System Shock wallpaper
June 26, 2024

The battle against AI reignites 30 years later in this remake of a FPS puzzle classic on a far away space station! Find out more in our System Shock Review.

Welcome to the late 21st century, where AI runs rampant and big corporations are taking over the world via cyberspace. This is System Shock, a faithful remake by Nightdive Studios of a FPS classic that has been the inspiration for many other games. Created way back in 1994 by Looking Glass Technologies for PC, this was an instant classic that has its own cult following to this day.

System Shock gameplay enemy and pipe

Time to smash some mutants in the face with a pipe!

It even spawned a sequel and the Bioshock series is well known as a spiritual successor. Now, 30 years later, we are shoved back onto Citadel Station against the murderous AI known as SHODAN. However, will this remake live up to the originals’ place in gaming history? Or has it been hacked to pieces? Find out in our System Shock review!

System Shock Review – Story

Speeding through a bustling futuristic metropolis, System Shock sets the scene perfectly as it introduces the player through the eyes of a futuristic drone. It spies on a figure in a high tower which becomes the playable character. You are a nameless hacker that gets caught trying to hack into the mega corp, TriOptimum, to discover the secrets of a new implant developed on a research space station called Citadel Station.

System Shock review cutscene

The future is neon lights and depressing weather.

The next thing you know you are face to face with the CEO, Edward Diego who requires your hacking abilities in order to release the ethical restraints of the AI that controls the Citadel, SHODAN. You realise you are now on board the space station you were trying to find information on, so with no escape, you reluctantly help Edward, leading to disastrous consequences.

System Shock Edward Diego

This won’t end well…

From here on out, you’re on your own, as SHODAN has taken over Citadel Station and either killed, mutated or transformed everyone into cyborgs. By the time you reach the final two levels, the nasty difficultly spike comes as no surprise since you have prepared the whole game for the final confrontation against the psychopathic AI. Using all your skills and equipment you have picked up along your journey, you will be ready to stop SHODAN by destroying it, before the rogue AI reaches Earth and enslaves humanity.

System Shock gameplay space

In space, nobody can hear your laser gun (cause they are all dead).

System Shock Review – Gameplay

System Shock is essentially a First Person Shooter with some small puzzles to get you through doors and unlocking objectives. However, the way that the story is presented to the player is in fact one big giant puzzle, much like similar games released back in the 90s. If caught unawares by this and are used to a lot of hand holding, then this may take a lot of gamers by surprise.

System Shock gameplay gun

An entry point to the Cyberspace puzzle.

There are no way points, no quest log and nobody in your ear telling you where to go. You rely solely on what you find in the space station, from weapons, upgrades to emails and voice memos giving you hints on what your next mission is. A lot of backtracking is required as objectives send you back the way you came with codes found later on, which must be written down otherwise you risk forgetting the numbers altogether.

System Shock gameplay puzzle

These maze like puzzles requires you to get the circuit to line up, harder than it looks!

This is also in part a survival game, where you must conserve ammo, manage your inventory and be wary of enemies lurking around every corner. You awaken in the lowest part of the space station with nothing and must find all the equipment you’ll need to advance. As you go, there are a lot of helpful items, aside from weapons, like hover boots and environmental suits that shield you from radiated areas.

System Shock gameplay inventory

So many weapons, so little inventory space…

There is also a rather extensive map for you to explore and over 10 levels of the station to access. Of course some of these are locked behind objectives or ID Cards that also require being located. Aside from that, the core gameplay is relatively simple, with running, crouching and shooting as per your standard FPS. However, unlike other shooter games, you must be more strategic in your take downs of enemies, as they do decent damage and most can kill you in several hits. Your counter to this is the ability to lean around corners or objects, by standing on the spot your character can lean left or right, to engage in firefights against laser shooting robots.

System Shock gameplay map

Everywhere you go is slowly uncovered by the map on each level.

System Shock is from a different era of gaming and playing on the regular difficulty here has its challenges, almost akin to Dark Souls but from 1994. A slight change to this formula has been added for more accessibility for those players who want to experience this classic with a modern feel. If you set the initial difficulty all to 1, you’ll receive way points, easier enemies and simpler puzzles, making this tough as nails game available to most skill levels.

System Shock new game settings

All self explanatory except “Mission” on 1, it gives you way points and more hints!

System Shock Review – Graphics

Have you ever had a memory of an old game you played when young? Then replaying it years later only to realise it doesn’t look like how you thought it did. Somehow, Nightdive Studios has used the Unreal Engine 4 and graphical talent to make System Shock look like that memory. By combining new elements like superior textures and lighting to old style art with slightly updated design has had exceptional results.

System Shock gameplay lifepods

Too bad you can’t fly around in space, maybe in the rumoured System Shock 3?

Everything looks sparkly brand new on the surface but whenever you approach anything too closely it converts back to the pixelated look of the 90s. Despite the updated visuals, some areas do have an abundance of glowing lights that can make the screen look like a blur. Later levels that have less luminosity and are much easier to find your way around, plus avoiding potentially severe eye damage is always a positive.

System Shock gameplay cyberspace

This is the cyberspace combat puzzles, where you shoot data at viruses. Yes it looks like this the whole time…

System Shock Review – Audio

The game’s score is quite minimal with only the beeps and squeaks of technology filling the tense silence. This changes when you enter combat with fast paced techno beats adding to heighten your battle senses. However, the game doesn’t seem to know exactly when this combat music should be played. In drawn out battles, it’s fine but when you take a few minutes to eliminate just 1 enemy the absurdly loud techno gets confused and will have you running around searching for another cyborg long after you killed the only one in the room.

System Shock gameplay laser sword

Even the “laser rapier” has the familiar sounds associated with an energy sword!

Sound design goes a lot further than simple combat music though as enemies can hear your approach if you don’t crouch. Similarly, this can be used in your favour as each enemy makes different noises whilst patrolling their designated area. Mutants grunt and moan, whilst robots and cyborgs repeatedly let out verbal confirmations that their sectors are clear. This makes it easier to sneak up and take them out before you receive too much damage.

System Shock gameplay shotgun

Who said AI can’t have nice things?

System Shock Review – What Else?

If traversing the humongous space station and taking on SHODAN isn’t enough for you then feel free to try and find all audio logs, upgrades, weapons and destroy all surveillance cameras. These, along with some newly added sneaky Nightdive Skulls (named Skully of course) hidden in each level, are the collectibles for the game.

System Shock gameplay collectable

Found a Skully, the Nightdive Studio logo!

Trophy/Achievement hunters will have their hands full as they will be required to find all the previously mentioned collectibles and finish the game on the hardest mode. A taxing and time demanding undertaking for only the most committed and hardened players, who ironically most likely played the original in 1994. Aside from the above there aren’t any side quests to speak of, although the 20+ hours felt like more than enough to keep you fully occupied. There are some cool new additions in this remake like an audio log featuring a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 easter egg.

System Shock gameplay grove

The Groves had a lovely glow of sunshine coupled with horrific mutant enemies.

System Shock Review – Conclusion

A true 90s classic has been brought back to life by Nightdive Studios in amazingly difficult precision. Although released last year on PC, console players now have access to this intricate revival. Whilst definitely not a game for everyone, System Shock fully deserves this remake treatment despite its 30 year old flaws. The satisfaction of figuring out the demanding puzzles and punishing boss battles are reminiscent of a Soulsborne game, making the trek through this hazardous space station more than worthwhile.

System Shock death screen

Can you beat SHODAN before it beats you?

So, why should you play System Shock?

  • A faithful and brilliant looking remake
  • 3 Different difficulty settings for all
  • A worthwhile challenging experience

But why shouldn’t you play System Shock?

  • Classic game design isn’t for everyone
  • Music doesn’t match in combat sections on occasion
  • Nothing to do except the main objectives

A review code was kindly provided by Nightdive Studios and for the purpose of our System Shock review.  You can check out our latest reviews here and if you haven’t already, be sure to join the Qualbert Discord to find out about the latest game and review updates!

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