System Shock Remake (PS5) Review – A Classic Reborn

A SHODAN for the ages.

Posted By | On 10th, Jul. 2024

System Shock Remake (PS5) Review – A Classic Reborn

System Shock was a revelation. When it released in 1994, not only was it a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind immersive sim that told an unsettling story in a classic horror setting, but its influences are still being felt 30 years later. With a remake of the original, Nightdive Studios has faithfully brought a timeless classic into the modern ecosystem, and now it has finally hit consoles as well. A direct port of last year’s PC release, this remake proves why System Shock was as important and powerful as it was. Its showdown against the malevolent AI SHODAN is just as pertinent today as it was decades ago, and the Citadel space station is as intricately designed as any game I’ve played in 2024, remake or otherwise. It retains some of the awkward from the original, like in its melee combat and difficulty spikes, but System Shock remains one of the more important games ever released, and it’s a pretty great experience on its own merits, too.

Set in 2072 aboard the Citadel space station, System Shock’s premise feels familiar today. You are a nameless hacker trying to breach the shady TriOptimum Corporation who suddenly gets sent to and trapped inside the Citadel. You quickly come to find out that the ship is helmed by a proprietary AI named SHODAN, and your first task is to remove the ethical guards inside SHODAN’s code. For reasons likely even more understandable today than when this game first released, this plan goes awry, and SHODAN soon turns on you and human civilization, forcing you to try to stop SHODAN and get off the ship.

"It retains some of the awkward from the original, like in its melee combat and difficulty spikes, but System Shock remains one of the more important games ever released, and it’s a pretty great experience on its own merits, too."

That’s about as much as the game will give you directly, as it’s much more interested in letting you find out the details of the ship and its residents on your own through exploration. This is one of the game’s strongest aspects, and it’s the reason System Shock was so influential to games like Half-Life and Prey. While you will run into the occasional cutscene or scripted sequence, the majority of the storytelling is done through audio logs, messages, and environmental storytelling, and they do a phenomenal job at setting a clear, ominous tone throughout. Audio logs frequently lie next to dead bodies and explain how that person met their fate, while the environments paint a consistent horrifying picture of a spaceship designed through class warfare and overrun by greed and humanoid monsters.

It’s this exploration that takes up the majority of your time in System Shock, and while my full playthrough took about 15 hours to complete, it easily could have doubled that if I had been even more thorough. This is because the ship is absolutely enormous and teeming with detail. Across 10 main floors and a few side areas, every single area you experience has an almost overwhelming number of locked doors, crawlspaces, and branching paths, though they’re not always the most intuitively laid-out spaces. Like the games that drew inspiration from System Shock, as well as other immersive sims, there are key cards, switches, and codes hidden around each section that are important and sometimes necessary to open new pathways elsewhere, unlocking anything from rooms containing new guns to mandatory new areas. It’s among the more rewarding experiences here to explore an area thoroughly and find a key that unlocks a section in a completely separate area.

You’ll have to do a lot of backtracking and searching around, too, because System Shock isn’t exactly generous with its direction. There are no objective markers, no ways to make notes on the mini-map, and very few direct references even to the next step on the critical path. That’s all to funnel you toward the true goal of liberating the space station entirely. You can beat the game with a certain amount still left to do, but to see everything, you’ll need to meticulously kill every robot, destroy every camera and CPU node, and stop the creation of enemies on each floor.

system shock remake

"Traversing the environments holds up as well as anything in System Shock, but the game does show its age elsewhere, particularly in combat."

Traversing the environments holds up as well as anything in System Shock, but the game does show its age elsewhere, particularly in combat. The original game was difficult, and the remake holds true to that. It can be infuriatingly difficult if you’re not prepared, as you can go up against groups of charging humanoids or aggressive security bots, all of whose only goal is to ensure your demise. It can be rewarding when you finally overcome a tricky area, but it just as quickly can devolve into finding ways to cheese a fight to your advantage rather than face it head on. It’s also hurt by tricky respawn systems, which can frequently send you to other floors when you come back to life. The Citadel is so intricately and tightly laid out that backtracking usually doesn’t take too long, but it can get frustrating to hear the elevator music time after time on the way back to the same fight.

Combat is also a bit underwhelming because it feels so true to the original, for better and for worse. Melee combat feels airy, like you’re swinging at air and watching performers collapse spectacularly, and aiming with weapons can be just a bit imprecise. Combine that with the energy system, which operates like a stamina bar but has to be recharged at specific stations, and you can have moments where you feel like a badass mowing down enemies with an energy rapier quickly turn into backpedaling and hoping for the best while you frantically search for a recharge or another ammo pack. Cyberspace terminals, too, can feel great at points but inconsistent, as your ship is a bit too slow to deal with some of the significant difficulty spikes, especially given the lack of any way to upgrade or improve your ship.

With a remake, there are also certain quality of life improvements that come as needed updates for the modern era, though Nightdive could have gone a bit further in bringing a classic forward. The visuals are largely gorgeous, as the graphics have been fully overhauled and meet today’s standards. Each floor has a uniquely ominous feel, pedaled by harsh neon lighting and distinct spaceship textures. Each new area is a delightful visual surprise, especially in some later-game areas that take you to entirely new places. Controls and inventory management, though, feel like more of a hassle than they should, especially on console. The controls themselves on console are easy to understand, largely updated to match the traditions of newer immersive sims, but using the D-pad to scroll through your inventory bar certainly makes for some easy mistakes in high-leverage moments.

system shock remake

"While there have been countless immersive sims in the wake of System Shock, Nightdive Studios’ remake of the 30-year-old classic proves why it was so influential in the first place."

While there have been countless immersive sims in the wake of System Shock, Nightdive Studios’ remake of the 30-year-old classic proves why it was so influential in the first place. With an increasingly relevant and terrifying story, including an iconic villain in SHODAN, System Shock laid the foundation for how this type of story can be told. It has some of the best environmental storytelling and intricate level design in any game regardless of setting or when it was released, and it parlays that perfectly with a curiosity to learn more and a motivation to save humanity from a malevolent AI. It still carries some of its age in its inventory management and unabashed difficulty, but its influence is evident and undeniable. While there have been countless games benefitting from its influence, System Shock is a classic for a reason, and Nightdive Studios has done a beautiful job at updating it for the modern day and making it accessible to anyone curious about the history of the genre or one of its most important games of all time.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.


THE GOOD

Phenomenal environmental storytelling; Intricate level design; Rewarding exploration.

THE BAD

Dated combat; Significant difficulty spikes; Unintuitive inventory management.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
System Shock is one of the most influential games ever made, and Nightdive Studios’ stunning recreation of the 30-year-old title makes it an important experience for returning players and newcomers alike, if only to understand how the genre got to where it is today.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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