If you are a regular gamer, then you’ll have heard of System Shock at some point. Despite being released three decades ago, System Shock helped to mould and shape the FPS genre into the incredible experience that we all love and cherish today. Having allowed us to create better and progressively more immersive games over the last 30 years, it’s about time that System Shock itself also underwent an upgrade or two. Read on for our System Shock review.
A chance to turn things around
In this remake, the basics are all there: exploration, combat, puzzle-solving and even character customisation. However, this remake also takes all of those elements and improves them vastly when compared to the original.
You assume the role of a nameless hacker, who is caught attempting to hack into classified files aboard a space station. You are then taken to the Citadel Station by guards and presented to the man in charge of everything. Instead of punishing you, he offers you a deal: if you hack into the space station’s artificial intelligence, SHODAN (Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network), he will set you free. Fair enough. As the hacker attempts to access SHODAN, however, he discovers very quickly that she has become self-aware.
As a result, not only has she taken control of most of the space station’s systems, but she is also able to speak with the hacker via telepathy. That’s right – she is literally communicating with him directly from within his mind! With an army of cyborgs and other abominations that SHODAN has created from human crew members, SHODAN is set on killing all humans because she sees them as a threat to her existence. Therefore, it is down to the hacker to try and stop SHODAN before her goal is realised.
From the crisp visuals and great audio to the retro minigame and interesting puzzles, it is immediately clear to see how much work has gone into reimagining System Shock. Although every aspect of the game feels fresh and new, it is clearly identifiable as System Shock. This could be down to the fact that there is plenty of (deliberate) pixelation included within an HD world or the fact that the enemies look “very 90s”, albeit with a facelift.
Customize your experience
The entire menu system is simple yet very clear and provides a decent amount of customisation options. Most notably, the ability to essentially custom-build your experience which is focused around the difficulty. The menu gives you the option to adjust the difficulty of each aspect of the game. Combat, Mission, Cyber and Puzzle all have three available levels to choose from. Level 1 is considered easy, 2 is considered normal and 3 is considered hard. Given the flexibility of this aspect of the game, you can carve out an experience that suits you perfectly on a very granular level.
Combat feels smooth and natural, although I did find it difficult at first to gauge the distance required with the lead pipe to be able to connect with an enemy. I ended up having to stand much closer to enemies than I felt was necessary, although I completely understand why I was forced to do so. If I was able to stand further away, then I could have killed every enemy with the lead pipe without any risk of being hit back in retaliation.
There isn’t much ammunition available in System Shock by design. You are supposed to struggle and find it stressful because that’s what System Shock wants. It wants you to fear SHODAN and causing you to feel stressed about your potential doom is a great way to do it. You will run out of ammo fast and will also feel overwhelmed by enemies in some cases. Not only that, but being unable to escape SHODAN’s voice adds a whole other level of stress on top of things, but in the best possible way.
Hacking into systems is both incredibly complex and so much fun. Not only are there several interfaces to learn from scratch, but there is always the possibility that you will be detected and attacked by enemies mid-hack. Hacks take the form of puzzles and require quick, logical thinking. Some hacks also happen to be essential for progression, so it is vital that you learn how to hack and how to do it well!
You are able to upgrade/progress your character throughout System Shock via a series of cybernetic implants. These are found in the form of small chips (modules) and each one grants you certain abilities and/or powers. Such abilities and powers include increased strength, night vision and even the ability to see enemies through walls! Be cautious, however, because upgrading implants can be very expensive and you will have to manage your resources very carefully!
Exploration is vital in System Shock, because several elements that you will require to progress are scattered throughout the maze-like environments. If anything, the environments can become a little too maze-like and I occasionally found myself feeling angry because I got totally lost. In real life, I have difficulty navigating to places and I also struggle to read maps. As such, being left wandering aimlessly around certain areas which looked identical to almost all other areas did unfortunately break my immersion numerous times. Nevertheless, this tends to work in System Shock’s favour. Because the environments are all unfamiliar, almost identical copies of one another, you tend to feel vulnerable as you try to find your way out. This in turn creates a great amount of atmosphere because that vulnerability only intensifies the more time you spend trying to free yourself.
A solo experience
System Shock is designed to be played solo. As such, there is no multiplayer option which is a shame as I expect that it would have been fun to explore this hellish environment with others.
Given the number of settings available (and how many corridors there are to explore) there is indeed some replay value in System Shock. However, the game is relatively linear in design and there isn’t much in the way of player choice. Therefore, those who wish to extract more from the story will probably struggle to do so and most likely won’t play again after their initial play through.
I love the graphics in System Shock. Is it because they are perfectly crisp, high-resolution graphics where you can see every bead of sweat caught in the fine hairs on your character’s arms? No. If anything, the graphics are sometimes pixelated and it’s hard to make details out…but this is a good thing! The deliberate pixelation and unclear visual details are a clear nod to the original from 30 years earlier. On one hand, it makes no sense to keep a game’s graphics set to anything below the very best quality. On the other hand, the gentle combination of new and old is balanced absolutely perfectly. As such, this adds to the overall atmosphere and enhances the fact that this is indeed a remake of a classic that wants to remain loyal to the original wherever possible.
The remake of System Shock is a very worthy contender for your attention. It has everything, from great gameplay, cool puzzles, incredible visuals and excellent audio. The developers took the best parts of the original, preserved them and then improved and enhanced them according to today’s standards. System Shock does also suffer from linear gameplay, which may deter some people as they aren’t free to explore and proceed at their own leisure.
The only real issue I encountered was the fact that I spent more time getting lost and subsequently trying to figure out where I was than fighting enemies. Despite those things, we are still left with a truly brilliant FPS that has a fresh yet nostalgic feel throughout. Whether you are new to System Shock or a three-decade-long veteran, you will almost certainly get a thrill out of this as it is a remake that has been done properly!
- SHODAN is both wonderfully written and truly chilling!
- Deliberate pixelation in an otherwise high definition world is a great touch.
- Cool puzzles that really make you think.
- Constant action keeps you engaged.
- Interesting (although slightly clichéd) story.
- Levels are so maze-like that you often struggle to get your bearings.
- Linear gameplay.
- Short campaign.
System Shock is currently available through GeForce Now. This review was made by Mus from PapaBear Gaming. You can check out his channel right here. You can follow him on Twitter by going here. That was it for our System Shock review.