Nightdive’s remake of 1994’s System Shock hasn’t had the best development, first having some money issues in Kickstarter a while back, then having to reboot with twenty-twenty-something release dates thrown out there more more like hopeful concepts than assurances. .
After going hands-on with a short 20-minute demo of the game at this year’s Gamescom, I can confirm that the remake is real and looks faithful to the original, despite some heavy repairs in the upgrade station. For nostalgic fans, it should be an interesting return to cyberspace, but I’m not sure if it will land as well for newcomers looking for a Shodan showdown.
The demo started right at the start of the game and immediately featured one of Nightdive’s modern paint jobs. In the original you’d have a cutscene of your main character (simply referred to as “the hacker”) working in their block, but in the remake the developers turned it into a playable intro where you can actually walk around and enjoy the atmosphere. It may just be a quick poke around your digs, but it’s a good step towards making an iconic addictive sim even more addictive without compromising the integrity of the original.
I later found myself in a claustrophobic space station populated by rotund robots, corpses and sad aliens. As a newcomer to System Shock, it felt like a strong start as I pressed the green buttons to open sliding doors and tossed crunchy packets into the inventory to escape the oppression. The atmosphere was perfect, it was all the hiss of broken cables and the sound of your footsteps on cold iron grates. The color palette is full of neons and CRT greens, with pixelated blocks when you inspect things up close. It really captures the feeling of being trapped in the bowels of a ship controlled by a disjointed AI, and makes sure it shows too.
Later in my door-opening saga, I encountered one that required a keycode, so I circled the same few rooms endlessly until I found the ticket containing said keycode and disappeared into the depths of my inventory. After a bit of a struggle, I found the right section of my inventory to then look up the key code, went up to the door, and then manually entered the numbers (manual entries are the bread and butter of immersive sim). Voila! Only it was an absolute attempt that perhaps captured some of the subtleties of the original. Where it might control as a modern game and mostly present itself as a 21st century production, it struggles with some elements of its past that might not bother veterans, but might to bother beginners.
After a battle drop where I hit some aliens and some robots with a steel pipe, I felt the same push and pull of the new and the old. Where the controls and animations are beautifully executed and 100% more intuitive than you’d expect, there’s also a slight weightlessness to your defense. The quick whiffs of my barrel didn’t elicit much of a reaction from the enemy, nor was it easy to tell if I had really locked onto my target. Sure, this could be polished later, but it makes you wonder if the original’s combat should have been kept a little less precise.
The last part of the demo was spent in cyberspace after I stuck my arm in a special socket in the wall. Things steamrolled along as I piloted a small spaceship through a set of colorful corridors, lobbing rockets at rival ships and scooping up health pickups. It was fun, albeit confusing and without any real context. What was the ultimate goal? What would I get? How do I get out of this mini-game? Again, probably very fun and intuitive for returning fans, but okay if a little irritating for someone like me who is new to everything.
Undoubtedly, though, the game had the magnetic pull of the best immersive sims. No matter how frustrated I was with some of its more obvious antics, I was totally sold on the world of System Shock. I was there examining little tokens on the floor or reading the audio logs and enjoying the fact that a compass wasn’t responsible for guiding me through absolutely every objective (even if I wanted a helping hand sometimes.)
From what I’ve played of the demo, Nightdive’s System Shock remake seems to capture a lot of what people loved about the original, and should thank the old guard. But in making a faithful remake, where they have to be so careful to invoke the rage of veterans, I wonder if some aspects of the game never had a chance to be reborn for good, instead looking for safe options that can become a the unwelcome right for those new to a classic.
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