Review – System Shock

Without System Shock, the immersive sim genre wouldn’t be here today. Great games like Dishonored and Prey wouldn’t have possibly existed. It’s a genre that puts player exploration and experimentation at the forefront. A genre that puts you into an immersive world that reacts in realistic ways coupled strong environmental storytelling. It’s also a game I am ashamed to say I’ve never actually played through the entirety of the original, and only recently have played its excellent sequel. With this remake, it’s finally my chance to give this a shot with mostly fresh eyes, not really seeing much outside of some research I did to prepare myself.

I have followed the System Shock remake somewhat closely ever since its original Kickstarter. It showed a lot of promise but was also marked with some development issues. Which eventually lead Nightdive to restart development as it strayed too far away from the original vision. With the remake finally here could it possibly live up?

System Shock

If you say “they copied Prey” I will punch you.

Set in the far future, you play as a hacker looking to steal technology from the TriOptium corporation. You are arrested and brought to Citadel Station, where you are offered an opportunity. You are asked to remove the ethical limitation from the stations artificial intelliegence known as SHODAN. As you would expect, things go horribly wrong, as SHODAN has gone rogue, releasing a bioweapon across the station and turning the security systems against the survivors. You must explore the Citadel Station to put a stop to SHODAN before she attacks Earth.

As far as stories go, System Shock is pretty straight forward. An AI has gone rogue and you must stop them is something we’ve seen plenty of times before. Remember, this was originally released in 1994, when storytelling wasn’t as developed in games as they are today. However, what makes System Shock special is the attention to detailed placed in the enviromental storytelling. Log files are used to flesh out the world with these character stories being told over the course of the game.

Much of the effort in this remake has been put into making the game feel more modern, with a control scheme that feels much more natural. If you’ve played any PC shooter in the past decade you pretty much know what to expect. However, it does still have a distinctive feel. The UI all plays in real-time, overlaying the game’s world as you interact with it. There’s also multiple difficulty levels that really let you tweak the experience to your liking.

Citadel Station is a sprawling space station with tons of environments scattered throughout. Each floor is massive maze with tons of rooms and secret paths to explore. It can easy to get lost even with the in-game map. And I love it. Thankfully you can also put pins on the map to remember key locations to come back to. And you will be with tons of side rooms, corridors and hidden vents that take you to multiple levels. Backtracking through multiple zones to finally see what is behind a door that was teasing you before. This is also a game that really doesn’t hold your hand much. You get dropped off at the medical bay and let loose. It starts off simple enough but the map becomes much more complex as you progress through the fairly lengthy campaign.

SHODAN’s precence is felt throughout the entirity of Citadel.

This is where the immersive sim elements come into play. System Shock is a non-linear game, and you need to figure out the way to get to your objective. Certain doors will be locked and you need to figure out ways to get through. Sometimes this can be a simple circuit breaker next to them. Or alternative routes, keycards may. Paying attention to the environment is key as audio and text logs will not only just add context to the world but will also provide clues as to how to get into certain rooms. This remake has some of the best level design I’ve seen in years and it’s been an absolute blast exploring these vast locations.

Along the way, SHODAN is doing everything in her power to stop you, utilising her defenses reletnlesly. The zombies and basic guards aren’t too much of a big deal as your basic pistol or melee weapon can deal with them no problem. But you will soon encounter different types of enemies like robots, turrets or armoured guards which will need energy to deal with. To make matters worse for you once you clear an area that doesn’t mean it’s not safe when backtracking. The combat is functional if not already feeling a little bit dated in this remake. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly does the job and is a massively significant upgrade but doesn’t be expecting the deepest combat. System Shock‘s biggest draw is in exploring an incredibly deep enviroment.

The biggest problem, however, is within Cyberspace. Throughout Citadel, you will encounter Cyberspace terminals which can be used to hack into a digital space. This turns the game from a slow crawling exploration game into a bullet-hell first person shooter. I really like the idea and the visually striking appearance in this remake is amazing. However, I feel like these sections were kind of just boring and didn’t add much to the experience.

Cyberspace looks glorious but is unfortunately lacking.

Whilst System Shock isn’t a true horror game, it does have a particular atmosphere to it. Creeping through Citadel Station can be rather slow as you aren’t too sure where to go and what SHODAN is going to through at you next. This is especially true thanks to the limited resouces that keeps you on your toes. There’s always a sense of dread as you open a door and realise you might not be equiped to deal with what is in the room so you back up hoping nobody wil see you. Thankfully you are able to salvage items throughout the game world and buy different ammo types or upgrades to help you survive.

Visually, this is a full remake as well but not quite to the extent as others as well. Keeping the same general art style and retro visuals to it; this remake has a much more unique and defined look compared to other recent remakes. This may be a thing you either love or hate depending on your opinions of the original. And whilst there are some rough areas. Enemies; especially the zombie-like ones kinda look more goofy than scary. Overall I’d say I wasn’t a fan of the design in the opening hours. It felt a little too basic and not hitting the worlds potential. But the more I played the more I got into the visual style here.

Even though I didn’t play the original game there is one thing that everyone will know. SHODAN; the villainous AI that sits at the centre of System Shock‘s story. Her presence throughout the story is felt throughout thanks to the excellent voice work using the original voice actor. It’s an iconic voice that has been preserved here. Elsewhere the sound design is also really good with an incredible synth inspired soundtrack and a tense atmosphere unique to each location.

An iconic death returns.

For those who are huge fans of the original release, I am sure that this will be highly regarded as a fantastic remake. But this is more than that: for those new to the franchise, this is also a great point to step in at. Nightdive’s System Shock remake is one that will appeal to both audiences. The core gameplay mechanics may not the best or most polished, but it’s the world design, atmosphere and engaging plot that make for an experience that is still very much unique, and well worth the gigantic wait.

Graphics: 7.5

This remake’s distinct combination of Retro and Modern aesthetics may not be to everyone’s liking but I personally found it to be quite interesting.

Gameplay: 8.0

Much more accessible than the original game, with some notable quality of life enhancements, but still lacking in some areas.

Sound: 10

SHODAN returns with some pheneomnal voice acting and a stellar soundtrack

Fun Factor: 9.0

As a somewhat newcomer to the System Shock franchise, this has been an absolute treat. Please remake the second one now as well!

Final Verdict: 8.5

System Shock Remake is available now on PC, Xbox and Playstation

Reviewed on PC with an RTX 4070, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. Installed on SSD.

A copy of System Shock Remake was provided by the publisher.