System Shock: Enhanced Edition

Posted: 15/02/2016 by Jack in Příspěvky, Retro hraní

The year is 2072 and an unknown hacker attempts to breach the security of the Trioptimium corporation network. He is discovered and brought to the space station Citadel, where a Triop executive Edward Diego gives him a choice – if he removes ethical constraints of the Citadel AI SHODAN, Trioptimum will drop all charges and give him a neural implant. The Hacker agrees, succeeds and Diego keeps his word. After a six-month healing coma, The Hacker awakens on a Citadel station taken over by mutants, cyborgs and SHODAN, now a murderous force hell-bent on taking over the universe.

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Night Dive Studios have finally taken care of the original System Shock and released it for modern PCs. That in itself is praiseworthy, after all the game introduced and popularized countless genre conventions. But it also came out in a time when HD resolution was 320×200 and a mouse pointer in an FPS sounded like a great idea. In the first part of this review, I will describe System Shock itself, if you are interested only in the changes and features of the Enhanced Edition, skip right to the Notepad screenshot (yeah, that bad).

The Hacker must try to survive on the Citadel, foil SHODAN’s plans and defeat her. To that end, he has a wide array of tools, ranging from a lead pipe to cybernetic implants—and the ability to connect directly into Cyberspace, an abstract visual representation of computer systems he is trying to hack. The Hacker, however, is not proficient with these tools. Guns have significant recoil, limited ammunition and handle poorly. Grenades and explosives are more likely to blow up in your face than any opposition. Cyberspace is hostile, confusing and it’s transparent, full of blinking walls that will bother even people without epilepsy. Before you manage to activate the implant you need, the opportunity to use it will be gone. Every patch, with the exception of the healing, has its own side effects like nausea, worse vision or hallucinations. The interface and mechanics are as hostile and unaccommodating as a space station controlled by a malevolent AI would be, and the player, like the Hacker, has to carve his own space within them.

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No tool is in itself sufficient. You need to learn how to use them well, combine them, tread carefully, assess each situation and select the best course of action. The game uses this to create excellent stealth survival horror experience. You are exploring an unknown part of the station and encounter a tough cyborg. You try to shoot him but your gun runs out of ammo. While scrambling out of its line of fire, you get disoriented and enter a wrong door. There are enemies in this room, you dispatch them with your backup weapon but not before they gravely wound you. Now you are injured, low on supplies and your way back has been cut off. What will you do? Will you sacrifice your last, precious EMP grenade to kill the cyborg and get back to your supply cache, or will you press forward hoping to find some salvation in the uncharted areas ahead?

This atmosphere works best when exploring a new floor of the station. The game doesn’t autosave, but on (almost) every floor there is a chamber where SHODAN converts dead bodies to cyborgs. If you can find it, you can switch it to revive you instead. Exploring a new floor is similar to Dark Souls, where until you find a bonfire, you’ll have to proceed carefully navigate the alien environment’s hidden dangers. It’s only after you find these respawn points that you can grow more bold, secure with the knowledge that if you die, you will resurrect at the chamber and it will only cost you a little time.

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Another similarity to Dark Souls is the handling of frequent backtracking. You will often have to return to explored parts of the station for crucial supplies, information or to explore previously locked areas. Such seemingly mundane tasks can still be dangerous as enemies respawn and new areas can contain much more dangerous hazards. But, as with Dark Souls’ Lordvessel, as soon as you figure out the locations of energy charging stations and healing chambers, you can blaze through the explored parts of the station virtually invincible. These upgrades feel like a justly earned reward and keep the backtracking from becoming too tedious. System Shock can create and maintain a terrifying atmosphere, but it also knows when to stop.

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If you are not an experienced gamer and will want to know how to control the Enhanced Edition, you will have a hard time finding help that does not describe the Classic Edition. And if you want to change some of the settings (controls, mouse sensitivity, VSync, upscaling filter…), you have to edit insufficiently documented .INI and .CFG files. If you are used to playing with the default settings, do not read manuals and figure out how to turn the mouselook on and off by yourself, these may seem like trivial complaints. But they are exactly the trivialities I would not expect from something that calls itself the Enhanced Edition. Modern gaming provides a certain level of comfort and in my opinion, a launcher with links to the manuals and settings is not that high a bar to cross.

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Of course, making changes to a game this old is difficult. But there is also the question of which changes are ‘correct’. In both Classic and Enhanced edition of System Shock, you reload guns by clicking the ammunition icon in the interface. It is slow, impractical and in Enhanced Edition it means you must turn off mouselook for the mouse cursor to even appear. But it serves the atmosphere. The protagonist is not an elite soldier with years of training, he is a hacker who must make use of an unfamiliar equipment in a hostile environment. Because he cannot perfectly control high-tech military gear, he must often run from the fight just to reload or use an item. This is similar to what made the Receiver a perfect survival horror game. Which mechanics can then be replaced by their modern, more convenient versions? What if this will break the intent of the original author? What if the author’s intent ran contrary to what the public loved about the work?

System Shock: Enhanced Edition answers those questions more than sufficiently. It includes the Classic Edition, which is as close to original System Shock as possible, warts and all. This means that in the Enhanced Edition, it can use the lessons learned in the years following the original release and build on the features that made the game memorable, even if they were accidental virtues of necessity. Whether you are purist interested only in the most faithful of recreations or a modern gamer with years of muscle memory, you can now once again play System Shock. What are you waiting for?

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