Back in the year 1994, a game so revolutionary and genre defining released for PC that gamers for decades after would hold this game up as what the genre in the future should continue to strive for. There was a sequel that released in 1999 that was received fairly well, but just didn’t have the same excitement around it as the original did. The game I am talking about is System Shock, developed way back when, 29 years ago to be exact, by the long defunct Looking Glass Technologies. Now, in the hands of a new caretaker, Nightdive Studios, the game has been rebuilt from the ground up in the Unreal 4 engine to appeal to a more refined and discerning FPS audience.
As the story goes, System Shock is a sci-fi horror FPS that takes place in a cyberpunk vision of the year 2072 aboard a rogue AI-besieged space station. The player takes on the role of an unnamed security hacker and endeavors to hinder the plans of the AI bent on the decimation of the human populace, the malevolent artificial intelligence called Shodan. This is an almost 30 year old game so I suspect most of you dear readers who like to play FPS’ has probably heard of it. No Spoiler Alerts necessary. While the developers from Nightdive Studios stuck as close to the original game as possible, they were able to acquire assets that were created for the original game when it was under development that they were able to add into the rebuild to facilitate an experience that made a little more sense, as far as the story was concerned. Gameplay was also tweaked for a more polished experience to appeal to a more modern audience.
Playing on the Steam Deck was an experience that left a few things to be desired, but was still a very enjoyable experience. I’ve never played the original because back in the day, console gaming was how I liked to experience my games. I just found fiddling with PCs at that time to not be worth the hassle. I’d rather spend my time playing games and not trying to get said games to run on my crappy PC. Nevertheless, the game itself ran very smoothly on Steam Deck and I didn’t have any issues with playing in the least bit.
Gameplay in System Shock is as you would expect in a First-person Shooter, however it’s a little more challenging than your average FPS. It’s not as challenging as a Dark Souls, mind, but you definitely need to have your head on a swivel if you want to get far. You must make your way through corridors and across large rooms among other environs as you fight to end Shodan’s reign and restore peace to the station. There are a wide range of weapon types to chose from with enough of a variety to keep you engaged and the environmental puzzles were fairly challenging but not impossible. What impressed me here was how smoothly movement was and the fact that the Steam Deck screen is able to give an adequate view of the path that is laid out before you.
The visuals in the game are nothing short of brilliant and look amazing which helps to bring a touch of realism to the environments. Metal surfaces have scratches and scuffs and glint slightly in the overhead fluorescent lighting. Bright display lights flicker and blink on panels giving the sense that something important took place there. Nightdive was able to make this game shine like a new car at the dealership and the hard work of six years of development definitely shows.
When System Shock originally released, there was no voice over at all. The story simply played out in continuous text blocks, but it wouldn’t be long before a patch was offered that included new voice over that was welcomed with open arms by the community. For this latest outing, Nightdive has re-recorded all of the spoken dialogue and it even has the original voice actor of Shodan. Also, the studio added lines that were cut from the original game in order to give the story more impact and play a larger role in how the game is remembered against those that have come before it. Even the original soundtrack was reworked so that it added just the right horror ambience while trying not to stray too far from what fans of the series would remember of the original.
If you have the time, check out this article on PC Gamer.com written by Rick Lane. It is an interview with Stephen Kick, co-founder of Nightdive Studios and co-director on System Shock that discusses the approach that they took to rebuilding the game as well as the things that they wanted to keep in mind as development took place. It is a great article that gives an amazing insight into what that team went through in order to create a game that fans would appreciate as well as one that would do the franchise proud.
At this point in time, System Shock is only in a “Playable” state on the Steam Deck meaning that for the most part, the game runs fine and can be played without any major issues popping up. However, the in-game text is very small and is difficult to read. In addition, the display resolution doesn’t set automatically and may have to be set manually. If you can overlook these two minor issues, you should have a great time playing this game. I’m sure that in time, these two issues will be resolved by STEAM and/or Nightdive and will make for an even more enjoyable experience.
Overall, I had a very fun time taking this trip back to the early nineties. I have been hearing people praise System Shock for nearly thirty years and being able to experience this updated rebuild was a welcomed event. The amalgamation of tech, horror and sci-fi takes a special understanding of the three individually in order to craft an experience that does all three justice. The creators of this game figured it all out back then and it still holds up to this day, with a little help from their friends at Nightdive. With all of the amazing games that have released this year and are still yet to be released this year, System Shock should definitely be on your list of must play titles of ’23.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Welcome Back to Citadel Station…. Hacker.
+ Visuals are amazing.
+ Gameplay is buttery smooth and responsive
+The soundtrack is one of the best this year
– Difficulty ramps up right from the start which may prove frustrating for some.
– This is a niche game for a niche audience.