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System Shock 1: Installation, Mods and Setup

Updated on April 2, 2014

So what is SS1?

Why... it's merely the best pc game of all time! How can I say that so difinitively? Well, because it says so here:


Now that that's out of the way, let's understand why this pc game is so damn good. Oh and before I get into that, if you just want install instructions, scroll down a bit ;)

System Shock 1 tells the story of a nerdy dude in a jumpsuit who can hack like the wind. He's pretty badass so he tries to hack the biggest mega-corporation ever, Trioptimum, so he can snoop around. He gets caught of course but because he's so badass, the VP of the company offers the hacker an alternative to jail time: Hack the Trioptimum HQ's AI, a program called SHODAN, and he'll let you work for Triop and give you some super special brain implants that let you jack into computers and plug untested gizmos into your brain (and all without an IRQ conflict!). You ponder the deal for several milliseconds and agree whereupon you hack the AI into submission, go to sleep and wake up 6 months later with a massive headache and no clue how many TGIFs you've missed while napping.

The space station Citadel has gone to hell in a handbasket and all your buddies are dead or they're dripping goo, wandering around in a drunken, mutated stupor. Time to hit things with a pipe until they start working again, just like everything else in life!

That's right my man, System Shock's got action, yeahhh!! You like action don't you? Sure ya do :D Well guess what! It's also got dynamic lights and angled floors! What's that? You want a game that promotes the overconsumption of prescription dermal patches? You got it buckaroo!

The Plot

In essence you are an augmented human survivor of a catastrophic incident whereby a rogue computer AI has begun experimentation on the crew of Trioptimum Corp's main base of operations onboard a spacestation known as Citadel. Your "healing coma", induced by the same VP who started this whole mess, has been your saving grace because as you slept, you remained irrelevant and therefore safe. Since you're a criminal posing as an employee you also slipped under the radar, as you don't have a full blown employee file... just a meaningless number. Thanks to you, the station and in fact the universe is now threatened by an aspiring deity of a computer virus. Thanks to you, there's hope of stopping it!

You have the element of surprise and the capacity to install and use various pieces of specialized hardware that grant you superhuman abilities. Your dead colleagues have left the unfinished fruits of their labour behind for you to finish. You can gain access to forbidden areas because of your cybernetic hacking skills when you come across special cyberjacks. All of this combined with a banquet of guns, grenades and drugs makes you one powerful mother, not to be messed with!

How to Install System Shock 1

Step 1:

Download "System Shock Portable V1.2.2.7" from the "Looking Glass Classics" sub-forum of SystemShock.org. It's stickied near the top of the forum.

Step 2:

Open the archive you downloaded using WinRAR or 7Zip and dump the folder you find there onto your hard drive somewhere (like a games directory or similar).

Step 3:

Open the folder you downloaded and you'll see a file called ssp.exe. Run that.

Step 4:

Hit "ENTER" once, then type "o" for options and hit "ENTER" again. I recommend the following enhancements from this menu (after enabling each one you may get a popup asking you to run a small program. Hit run in each case and follow any instructions until you're back to the options menu):

Malba Tahan's mouselook mod

Gigaquad's scaled object textures mod

Install VDMSound

Limit NTVDM process affinity to the 1st CPU

After the last step you will have to restart ssp. After restarting, enter "b" from the main menu to start the game using DOSbox.

System Shock Portable

Step 5:

The game should start. Watch the intro, select a new game, enter your character's name and use the mouse to select the relative difficulty of puzzles, enemies, plot and cyberspace for which I recommend 2s across the board if you are a fairly decent video gamer. When you hit start, study all the help messages and then hit the "SPACE" bar to remove them. On the sides of your screen you'll notice square blocks. On the left side near the top, one of the blocks second from the top will look different. Click on it and you will enable full-screen.

Step 6:

Hit "ESC" and go to "VIDEO" and then "VIDEO MODES". I recommend selecting 800x600 for a couple of reasons. First of all, the mouse speed is usable. Any higher res and it gets way too slow. Second, it's higher than the maximum resolution the game ships with but not so high as to ruin the pixelated nostalgia that made the game special.

Step 7:

Hit "ESC" and go to "AUDIO", then "AUDIO OPTIONS", and then change "CHANNELS" to "8" and "MESSAGES" to "BOTH".

Step 8:

With the mouse mod enabled in step 4, you can use the mouse to move your cursor in "selection mode" and then by hitting the "e" key, you can switch to "movement mode" whereby you can use the mouse to look around and use WASD to move around, just like any modern shooter. You will have to shift back and forth between these modes frequently

Congratulations! The game is installed, set-up and ready to play!


How to Play System Shock 1

I won't get into every little detail of how to control the player, etc. All of that is very conveniently packaged into a reference card (a PDF file) in the same directory as SSP.exe. When you installed the game you would have noticed the reference card. Study it well. The controls are one of the most heavily criticized aspects of the game ALTHOUGH once you learn them, they are incredibly powerful and quite comfortable to use.

System Shock 1 doesn't play the same as System Shock 2. Whereas SS2 is an atmospheric shooter, SS1 is really more of an action RPG with first person elements. Because of this, you'll find combat a bit more challanging than it ought to be due to the chunkiness in the player movement but with the mouse mod, that is greatly improved. Even still, it's important to anticipate dangerous environments and situations so that you can get out of inventory mode and make sure you're not stuck in some corner with no maneuverability. Enemies can appear suddenly and may have very precise and strong attacks. It doesn't take much to kill your character so get comfortable with the controls.

System Shock 1 is all about achieving mission objectives, exploring, solving puzzles and unravelling the backstory. To that end, you can't "Doom" your way through the game. It will suck and you will die. You have to pay attention to everything you come across and you have to learn how the game system works. Learn how to manage your resources (inventory, health, energy, implants, logs, etc). Learn how to access new areas (security, cyberspace, etc.). Learn what you're actually supposed to do by paying attention to logs and emails. It's important to put yourself in the role of the confused half-frozen hacker that you are. If you were there you'd have only yourself to rely on to survive. That's how it is when playing too so be resourcefull!

Eavesdropping on SHODAN's plans!

Perhaps the most refreshing part of the game mechanic is the intricate detail the designers put into everything. There are a lot of features that you may only discover for the first time after your 50th playthrough. On your player interface there are a lot of buttons. Press them all, figure out what they do and use them to help you win the game. Every item, weapon, grenade, mod, drug and other thing you have on you can usually be modified or expanded to provide more information or functionality. The beam weapons for example have power settings and some mods have versions that you can flip back and forth between. You can even pick up mini-games... in the game... and play them... in the game, with a tiny little window popping up on the side so you can crouch in an elevator and play missile command if you need a break from the awesomeness of system shock. It's little things like that I really appreciate.

There's gotta be 50 things going on in this view alone!

The game is quite realistic and employs a great physics and lighting engine. You can literally "toss" things with mouse movements and they'll fly predictably. You can see your player respond to changes in momentum resulting from firing a gun or running or getting hit by something. You can shoot boxes and watch them blow up, spewing their contents all over the place. It's really quite ahead of its time! The lighting is great too. Weapons have muzzle fire dynamic lights that bring the walls and ceilings to life. The lighting system is also used to either help or hinder the player and becomes a factor in staying alive sometimes.

Cyberspace is a whole different experience from anything else in the rest of the game. It's more like a slippery version of descent than any FPS or RPG. It can be disorienting to some players and I still struggle to understand why many people didn't like it. I for one think it's (kittens + bacon + a million dollars) x infinity! It's also hard to control, on par with the rest of the game :P The important thing to know about cyberspace is that there are really important things in there that you need to find and collect but while you're trying to do that, computer programs are trying to kill you and you can't exactly jump nimbly out of the way so you'll have to learn how to move all over again to clear out an area and then get all the goodies, all within a reasonable but finite amount of time.

Where's the floor?

What makes this PC game great for YOU?

What is the best aspect of System Shock 1?

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System Shock isn't a game you choose so much as it chooses you. Once you start playing it, you'll find out very quickly whether you hate it or love it. People who clearly aren't cut out for this game, who I've known, always get stuck on the first enemy they find and come to me complaining about how much the game sucks. In reality, just like in golf, if you don't have the discipline to see it through, you won't enjoy it. I strongly urge each of YOU to force yourself to play through the first level. I promise that if you make it that far you will either be hooked and will want to finish the game the same night or you'll never touch it again and complain that I wasted 2 hours of your life you'll never get back. There is a silver lining though... at least you'll learn something about yourself in the process. There's always doom for you :P (actually I rather like doom, no disrespect). Hope you enjoy this classic PC game and don't forget to salt the fries!

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    • profile image

      Eduardo from Brazil 8 months ago

      First run on this (just finished): 14 hours and 22 minutes, 403 kills.

      Wonderful game!

      Now lets try SS2! =D

    • profile image

      soshiny 23 months ago

      system shock portable is no longer avaiable... :(