Archives by Day

System Shock

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Prime Matter
Developer: NightDive Studios
Release Date: May 30, 2023


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PC Review - 'System Shock Remake'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 29, 2023 @ 5:00 a.m. PDT

After more than two decades, NightDive Studios are completely remaking the genre-defining classic from 1994, rebuilt from the ground up.

System Shock 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. It's an incredibly interesting and creative title, and it's a masterclass on how to make a game scary even with the rudimentary graphics of the '90s. I've felt that its predecessor, System Shock, aged a bit too much to be easy to play, and I'd usually skip it on replays and just jump to the sequel. That didn't stop it from being one of the most influential, interesting and important games ever made; it's a title that influenced games in both large and small ways for decades to come. System Shock Remake is an attempt to bridge that gap by making something that feels and plays more modern than the original classic. The result pairs much better with its (admittedly far more aged) sequel and highlights the strong moments of the original title.

System Shock Remake puts you in the role of a nameless hacker in the distant future. During a routine hack, you are kidnapped and brought to Citadel Station. The offer is simple: Disable the ethical restraints of the station's AI, SHODAN, and you'll be given a new, top-of-the-line cybernetic implant as a reward. Refuse and die. Naturally, you accept. As soon as you wake up from your surgery, you discover that perhaps disabling the ethnics of an omnipresent AI was a bad idea. The station is a mess, filled with angry robots, disturbing biomechanical monsters, and a whole lot of corpses. It's up to you to find a way to survive and stop SHODAN.

The plot was absolutely mind-blowing for the time, and these days only suffers from the fact that so many things have aped it that it doesn't feel quite as fresh. It created a lot of the storytelling tropes you see in games nowadays. I don't think it is fair to criticize a game for not being as fresh as the things that came after it, but if you're playing System Shock for the first time, you'll probably find that a lot of things are familiar. There's an excellent atmosphere and tone that carries through even if you've played its spiritual successors, like BioShock.

System Shock Remake is very much in the vein of immersive sim games, like Deus Ex and BioShock. You're given a large, open area to explore and can approach things as you'd like. There is an absurd number of interactable items. Many are only useful for recycling for credits to use in vending machines, but there's still something undeniably fun about being able to wander through a room and grab almost everything off the shelves, even if you don't really need a random surgical tray. The game is largely nonlinear, allowing you to explore paths as you open them. There's a progression you need to follow for the plot, but it's very easy to wander off the beaten trail and find yourself in areas with optional items or tools.

Combat is straightforward. You begin with a simple iron pipe and can gradually find a large selection of different weapons ranging from pistols and grenades to a laser sword. Generally, you want to choose the best weapon for the enemy type you are facing. Some weapons or types of ammunition are more effective against certain types of enemies. Electricity is going to do more damage to robotic enemies, while physical damage is more useful against standard fleshy foes. You can also find hardware upgrades that attach to your character and give you anything from a light to a barrier against damage, but these tools drain your energy bar, which needs to be replenished.

Combat in System Shock Remake isn't bad, but it's basic. You're generally either going to be going in, smacking the enemy, and backing out or just shooting them while strafing as best as you can. A huge part of the challenge isn't defeating an individual enemy but doing so with a minimal drain on resources. While there are places in the game where you can fully heal, health items and ammunition are relatively scarce, and wasting those precious resources when you don't have to is a great way to leave yourself weakened for some of the tougher areas.

In addition to the physical world, you'll occasionally get the ability to hop into cyberspace. As this was a game originally made in the '90s, cyberspace is a garish wireframe world where programs and electronics exist with digital representations. As you might imagine, the hacker is a lot more capable in cyberspace. Instead of being limited by their physical body, they can "fly" freely around the area, though they are limited in where they can go by digital walls and "streams" of data that force them to fly rapidly along certain paths. Follow these paths, and you can find valuable information or nodes to destroy, which can influence the real world by unlocking new paths.

You fight in cyberspace, but it's a simpler process. You have what amount to cyber-shurikens, which you can spam an infinite number of, as well as the occasional one-use item that allows you to do things like create a decoy or escape from a fight. Glowing power-ups litter the area, and you can use them to recover health. The cyberspace areas generally have more of an "arcade" feel, so they're an amusing break from the standard gameplay.

System Shock Remake's biggest potential downside is that it's a very loyal remake that doesn't exactly feel modern. If I had to describe how it feels, it's what System Shock would've been if it had been made at the same time as System Shock 2. The game still has a somewhat dated feel — in a way that brings it more in line with the sequel. There are still a lot of gameplay design elements that feel strange or outdated, but it's clearly intended to be loyal to the original games.

I'm not necessarily sure this is a flaw. System Shock Remake is made for the fans, but in a year filled with remakes that work hard to update games to feel modern, this title won't be quite as accessible to newcomers. It's very much a game for fans who want to play the same basic game but with a more modernized feel than System Shock: Enhanced Edition. It feels like System Shock, not a game that happens to use its name.

Overall, I think it's a solid attempt at remaking the game without losing its tone and atmosphere. You could remake System Shock as something more akin to BioShock, but then, it really wouldn't be the same game. Its design decisions and choices, even some of those that feel outdated, are part of the core design. It won't instantly pop as easily as something like Prey or other modern takes, but it preserves its flavor.

I'm a bit mixed on the graphical style. The developers tried very hard to preserve the visual style and elements of its sequel. That means it has a somewhat cartoonish and colorful style that can occasionally veer into the garish, giving it a distinct '90s flavor. At times, it gave me a headache, especially during the cyberspace zones, which can sometimes get too intense. For the most part, it feels like a nice update of the original designs and graphics. A lot of effort was clearly put into making sure the 3D models feel like the old visuals, which I really appreciate. Yes, some of them look goofy, but I prefer that to losing the personality of the designs. The voice acting is largely good, and there's a whole lot more of it now, though mostly in the form of audio logs.

System Shock Remake is a solid remake of an exceptional game. It doesn't quite reach the levels of modernization that you might see from something like Resident Evil 4 Remake, but it does a good job of adapting a classic without losing what made it a classic in the first place. It's a clever and creative game that deserves its place in gaming history, and the remake emphasizes that.

Score: 8.0/10

More articles about System Shock
blog comments powered by Disqus