Back in 1994, Looking Glass Studios would release System Shock. This title pioneered not only the immersive simulation genre but opened the eyes of games to the world of Sci-Fi horror; A genre that would eventually spawn a ‘little-known’ franchise called Bioshock. In 2023 Nightdive Studios released System Shock, hoping to give newer sets of eyes an education in what came before, not to mention making sure no one forgets the name Shodan. When legacy gaming meets modern gaming it begs the question, can what is old be new once again? Find out in this remake review.
Hacking Was A Mistake
System Shock sees the main character, a hacker, land themself in some deep water with the omnipresent TriOptimum Corporation by hacking their way into files on a space station called Citadel Station. Brought before the CEO, you’re given a choice to either help them by removing all ethical restraints on the station’s A.I. called Shodan or spend your days rotting.
Of course, you accept the offer. With a handy neural interface given to you for the task, on your arrival at the station, you remove the restraints and are put into a medical coma for your trouble. When you finally wake up, you find out that just maybe, removing ethics from Shodan wasn’t the best move. It now controls the ship, having filled it full of rogue robots, and mutants. To top it all off, Shodan fancies themselves as a God and plans to prove this by laying waste to the Earth. You’ll team up with one of the few surviving members of the crew in a bid to stop Shodan and figure out just why these events were set in motion.
Old Story Told Anew
This may be a story from 1994, but it hasn’t aged a day and will keep players guessing from the get-go unless you’ve played through the game before. If you have, there isn’t much new story as far as I can tell from what I’ve played of the original, time be damned.
The new cutscenes that open the game are a fantastic way of drawing players into the cyberpunk world of System Shock and the voice acting throughout just adds a new layer to the story. You’ll be reading and listening to a lot of notes, not only to figure out the story but also to get hints of objectives and codes to unlock areas. Of course, Shodan is the star of the show and this game perfectly encapsulates why Shodan’s face adorns the profile pictures of gamers from all walks of social media.
Exploring the Citadel
System Shock is a first-person shooter but a lot has changed since its original conception. Back then, it was frankly a nightmare to control. Now, it plays exactly how you would expect it to. It comes with lashings of new features and for better or worse some very old-school bones.
As mentioned, controls are very natural in this remake. Anyone who played the original or the “Enhanced Edition” will be able to confirm that this game was a pain when it came to all aspects of control. You can lean around corners, aim properly, pick items up, and interact with stuff naturally. Even the hacking sections control much better. The remake of System Shock feels like a floaty zero-gravity FPS in the vein of Descent or Forsaken.
Aiming and Analyzing
Combat is fantastic. Each enemy is weak to different weapons or types of ammo. What works well with a sentry robot may not be the best solution for a mutant stomping its way over to cave your skull in. The melee combat is a little lacking in oomph as it’s just flailing your wrench around and backing off to avoid damage. It’s difficult to do melee well in an FPS, so I don’t feel too critical about it. But when the guns feel as good as they do, the dampener that is melee does tend to stick out.
As briefly mentioned, there are sections where you hack computers and this throws up sections akin to The Lawnmower Man (a reference for us oldies there) where you fly around a data stream and fight off virus protection while unlocking doors or files. The combat here is a little basic and repetitive. You don’t have too many options and it just boils down to you spamming your main shot while dodging enemy fire, but again it’s much easier to navigate and fight than in the original. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and sadly it’s an important part of the game so you’ll be doing it quite a bit.
In between all the combat, you’ll find plenty of puzzles as you try and navigate this truly labyrinthian spaceship. They range from having to connect the right power leads to output the correct current to finding switches on one side of the ship, resulting in lovely backtracking and a whole star system of confusion. This brings us to the old-school aspect of the game quite nicely.
Old School Is The Best School
System Shock is hard, combat is punishing, puzzles are quite obscure and your objectives are quite easily missed. You might be looking for something that ends up being in a note on a desk in a room you’ve quickly glanced at or in a note you picked up but never read. There are no objective markers and Nightdive hasn’t done anything to make progression any more linear. While you can’t soft lock the game in my experience, you can wander around the many floors of the station in a state of confusion wondering how to progress. Chances are it’s not going to be in a handy straightforward manner!
The autosave feature isn’t to be trusted at all. In fact, in my first time playing I’d gotten so turned around in the map that I hadn’t activated the “respawn” feature. This means I hadn’t saved and my first death ended up costing me a few hours of gameplay. Even with its customizable difficulty, the game is punishing and Shodan does not want you to win.
What this means in a nutshell: System Shock isn’t going to be for everyone. It makes it even more apparent just how tailored Bioshock and even to a certain extent System Shock 2 were to a much broader market. At the risk of sounding way above my station, System Shock is more of a hardcore experience than those previously mentioned and its open-ended exploration, the way it handles puzzles and the difficulty aren’t going to resonate with everyone. On the flip side though, if you’re a fan of the immersive simulation genre or fancy putting yourself through sci-fi hell, you can’t go much wrong with a textbook remake of one of the games that started it all.
System Shock looks and sounds like a game from 2023 in the best way. It does wonders with what your imagination had to add in from the original game and ups the tension tenfold. Citadel Station has never been so welcoming and so foreboding at the same time and of course, there’s the issue of the A.I. with a god complex who has access to your Comms channel and will take every opportunity to remind you of this.
A thin mist covers the station as the LED lighting surrounds you, while broken consoles spark and lighting casts shadows making you question what is there and what’s just in your mind. The slow tension-building soundtrack adds to this and then it’s all brought to a head as Shodan lambasts your futile attempts and questions what use humans really are in this new age.
The ship is made up of clearly defined biomes but within its corridors, there aren’t quite enough identifiable landmarks for you to fully have a grasp on where you are going. Some textures are also bizarrely low resolution, but it’s not enough to take away from the kind of space horror that hasn’t been visually topped since Doom 3. Yes, that’s the only time you’ll hear me praise any aspect of that game!
The voice acting is superb. It really helps further engross you in the mystery of what happened between you turning the restrictions off of Shodan and your new objective of stopping the A.I. and escaping the spaceship with your life.
I really can’t praise the atmosphere and tension building enough. System Shock and its sequel have always been touted as horror experiences and sadly age wore away at the original to the point it was mostly obscured. Nightdive understood the assignment to the letter and made damn sure you’ll be creeping around Citadel Station with your heart rate racing.
Nightdive are synonymous with fantastic remasters but to my knowledge, this is the first from-the-ground-up remake they have produced and Shodan be praised, did they knock it out of the park!
System Shock isn’t a game for everyone as previously stated. It doesn’t have the flexible character builds of its sequel nor is it a more linear digestible experience like its spiritual successors. What it does offer is a hardcore, sci-fi horror game with a level of immersion that only comes around every so often. Fans of Prey (2016) will certainly find a lot to love here, along with gamers looking for a challenge. You will get lost, you will die, and you’ll spend more than enough time scratching your head at some of the more obscure objectives and puzzles. But if you stick with it, you’ll come out of the other side fulfilled and with an even greater appreciation of just how much of a landmark title System Shock was and still is.
SYSTEM SHOCK IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Nightdive Studios for a PC review code for this title.
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