System Shock

Review: System Shock Is A Faithful Remake, For Better Or Worse

System Shock, the 2023 remake of the 1994 cult classic, sets out to recapture the magic of the original game. The immersive sim is considered one of the greatest games of all time, popularizing its gameplay style. Series like Deus Ex and BioShock wouldn’t be the same without System Shock, where exploration and immersion are paramount.

System Shock in 1994 was original and different, while its return in 2023 on PC and now on console has many more contemporaries to deal with. The incredible thing is how modern System Shock can feel despite its age. At the same time, it can be its biggest weakness, as some of its gameplay design can feel frustrating and dated depending on the player.

SHODAN’s Story

System Shock puts you in the shoes of a hacker caught in the middle of working through files belonging to the TriOpimum Corporation. Whisked away to Citadel Station, an executive from TriOpimum makes a proposition: hack SHODAN, the AI system controlling the station, and our nameless hacker gets new neural implants and their freedom. After surgery, the next thing you wake up to is a cursed station, SHODAN going rogue, and the Earth under threat. It’s up to the hacker to work their way across the station, fighting through mutated crew, cyborgs, flamethrowing spiders, and more, to stop SHODAN.

The narrative is one of System Shock‘s most exciting pieces. SHODAN is creepy and chilling, an ever-present threat that feels like it’s watching your every move. Some of the best narratives are in its audio logs and logs. I largely ignored these initially and learned quickly that it was a mistake. They’re well-written and help the player understand what happened while holding clues and answers to locked doors and information.

System Shock Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

System Shock is brutal, almost offputtingly so. While many modern game designs will hold your hand and walk you through tutorials, System Shock does very little to help you understand what it wants you to do. This leads to much learning by doing, which can be frustrating when running circles around a floor to figure out what to do next and where you missed something. The sense of discovery was immense when things finally clicked, but I had to look things up more than a few times, not understanding some of the game’s core systems because they weren’t clear. For some players, the lack of clear goals and understanding of mechanics will sour the experience. For others, it’s precisely what they may be looking for. System Shock lets you loose on a space station constantly at odds with the player, and the player’s enjoyment will entirely depend on their willingness to engage.HlSLAtn

Similarly, combat will keep you on your toes. I was constantly on the brink of death, having to scrounge for whatever bits of health I could find. Using multiple saves was entirely necessary, as figuring out the best way to handle a situation wasn’t always obvious. Sometimes running worked, other times I had to backtrack to try and find something to improve my situation before continuing.

The combat starts simply enough, with only a pipe to whack your way through enemies. Being quick and nimble was entirely necessary in the early hours, bunny hopping around enemies constantly in hopes of avoiding hits while smacking them until they went down. Soon enough, you may find a pistol to help. I missed this initially and had to return to where it lay on the ground. The shooting mechanics are simple but effective. Energy weapons are also present, with the pistol, for example, having an overclocked mode that deals more damage in one shot at the cost of more energy. Finding and remembering where energy stations are is paramount, as they recharge over time. I enjoyed the combat, the frantic feeling of death constantly biting at your heels, making you know what weapons you have, how much ammo you’re carrying, and learning the best way to deal with enemies.

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The Station, A Citadel

Citadel Station is both System Shock’s biggest strength and weakness. It’s lovingly recreated here, with the new HD graphics and art style giving it an almost plastic sheen. It feels like a giant playset in the best way, even in its darkest halls. The sense of discovery and accomplishment is palpable when you’re moving at a good clip and exploring. The excitement of finding new weapons, keycards, or other pathways you may have missed holds up well, but the issues come in when you hit a standstill. I spent a lot of time mindlessly roaming the hallways, just looking for whatever I missed that was preventing my progression. It isn’t always obvious and can lead to frustration quickly. Some rooms have powerful enemies that you labour to take down, only to find nothing of value in the room, feeling like a waste of time and reloading a save to conserve ammo or health. That lack of progression and meandering feeling may take newer players out of the experience, whereas fans of the genre or original may love that feeling. I wish Nightdive Studios had done something here to alleviate pressure, if possible, by adding more to help newer players along the way. While you can select difficulty settings across multiple variables, including combat and mission, initially, these are locked afterwards.

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System Shock also has hacking segments where you take control of a drone in cyberspace. You’ll need to guide it through the environment, shooting at enemies as you go, to reach the end and unlock something on the station. These sections are short and fun, helping to break up exploration with some more focused objectives.

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Verdict

System Shock is the definitive way to play the beloved classic today. The new graphics look great, making the title more accessible today than ever before. The game design will be the ultimate factor for many, as those looking for an experience to entirely get lost in and explore will find a lot to love here. For other players, the same design may feel like a mountain is too high to climb. While I enjoyed what System Shock offers, it also frustrated me entirely at points. Citadel Station is not an easy place to be, but those who push past the walls it puts up will find something special here.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

System Shock
Review: System Shock Is A Faithful Remake, For Better Or Worse
Summary
System Shock is a faithful remake, for better or worse. While returning players or fans of the genre will find much to love, its game design may be too dated for newer players.
Liked
Graphics look great
Combat is fun
Exploration can be rewarding
Didn't Like
Progression stalls can be frustrating
Dated game design
Can be really difficult