Is This The System Shock 1 Re-Creation That Will Actually Succeed In Getting Made?… More After the Break…


We live in the era of Disposable PC Games. Everything is digital. Everything is cheap. Everything is somehow connected or wired or otherwise hampered by needing an internet connection or an account or being registered. Or it’s a crappy console port and that’s why there’s no modding tools available for it (which means that it will have a very short lifespan once the initial media wave for it dies out).

Yet there was a time when you could buy a real PC game from an actual video game store, drive home, install it on your un-internet-connected computer and play it without any hassles. At all.

As the saying goes, “The Future was in The Past and we all missed it.”

“System Shock 1,” to be completely fair and honest, has received an overblown reputation as the years have progressed. Was it a good game? Yes. Was it a great game? Yes. Was it the most fantastic, mind blowing, unbelievably orgasmic game of all time and if you weren’t there at the time than your life is just a hollow shell of it’s more fuller self? No. Most definitely not.

“System Shock 1” was the merging of first-person action shooter, role-playing game, survival horror in a science-fiction cyberpunk setting. And it was pretty darn good at it. Seemingly alone in an orbiting space station gone amok with all of the robots having killed their human masters (because all robots are evil, didn’t you know that?), you fight against the individual robots and are routinely taunted by their cybermind-overlord, SHODAN.

Released before the advent of polygon room-over-room architecture, SS1 suffered from hardware and software limitations that hampered it’s potential. The levels were fundamentally flat. The enemies were sprites. The low resolution of the graphics made everything look granular. The lack of non-player characters (NPCs) limited the role-playing potential. And everyone, it seems, was used to “salting their fries” unless they managed to cobble together the one computer system that didn’t make the software developer’s unique memory manager vomit every fifteen minutes for reasons unknown.

SS1 made such an impression on the gaming youth at the time that it gained a sequel that also received a cult following, System Shock 2. SS2 was the sister program to Thief: The Dark Project as the two games shared the same engine and even the same assets for most of their development life. It would later emerge that the team developing SS2 was having major heartburn trying to make the game engine perform all of the tricks and maneuvers that it needed to perform in order to make the game work, resulting in wonky workarounds and game play compromises.

The System Shock series may have been well-regarded but not well-purchased and there has been no System Shock 3. The two spiritual successors, Dead Space and Bioshock, have ironically gone on to have appreciably better commercial success but at the expense of “streamlined” (read: dumbed down) gameplay that de-emphasized the roleplaying and inventory aspects of the original gameplay. Dead Space 1, for instance, has been sarcastically referred to as “The Hallway Game” because much of the game requires the player to walk through endless, linear hallways in order to further the plot and pad out the playing time.

There have been several attempts to re-create the experience of System Shock 1 (and, by minor extension, SS2). I can remember Sapphire Scar, which was the Doom III total conversion mod, that was being developed at the time alongside The Dark Mod (another Doom 3 TC which, by the way, is completely standalone and undeniably awesome and if you don’t know anything about it, than what the heck are you doing here? Download it! Download it now and play it! You live in a world where The Dark Mod exists! Seize the day!) Sapphire Scar, like so many other SS1 or SS2-related projects, died a quiet death. A webpage, a few pretty screenshots, a few empty promises and then… Nothing. The End.

Until now. Now there is a new contender attempting to drag System Shock back into the future. Called “Citadel,” the game will recreate System Shock 1 in the DarkPlaces engine (which is a modified Quake 1 engine) and is being made by someone calling themselves “JosiahJack.”

Will Citadel succeed? I hope so. A part of me is a bit hesitant that the project recreates the game a bit too faithfully. After all, the level geometry of SS1 hasn’t aged well. It was very angular and, since the original game did not have true room-over-room geometry, it made the game levels look very odd and meandering.

We live in a world where “The Dark Mod” exists. You can download it and play it right now. This very moment. You can also play “Black Mesa” (the Half-Life 2-powered recreation of Half-Life 1) right now (if you enjoy having your computer infected by the “Steam” client). An unofficial “Star Wars: Battlefront 3” is in the works as well as an official one. Telltale Games made not one but THREE seasons of “Sam & Max Freelance Police” after LucasArts unceremoniously axed the long-awaited sequel to “Sam and Max” only months before it’s release (although, to be fair, it is said that Telltale Games has since moved on from the franchise).

We don’t get everything that we want in life. “Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale” is likely lost forever. So is “Bioforge Plus.” So is the LucasArts sequel to “Sam & Max.” So is the original version of “TimeShift.”

Yet the gaming world would definitely benefit from having “Citadel” being available to the gaming public. System Shock 1 deserves to graduate to a fully polygon rendition. It deserves to have a robust modding community for it. I certainly hope that I may one day play it and I champion it’s development.


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