In an era when the first generation of shooter games focused primarily on action, “System Shock” dared something new. Developer Looking Glass used the first person perspective and told an exciting and above all intelligent science fiction adventure. In particular, the “Enhanced Edition” released for PC in 1994 came up trumps in terms of storytelling and integrated extensive voice output in the CD-ROM version, which gave the dark action game even more narrative depth.
Developer Night Dive Studios brings back the classic “System Shock”. The new edition is a remake, not a reboot. So the team sticks comparatively closely to the template, but still adapts the gameplay and technology to the modern hardware.
After a long, sometimes bumpy development supported by crowdfunding, the project is now slowly approaching completion. “System Shock” is scheduled for release in March 2023 for PS4 and PS5, among others. As part of the Steam Next Fest, Night Dive Studios released a new beta demo that already allows a number of conclusions to be drawn about the finished game!
The beta demo begins with a pan across a futuristic-looking city reminiscent of “Blade Runner” or “Cyberpunk 2077”. In the background we hear the news about the developments of the mega-corporation Trioptimum. A short time later we slip into the skin of the main character, later known as the hacker.
We trudge through his apartment and are allowed to play around with his electric guitar or turn the shower on and off. If we have enough of that, we clamp ourselves behind the computer and get access to the Trioptimum server. A few moments later, armed special units appear and arrest the hacker. The last thing we see is a rifle butt as it slams into the bridge of our nose.
Awakening from a faint, we stare at the hologram of Edward Diego, head of Trioptimum and Vice President of the Citadel Space Station. He’s forcing us to manipulate the KI SHODAN ruling there… before sending us to the cursed station himself.
The premise behind “System Shock” is initially very simple: you wake up as a hacker on the Citadel Station. SHODAN went berserk and turned some of the crew into cyborgs, while others became guinea pigs and roam the aisles as zombies. The rest were brutally massacred.
In the original, this entry was still shown as a pixelated render film. In the remake, the scenes are interactive, which – despite the less spectacular staging – benefits the atmosphere. You then wake up in your healing chamber and first have to find out what happened on the Citadel.
More than just a shooter
“System Shock” combines elements of different genres. It’s primarily a first-person action game, although you’ll also find minor stealth and puzzle elements in it. In addition, you have to enter cyberspace again and again, for example to open doors or clear other obstacles out of the way.
Shortly after the start, however, you are initially completely clueless and must first find your way around in the new environment. The Citadel consists of six levels connected by elevators. You start at the infirmary, but later you also get to the hangar or the quarters. Night Dive Studios cleverly blends modernity and nostalgia in depicting the areas.
Of course, the technology is spiced up significantly. However, the closer you get to walls, objects and switches, the more the old, pixelated textures shine through. However, this is done with a great deal of sensitivity, so that the new “System Shock” does not sink into dreariness, but comes across as pleasantly retro-loving. Other allusions can already be found in the demo: After we’ve had a berserker boost to increase our melee attacks, the old bitmap zombies of the original suddenly stagger through the corridors in front of us as visions.
Night Dive Studios is also modernizing parts of the station itself. Right at the beginning, for example, we discover a hidden, half-height entrance that we have to slip through instead of a ramp. Efforts are therefore being made to bring more variety into the Citadel architecture.
How does System Shock play?
At its core, System Shock remains an action game. Shortly after waking up from the life chamber, you will find the first weapon: an iron bar. You use it to mess with zombies and guard robots. The melee can still be improved. The feedback is not clear enough and there is no option to block or dodge. There is definitely a lack of power here.
The choice of weapons is initially limited to pistols and electric blasters, as well as some types of grenades. “System Shock” does a good job here. Combat is fast-paced and action-packed, although the enemy AI is certainly not outstanding. However, since you are up against cyborgs, mutants and robots, this weak point is certainly negligible.
Particularly important: Even if “System Shock” is not a survival horror, ammunition and storage space in the inventory are scarce. So you have to keep thinking about what you want to take with you and what weapon you want to attack with.
The remake varies the tempo very cleverly: between the firefights, “System Shock” always comes up with switch and wire puzzles, which are poorly explained or not explained at all, but at least take a little of the game’s pace. Similar to “Dead Space” you will discover audio diaries and notes of the former crew again and again and slowly fathom the past events.
It seems as if Night Dive Studios explains the trappings (the so-called lore) in more detail than the original. New are the first vending machines integrated in the second “System Shock” for selling scrap and duplicate items. You invest the coins you earn in vending machines in inventory expansions.
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The aforementioned cyberspace plays a special role. At key points you move through this 3D world and put yourself there “on the fly” with security programs and other opponents. Even if the remake does without the wireframe look of the original, the technical implementation fits the original very well.
Night Dive Studios tries the balancing act in the “System Shock” remake and wants to make both connoisseurs of the original and newcomers happy. Anyone who still has the game from 1994 in mind will appreciate the countless allusions and the proximity to the classic.
The new edition picks up the game depth and atmosphere very skilfully and in terms of mood it is almost reminiscent of “Dead Space”. But we don’t want to set our expectations of “System Shock” very high. Because as much as Night Dive Studios delights in nostalgia, staying true to the original also brings problems. The pixel optics and the representation of the character models are just as much a matter of taste as the previously poor hit feedback. The new “System Shock” may not quite reach the mass market, but it will at least make the older generation of gamers happy.
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