Alright, so you’ve seen the title of this video. You probably know what to expect. But before you start roasting me in the comments about this remake of an almost 30-year-old classic, hear me out. The System Shock Remake is okay, but its translation into the modern gaming scene doesn’t quite measure up. According to the official website, this version is designed to be a “faithful reboot” which has taken the guidance of the original developers while also “understanding what they would do differently and keep the same”. However, even if the action is a lot faster and fluid now, it still leaves the formula feeling pretty dated.
Glitch in the Shell
For starters, the enemy AI is… inconsistent, to say the least. Yes, they act as you’d expect on most occasions. They’re appropriately aggressive and will kick you to the curb if you’re not careful. But sometimes, they’re downright busted. A few kept walking into a wall, while others flat-out blew themselves up. Altogether, most encounters can be boiled down to peeking around a corner and shooting down a bunch of gathered enemies, or casually circling around a target and giving them a good thwack or two before they eventually drop dead. These tactics can break an enemy’s brain way more often than you’d think.
Another thing that gets super frustrating is inventory management. I can’t count the number of times I’d have to stop, sort and scrap the mountains of loot this game loves to litter around the joint, then physically place the remaining items in the most awkward loot-to-credit converters known to mankind. Not only do you have to get right up in their grill, but these machines require players to deposit items at a downward-facing angle, otherwise the loot won’t be placed inside or they’ll simply fall onto the floor like a pack of bricks. Doesn’t help that the user interface options are too small to interact with and are very awkward to navigate on a gamepad. Plus, you can’t change the size or layout of these menus either. The devs should definitely have taken some notes from Resident Evil here…
What does work well are the power-ups that give The Hacker (our main protagonist) an edge over the various enemy types of System Shock. Alongside the unlockable energy shields and UI upgrades, the Stamina buff grants players extra defence for more intense firefights, whereas the Reflex item slows down time for players to easily pick off foes. These power-ups can turn the tide of battle, but they also induce several detrimental effects like visual hallucinations, colour distortions, inverted controls or camera wobble if The Hacker has slugged a cheeky bottle of wine or two. It’s a cool system to keep things in check, as it helps to balance out these perks and better immerse players into the protagonist’s shoes.
Speaking of balance, each weapon found along the way is usually stronger against either mutants or machines and they also feature alternate fire modes to adapt to virtually any situation. Four weapons, three explosives and three items can be equipped at once. And it’s super easy, barely an inconvenience to cycle between them, even on a controller. My only issue with the weapons and shooting here is feedback. While it can feel satisfying to pop a head off or smash a robot into the Shadow Realm, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge whether a shot has impacted certain enemies or if an explosive is actually affecting it’s target. Visual information is muy importante people.
A similar problem lies with System Shock’s interactive elements too. Since the game has opted for a futuristic, cyberpunk space setting, there are green buttons and technological thingamajigs scattered about for days. This makes finding particular objects much more challenging than it really needs to be. For example, key items like access cards are the teensiest tiniest little specks and barely stand out from the rest of the random debris. In addition, it can also be quite confusing to know what you can physically interact with in general. Even though there’s an unlockable ability to help with this, it usually leads to a fair amount of mindless scavenger hunting until something clicks.
That being said, exploring Citadel Station’s labyrinthine passageways does reward players with a variety of different weapons, mod kits and background exposition that help to further flesh out the lore of System Shock. The map is pretty straightforward to read as well and it can even be scrolled through on the move if your fingers have high enough dexterity stats. Throughout the game, as the rogue AI SHODAN (once again voiced by original actor, Terri Brosius) can summon all sorts of foes to give The Hacker grief, players can shoot down security cameras to help diminish the threat level of each sector. The more they’re destroyed, the more the enemy spawn rate will be reduced, acting as another clever example of immersion. Their destruction’s also required to open up mandatory doors, but they’re not too tricky to find as they make a distinct sound whenever our silent protag passes by.
A Futuristic Box of Chocolates
To supplement this, the System Shock Remake contains a decent amount of enjoyable puzzles and platforming sections that have expanded upon the original 1994 release. Solving number combination locks, balancing power grids, tinkering with gravity lifts, jumping across gaps with super speedy shoes—there’s some good content here. Even if it can be a bit unclear about where to move, as well as the fact that certain scenarios feel like they’re solely designed to just go “Stuff you. You’re gonna take damage now. Deal with it.” At specific points however, The Hacker also has to jack into cyberspace and go all arcade shoot ‘em up style on SHODAN’s little minions. This mode doesn’t contain too much depth, other than advancing through a connection of tunnels and winding corridors with full 360° movement, but it’s a fun little distraction that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
One thing that did grind my gears was that there’s no sprint toggle option for controllers. Even though the gamepad layout could be customised, it just refused to change on my end. And since the default sprint command is to hold and click in the left stick, let’s just say my thumb was on fire, especially during tough boss fights. I also had to keep reentering my display and control settings every time I booted up a new gameplay session for some unknown reason. Hopefully, these kinks will get patched up sooner, rather than later.
The graphics themselves are obviously a huge upgrade over the original, but don’t expect anything spectacular. Examine anything up close and the illusion of decent visuals will be shattered into a thousand pixelated pieces. What happened here? Because I honestly do not know. Thankfully, the game supports 4K resolution and NVIDIA DLSS on PC, running silky smooth with only noticeable dips for a second or two at a few major checkpoints. It’s also really cool how players can set the difficulty for different parts of the game when starting a new save file. Categorised into Combat, Missions, Puzzle and Cypher on a scale of 1-3, these numbers adjust the encounter rate, damage dealt, enemy numbers, and puzzle complexity, or even add a 5-hour time limit—if you’re a speedrunner or masochist—acting as a great way of tailoring the experience to a player’s individual tastes.
All things considered, the System Shock Remake is a bit of a tough sell. Fans of the original will no doubt be curious to see how this version has turned out. Though for the neutral crowd, it may leave them wanting. The action flows a lot more than the original, but then again, the gunplay does lack a certain finesse, being littered with stupid AI behaviour and a lack of clear visual impact at times. While it can be fun thwarting SHODAN and exploring Citadel Station’s labyrinthine levels to piece together the story and find handy equipment, it can also be quite confusing to know where to go and find the correct key items to progress. There’s definitely some fun to be had in System Shock Remake, albeit you can’t help but feel that other modern titles have made better iterations of this formula before.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on PC
The System Shock remake feels dated in 2023. Even though the gunplay has been modernised to today’s standards, it still lacks the polish and pzazz of contemporary first-person shooters and action-adventure titles. The system requirements for the PC version are pretty forgiving however, but it surely won’t be winning any awards in the visuals department. Maybe try and thwart SHODAN and her lackeys when the game’s on special.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by PLAION. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.