System Shock – PS5 Review

I love the original System Shock. Coming in 1994, the expectations and boundaries of a first-person perspective hadn’t really been hammered home. As such, there was a lot of experimentation in how to control and interact within a cyberpunk setting which led to some interesting results. I finished it within the last couple of years and you can where improvements can be made. With hindsight and a long development cycle, System Shock has returned in the form of Nightdive’s remake. It manages to iron out some of the obstacles of decades past whilst remaining faithful to the original vision.

The first obvious changes are in how the story is presented. You play a hacker who’s had their hand caught in the till by the TriOptimum corporation. This action has consequences, the most immediate of which is being ordered by a suit to unleash Shodan’s ethical constraints. She’s the AI for Citadel Station and quickly becomes the villain of the piece. You two will become very acquainted with one another as, after doing the deed, you’re sent off to the station, presumably to die.

What was previously told in a short but memorable intro has now been replaced with something slightly more playable. It’s scene dressing with a fly-through sequence similar to how Prey opens but it does allow the player to settle before being thrown in at the deep end. Once unfrozen, story is handled with audio logs, emails and the occasional interruption from Shodan herself. Voice lines have been recorded with new actors which helps smooth over the amateur delivery from the original. Shodan’s untouched and her looming omnipresence helps really sell the isolation.

It’s got a really good mood to it. You’ve got nothing but zombies and cyborgs for company and the ambience is quiet enough for you to hear them lurking in the shadows. The overpowering soundtrack of the original has been toned down in favour of something more atmospheric and it really works in the game’s favour. The many levels of the station are largely the same layout and it reminds me how intricately designed the locations were. There’s plenty of rooms and vents to scavenge from and it makes discovery all that more interesting.  It feels lived in and logical.

Junk items now have a purpose with the day-to-day litter and accoutrements of scientific study now able to be crunched down into tradeable scrap. Vending machines populate the corridors for extra ammo, dermal patches and upgrades. It still feels very optional but it can ease the burden of having to find these things on site.

Controls are refined, if still very much a mouse interface mapped on to a controller. No longer do you have to precisely tweak an avatar to lean around corners or crouch through vents. Inventory management is fine with a lot less clicking to switch ammo types. The heads up display is similar to the original but replacing some functions with button mappings has made for a cleaner experience. It could still overwhelm some players but I found it to be as convenient as they could make it. I know where to look now but there’s a lot of information conveyed to you and I don’t think the interface is clean or concise.

In combat, it’s close to controlling like a traditional shooter. Lining up head shots is easy but there’s urgency found in moments where manual reloads are required. Fights were never fast in System Shock but being able to do the simplest of shooting frees up more time to think strategically. Frag grenades can clear a room but whatever you hit will just be a mess of body parts you can’t loot, for example.

When it comes to progression, mission markers will pop up on the map if you’ve found the relevant notes or audio logs. To be honest, the information you’re given isn’t ambiguous but it can be convenient to see clear direction of where the next objective is. It can break immersion and I don’t see any option to turn it off. I found it a godsend just to keep the pace going but others might feel different.

Its a lot easier to tell things on sight. Cyborgs are the early threat and their laser eyes can poke through the darkness from a mile away. Invisible virus enemies have telltale shadows that betray their position. It’s nice to have that kind of awareness and still feel threatened. Locked doors will either have an icon implying a security clearance or a circuit box right next to them.

Running through the bowels of the station has been very nostalgic. The pixelated aesthetic is very evocative of the original whilst obviously pushing out more technically astute imagery. Even the font work of the the signage has triggered a response in me and combat has a great tension to it. The cyberspace sections have been updated to include more colour, making it easier to discern where the walls are. It functions as a shooting gallery with six degrees of movement but it’s much easier to read. The hacking segments are entirely new, focusing on completing electrical circuits. The same concept of the original is there but with a more explicit flow of power from one node to the next.

One stumbling block is the way System Shock handles saving. Manual saves are essential with autosaving only happening when entering a floor or exiting Cyberspace. I judiciously saved for fear of being hobbled by a cyborg or flame-throwing mechanical spider. Chambers do open up to allow you a place to respawn upon death but healing stations are scarce. It pays to know where these places are and the map is decently populated with useful info.

System Shock has been well worth the wait. Despite the elongated development, there’s no shortage of polish to this remake. The changes feel considered and it manages to retain the isolated, tense feel of skulking around Citadel Station. There’s some modern assistance on offer but it doesn’t hold your hand with combat being occasionally strategic. I really like how this has turned out. It’s playing on my nostalgia but giving me a version of a classic that I’d much prefer to play.

System Shock
8 Overall
+ Carries a phenomenal atmosphere.
+ Combat feels weighty and tense.
+ Cyberspace sections are now a lot easier to parse.
+ Controls map surprisingly well to a controller.
- Still can feel unforgiving for new players.
- Autosaving is infrequent.
- The UI remains fairly busy.
As someone who really likes the original, this new take on System Shock doesn't stray too far from the source. Nightdive have updated the visuals and made things just a little more friendly for new players. Visually, it's very atmospheric and polished. The interface can initially be tricky to read but combat feels punchy and can be tactical. The conveniences are welcome but it still has one foot in the clunky possibility space of 90's PC gaming. Rather than entirely sand off the things that appeal to me about System Shock, it refines them in a way I really admire.

About Mike

Mike gets all the racing games because he understands that stuff even though he doesn't drive.

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