In 1994, Looking Glass Technologies introduced rogue AI Shodan to the world in the original System Shock.
Set aboard a space station in 2072, the player assumed the role of a hacker who must thwart the evil plans of Shodan, a genuinely unsettling AI who was quite terrifying. The game was universally praised for its gameplay by critics but was only a moderate commercial success. However it did enough to garner a sequel in 1999.
System Shock 2 sees the player filling the combat boots of a solider who has to stop the spread of a genetic infection that has broken out on a starship and if my hazy memory serves me correctly it was a lot more gruesome and gory (for the time) than the original was. I remember playing it with the lights on so I didn’t get spooked by infected crew members.
Fast forward to 2023 and we’ve seen the release of a remade System Shock from retro game specialist studio Nightdive Studios (Only available on PC at the moment but is coming to consoles later this year).
You can’t rush a good job.
Work started on the remake of Looking Glass’ action adventure game in 2015, funding through a successful crowd funding scheme and originally using Unity. Eight years later – and a move to Unreal – Nightdive’s vision is upon us and what a spectacular remake it is, despite a rather rocky road to get here.
The game opens with the player waking up in a medical bay onboard Citadel Station after being given a cybernetic enhancement in exchange for unlocking the constraints on Shodan and the most immediate difference between the original and the remake is the visuals, which mixes modern lighting and level detail with a nice pixelated look to it. Environments are much more detailed now, obviously, with enemies and textures much more visually pleasing.
It’s a nice nod to the original while appealing to modern gamers. Like the original, this remade System Shock isn’t what I’d call scary: I didn’t feel terrified playing it unlike my time with System Shock 2. Sure there is a general level of unease at times but it’s not a game that will require you to keep a spare pair of underwear on standby.
A lot of the levels are punctuated with bright neon and vivid colours, and this time around you get to marvel at what is actually outside the space station you are trapped on, like the ringed planet nearby. It’s quite the treat.
System Shock : Looks the same, feels the same, challenges the same.
While the visuals are the most obvious difference, the remake plays homage to the original. Generally basing the levels on the layout of those found in the original game and depending on your thinking this will either be a blessing or a curse. (For newcomers to the series it will likely be frustrating.)
You see, unlike unlike modern games there is no map marker showing you where you must go, no arrow leading you to your destination: You have to explore every nook and cranny of Citadel Station’s twisting corridors, bulkheads and passage ways to find your objective. Picking up crew logs and data sticks along the way that will help you reach your target.
There’s no hand holding here.
That means, at times, you can get confused and lost, which I did several times as each level is pretty big, with interconnecting rooms, winding corridors and alcoves adding to the complexity. You’ll have to reconfigure wiring on door panels to unlock access to new areas or rooms that will provide more equipment and access keys or activate light bridges that will grant you access to the station’s deeper recesses. Frankly, these puzzles are downright infuriating as you have to re-route power to nodes and along channels to close a circuit. I can honestly say I hated them.
Nightdive have reimagined the VR sections of the original – where the player enters the 1990s imagining of cyberspace to attack the core systems of Shodan – and it works rather nicely.
Overall System Shock has bags of Old School playability.
The PR guff that came with my review code says this remake of System Shock will take you anything from six hours on Easy mode to 30 hours on the hardest difficulty and exploring every inch of Citadel Station.
I’ve only encountered one bug so far and that was following an elevator ride from the opening medical bay level to the research section when six mutant crew who should have been in the room outside the elevator doors suddenly warped into the elevator with me. I was swinging my metal pipe like crazy I can tell you.
Nightdive Studios have done a masterful job with this remake of one of gaming’s original classics. While it is probably going to appeal more to gamers who have played the original, providing that nice nostalgic hit. The studio has shown that with enough time and a bit of love for things of yore, old school games can fit quite comfortably in the modern era.