System Shock Remake Review – Perfectly Nineties Combat Boots And All
Developed by Nightdive Studios
Published by Prime Matter
Available on PC
With Remakes being a more common occurrence in the gaming world, especially in horror, with recent additions like Resident Evil 4 Remake and Demon Souls, it’s hard not to look at the standards those have set. Not only in terms of graphical fidelity but how they took games that were starting to show their age in terms of playability and modernized them for a current audience. But if you look at the stellar Resident Evil Remakes, they also cleaned up their storylines a little more and evolved how we look at Resident Evil games and just how good they feel to play. Granted, those remakes have had some time as a franchise to grow and evolve their process. But no matter how long you have had to fine-tune your experience with other games when you hear a remake is coming out for a beloved horror game, it is hard not to hold it against other great examples, especially since we seem to be in the renaissance of horror remakes.
So when the System Shock Remake was announced in 2015, it was the first significant horror remake to be announced since the Resident Evil 2 remake announcement was still three years away. Ultimately met with multiple delays, being put on hold at one point, vanishing completely for a year or two, then being reintroduced only to be met with another delay late in 2021 to 2022 and one more delay until the game’s final release on May 30th, 2023. Clearly, there were lots of issues trying to remake this classic horror first-person shooter. But over the course of the eight years, we have seen multiple horror titles redefine the genre and remakes outclass their original releases.
The story of System Shock sees us playing as a hacker who, while data mining into some files for the Citadel Station, gets caught and ultimately strikes a deal to hack into the AI known as S.H.O.D.A.N (Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network). Unfortunately, things go wrong, and the AI mutates the crew and security systems on board to turn into these monstrous zombie-like beings, and it is up to our hacker to not only stop SHODAN but escape the space station alive. For the most part, the story is quite good, but it is definitely more of an exploration game. Not given any sort of markers, all your directions will come from audio logs and data points. It can be quite a task, especially if you step away from it for a day, hoping to come right back into it. But it is this style of gameplay that really envelopes you in the world. As you feel like you are this hacker, you need to use your wits to survive and to progress through the world. It has been a while since I have had to play a game with a notebook jotting down notes, but damn, does it help while exploring.
The combat, explorations, scavenging items, and frustrations in it are another story. I found myself getting quickly swarmed and just scraping by. While I feel like this is by design, there is a certain level of frustration that came from being shot across a hallway when I could barely get a bead on the enemies. While sometimes exploring, I would come to multiple locked doors needing a passcode, unable to find one no matter how hard I looked, only to be met with a hacking game it took me way too long to understand. That underlines the issue of its bare minimum approach to a tutorial, as there isn’t really one to explain these systems all that well. While this is okay for veterans of the series, this will be the intro point for someone, and unless they are willing to put the time in to butt up against these mechanics and systems, they may bounce off of System Shock.
The one thing System Shock really struck me with is how its art style mixes the old and the new. With its smooth, realistic adjacent textures mixing with a color pallet ripped straight out of 1994, it weirdly did a really good job of making me feel like how I remembered System Shock 1 looking and playing back in 1994, but in 2023, that and the sound design is really on point. SHODAN, the space station, and the creatures that inhabit it all make these incredible horrific sounds that make every corner I take in the station feel like I am about to walk into a horrible scene of torture and despair.
Ultimately, System Shock Remake does some things really well, but it also has a lot of qualities that feel like they should have been left in 1994. While that is not a bad thing, there is a time and place for old-school FPS games. I just think the almost development hell this game went through while we got game-changing remake after game-changing remake set the expectations for what a remake should be a little too high for Night Dive Studios.