June 17, 2024
System Shock has returned to show people why it's an important classic, but is it still the bombshell from back then? The Finger Guns review:

Like the omnipresent antagonist of System Shock, SHODAN, the game’s DNA is present across all of modern gaming. Whether it’s the mundane pick-uppable detritus usually labelled ‘junk’, the more innovative storytelling of audio logs, or the era-defining big bad, System Shock birthed the immersive simulator, influencing way beyond the genre, and turning the 3D first-person into the new normal.

Its influence and many spiritual successors meant that System Shock was long overdue for a modern iteration. Three decades since its release and following a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017, developers Nightdive Studios are helming the remake, introducing a new audience to the real big daddy of dark sci-fi FPS. After a successful PC launch last year, it’s the consoles’ turn to jack into the matrix but is this a shocking return to a new platform? Let’s get into it.

Game Over, Man!

The game opens with a swooping shot of a rainy cyberpunk city, showing off the game’s engine and developer as neon signs, very Unreal for Nightdive Studios, setting it off from the first frame that they get what System Shock needs to be. The shot ends with you in your apartment, the year is 2074 and you’re a nameless hacker attempting to tap into TriOptimum Corporation, a megacorp running show. That is until they’re at your doorstep to kidnap you.

You awaken on the Citadel, a ship owned by TriOptimum Corporation run by an AI known as SHODAN. An executive for the corpo bargains with your freedom, and the equipment you were hacking, in return for your cooperation… to remove the AI’s ethical constraints. You wake up in a medical bay and the ship has been ravaged by mutants, cyborgs and evil robots because, you guessed it, SHODAN has taken full control of the Citadel and everyone is either dead or trying to kill you.

The rest of the story happens in-game as you piece together what happened on the ship through written records and audio logs from any victims. Other than that, it’s the blasted SHODAN that varies in how much they show up depending on your difficulty levels, but always hits the story beats during the in-game encounters. SHODAN is a force to be reckoned with.

Not only is their nihilistic contempt for humans so menacing, but the original voice actor’s return to deliver the infamous lines is a reminder of where some of the best villains came from. It’s not just empty threats, however, as the AI can mess with your gameplay too in a myriad of ways.

Jacked In

For better or worse, System Shock is a faithful recreation of the original gameplay. Being an immersive sim, you’re thrown into the Citadel and left to figure out how to progress yourself. From the first-person perspective, your opening moments will be trudging around the abandoned ship just trying to find your bearings, scavenging for items to survive, and reading/listening to documents that always fill out the story, but may contain pertinent information to aid progression.

Much like the original, before you’re thrown in to fight for your life, you can dynamically adjust the difficulty, with sub-sections of Combat, Mission, Cyber and Puzzles, which you can adjust accordingly between 1-4. These do things such as, create checkpoints, show objective waypoints, and spawn fewer enemies, amongst others if you want an easier ride, but the default doesn’t have any of those quality-of-life attributes.

It was a hard adjustment for someone who has been spoon-fed the more conventional methods of help, but it immediately creates a tension that is unrelenting throughout the game. Weapons, ammo, and healing items are scarce across the levels, I was often using the melee weapon you find pretty early on to conserve ammo but that opens you up to vicious attacks from the monsters on board as they can charge or hunt for you depending on the enemy type.

To make matters worse, SHODAN’s presence can immediately throw you through a loop by trapping you, opening hidden doors to reveal a bunch of enemies, or malfunctioning the level’s equipment. You never truly feel safe and with how the levels are laid out, it’s dizzying. Small, winding pathways, hidden vents and locked doors dictate your journey and even with an in-depth map in your HUD and compass, it’s still a real challenge to explore.

Hack-and-Whack

Most of System Shock’s default functions are a refreshing reminder that games used to punish you; no one in the game is going to help you, the objectives are for you to find and the puzzles are left for you to piece together. Results may vary on your patience, I’ve had it multiple times that I’ve lost around 25 minutes of gameplay because of a silly death, and a lot can happen in the next half hour. On easier difficulties, you won’t be so punished but the default is just that punishing – you’ve been warned.

You wouldn’t be the ultimate hacker if you didn’t get to at least hack something and I’m happy to report you do! The hacking minigame is a floaty first-person shooter, like if Resogun was a 3D arena shooter. You take on the system’s anti-viruses by blasting them with shurikens and blowing up the mainframes to lower SHODAN’s power.

It plays fine enough as a first-person flying game but can sometimes get disorienting if you’re not 100% with what’s going on, much like the rest of the game. With that said, it at least breaks up the gameplay to something more shoot ’em up style, juxtaposing the more methodical gameplay outside of cyberspace.

No Free Man

The first-person controls are very slick, movement feels snappy and you can even lean out by pressing L3 and moving left/right. Shooting is responsive, yet weighty but there are a couple of compromises that are seemingly console-related which aren’t perfect. By default crouch is held down by ‘Circle’ so your right hand can’t move the camera with the right analogue stick.

You can also open up your inventory with the touchpad but sifting through it efficiently is near impossible. Moving items onto your quick tab in the HUD or dropping an item still has that PC-centric quality to it. Your quick tab HUD is numbered but you are pressing L1 or R1 to go through each item to choose the one you use, and you can have 10 things at a time.

Obviously, this would be a much sleeker experience with hotkeys if you were playing keyboard and mouse, but System Shock doesn’t completely rely on your fast reactions anyway; it’s finicky but not detrimental. This permeates throughout all aspects of the gameplay too, whether it’s the puzzle solving of rewiring circuit boards, chaotic shootouts and general navigation in menus it’s not quite perfect but the bulk of the moving and shooting is great.

Systems Failure

Nightdive Studios has done a fantastic job bringing the gameplay up to modern standards, even if the console version is not quite as intuitive as I was hoping. It doesn’t stop there though as the visuals are strangely brilliant. System Shock’s visuals have all the shiny sensibilities of modern games, with atmospheric lighting, detailed environments as well as bringing all of the original 2D models to life into fully realised and grotesque enemies.

It wasn’t just a case of inserting modern visuals, however, as Nightdive Studios have ingeniously added these pixelated textures to all of the assets in the game. From afar everything looks modern but if you look closely it looks like a weirdo representation of 90s graphics with all of its pixel-y crunch. I don’t think this style could work anywhere else but it fits perfectly with System Shock’s dark cyberpunk vibes, like a look back into that Y2K edge where technology was verbose and haphazard.

System Shock is an easy recommendation for anyone looking to see just how much it influenced most games in the modern era. This is obviously the new best way to play it and now with it coming to console is the most accessible. The stand-offish sensibilities of its retro-style gameplay didn’t do too much for me personally, but I can recognise how amazing of a representation of the original this is. The quality of life improvements of checkpoints and dynamic difficulty are a big help and SHODAN is an all-timer of a villain. System Shock won’t be for everyone, but it’s undeniable just how much of a classic it is and now more than ever is the time to play it.


System Shock is a classic and Nightdive Studio have not gotten in the way of bringing it to modern hardware. With punishing gameplay, relenting atmosphere and an all-timer villain with SHODAN, it’s an incredible remake. The console experience isn’t the best but it doesn’t totally dampen the grandfather of immersive sims.

System Shock is available 21st May 2024 on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and available now PC via Steam.

Developer: Nightdive Studios
Publisher: Prime Matter

Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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