It’s not an easy task to revive an old video game. When Nightdive Studios announced a remake of System Shock back in 2015, fans were understandably excited. However, thanks to delays and a restart on development, skepticism on the project festered. But Nightdive helped to assuage fears surrounding System Shock with a public demo for PCs.
The demo showcases the game’s first major area, the Medical floor. You’re able to fully explore the level and learn about the combat and puzzles. With about an hour’s worth of content to experience, it’s an enticing taste of what you can expect.
We’re still waiting for word on the remake’s official release date. So far, we only have a vague promise of a 2022 launch. To tide us over until System Shock finally comes out, we gave the demo a shot. And while some things definitely need ironing out, the game feels just as fresh as the original did all those years ago.
Fear and looming on Citadel Station
The demo proves that System Shock is a more-or-less straightforward remake of the 1994 original developed by now-defunct Looking Glass Studios. Set in 2072, you play as a hacker who is tasked with unlocking the ethical restraints of an AI named SHODAN on Citadel Station.
You do so, but after receiving a neural implant, you awaken as the only survivor after SHODAN takes control. Now it’s a battel for survival as you battle mutated humans, cyberpeople, and robots under SHODAN’s thumb.
You’re already familiar with this story if you’ve played the original game, of course. Although Nightdive did bring in writers to help polish up the original dialogue, the narrative remains more or less the same.
For old fans who remember playing the game over 25 years ago, it’s a great trip down memory lane. For newbies, the demo helps set the stage for the full System Shock experience. With an eerie atmosphere and plenty of creepy lines from the ever-present SHODAN, it’s a stark bit of science fiction horror that leaves plenty up to the imagination.
The System Shock demo shows a lot of promise
Usually, with faithful remakes of old games like this, you have to take care when modernizing things. Modernize too much and you risk alienating returning fans, but don’t modernize enough and newcomers might be turned away. Thankfully, the System Shock demo finds a great balance between keeping the old game feel alive and tweaking it for the current age.
Since the remake is built from the ground up, it’s of course going to feel like a significant change. Movement and combat, especially, have been improved to feel smoother than the admittedly-archaic mechanics of the original.
The controls are a little clunky compared to the tight responsiveness of contemporary shooters, but that’s to be expected. Still, it doesn’t feel like my swings with my trusty lead pipe or shots from my SparqBeam sidearm connect as well as they should. Mostly because the sound design for these weapons is softer than you’d think.
Not to say the audio is a mess; there’s great ambient soundscapes and awesome music by Zircon and Jonathon Peros. And the pixelated cyberpunk aesthetic of the original has been lovingly recreated with a new coat of paint. The bright lights and cool metallic colors carry over here, with enhanced lighting and shadow making Citadel Station feel more isolating than ever.
Just from the short demo, the System Shock remake is set to be a solid update on the influential original. Most of the systems have been fine-tuned in just the right spots. If Nightdive Studios can smooth out the remaining kinks, it could be the ultimate version of this cyberhorror classic.
The System Shock demo is available now on PC via Steam, GOG.com, and Epic Games Store. The full game will be available for Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in 2022.