun -- some types of guns/ammo do not damage some enemies so you'll have to experiment. Additionally, there are various kinds of grenades, bombs, and mines at your disposal. Throwing grenades is realistic and fun -- if you aim right, you can bounce them off walls and have them land around corners.

Some enemies merely claw at you, while others have high-tech weapons like yourself. That means that stealth is a great asset. Getting down on the floor, leaning to peek around corners, and quick shooting are often extremely helpful.


The graphics are very good in System Shock. There is a wide variety of textures and colors in the environment. As can be expected, there is some blockiness when you are close to an object. Enemies look better than in other games of this type. They have more extensive bitmaps than the norm.

The physics, looking up and down, etc. do have a performance cost. My 486- 66 VLB (with a huge CPU cache) noticably drops frames when the view rotates past a long corridor or very large rooms, or when there are more than 3 or so enemies in sight. But this is with the game set at maximum detail and with the full-screen view. The game is quite playable and smooth in all other situations. In fact I am pleasantly surprised at the speed of the engine, taking into account how much it does. I do agree with Origin's recommendation of a 486-50 for full enjoyment.

The cyberspace graphics are simple-looking but extremely smooth. Nicely done for what it is.


The MIDI music is only ok in general. Luckily there is a good variety of it. One nice touch is "Muzak" in the elevators!

Sound effects are good. Gunfire, explosions, robots buzzing, and enemy noises are well-done.


When starting a game, you have many difficulty options. You can select the difficulty of the combat (no combat at all if you prefer), plot, puzzles, and cyberspace to your liking.

Music and sound volumes are separately adjustable.

Display intensity can be varied.

Much of the display itself can be customized. You can have your display essentially covered with status information or have it be nearly clutter- free.

On-line help is available. It can point out cameras, secret doors and such for you -- I recommend playing with it on through the first level until you get the feel of the game.


Sometimes sound effects are delayed a split second after an event. Saving and loading games is pretty slow, as is starting a new game. Low detail mode looks horrible -- the wall curvature is quite noticable.


System shock is an atmospheric game with the most advanced 3D engine around. It is a technical marvel -- and it's a good game too. If you're looking for a pure shooting fest, this isn't it. If you're looking for Ultima Underworld III, this isn't it. If you're looking for a balanced complex-world exploration game with elements of puzzle-solving and combat, System Shock is for you.

This review is Copyright (c) 1994 by Doug Bauer for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.