Updated: Sep 21
This worthy remake makes remembering Citadel an easy thing to do.
There are a lot of classic games that I feel don't need a remake, but when I heard that Nightdive Studios was making one for System Shock, I definitely didn't object. Even if you have never heard of System Shock before, I think if you have been gaming for at least a few years, you probably know of some games that have its DNA within them, like Bioshock and Prey (2017). I played a lot of the second game in the series (System Shock 2) in my teenage years and it made quite an impression on me, but I was ashamed that I didn't play the game that started it all (System Shock) until much, much later.
The only issue is that I honestly never thought this remake would be released. Development for it started all of the way back in 2015 and the project went through plenty of turmoil (to say the least) along the way. However, thankfully it is here now, so let's dive into it and talk about how it turned out.
System Shock 2 had ultimately spoiled me with its much-improved control scheme and overall smoother gameplay.
The intro starts with the game's protagonist (an unnamed character simply known throughout the game as Hacker) sitting in their apartment and doing what any hacker worth their salt would be doing during a nice dark night: hacking. The hack they are attempting to pull off is into the files of a company called TriOptimum Corporation, who happen to have details on a neural implant that the hacker seems interested in. The hack doesn't go too well because almost immediately TriOptimum Corp guards bust in and knock the hacker out. After they wake up they are given a deal by a TriOptimum executive named Edward Diego that if they will hack into the network of a place called Citadel Station and disable the ethical restraints on the AI controlling the station (called SHODAN), then he will give them the neural implant that they were searching for. Since the hacker doesn't really have a choice, they comply. After the deed is done and they receive the implant that was promised, they are in a medical coma for six months. When they finally awaken they are on the Medical floor level within Citadel Station; this is where the game truly begins.
I have to say that immediately after the hacker gets off of the medical table and stands up, I cracked a huge grin. Seeing this room updated to a more modern style while also retaining a lot of the details exactly how I remembered them really made me happy. I then opened up a supply closet, grabbed a steel pipe plus a few other supplies, and walked out into the station. To say things have gone wrong here on the Citadel would be an understatement. Since SHODAN's ethical restraints were disabled, pure hell has been unleashed here. Where there were once lively crew members, there are now only corpses and viscera. Friendly robots that used to offer food and drinks now only offer spinning blades and dismemberment. Security robots that might have been made to protect are now made to destroy anything they see. The atmosphere here is very dark and grim. Audio and text logs left by the crew on desks, shelves, or even next to their rotting remains tell the story of what happened here and what the crew was trying to do to stop the madness.
Nightdive Studios definitely tried to keep the experience of this game with a lot of those gameplay conditions intact.
Since the original System Shock is almost 30 years old, there are a lot of things that have changed in games within that time frame. Nightdive Studios definitely tried to keep the experience of this game with a lot of those gameplay conditions intact. Every level within the station is its own labyrinth of often confusing as well as tight corridors. Thankfully the player is given help in the form of a map that will not only show areas that have been explored, but also show off locations of some very useful things.
Energy stations can be used to recharge the hacker's energy meter so that they can use energy weapons and also certain pieces of equipment like shields or boots that heavily increase movement speed. Regeneration stations that can be found on most levels of the station will work like a respawn point for the player if they are killed, but only after a switch nearby them is flipped.
Junction boxes are puzzles that need to be solved in order to open certain areas or turn the power back on to a room. These puzzles come in a few different types and can be pretty tough at times. There are rare items that can be found that allow the player to skip these if they find one to be too tough to deal with.
The Cyberspace sections have also returned from the original, and these are kind of like playing the old Descent games. They are simple minigames where the player flies around a virtual space shooting at insect-looking enemies; listening to pulsing music while they blast apart beams that are keeping doors within the Citadel locked. I found these to be much better than they were in the original and also a nice little distraction from the rest of the game.
One new thing that was implemented in this remake is a recycler that allows the player to pick up items, vaporize them into blocks of scrap, and then run them through it in order to get credits. These can be used to buy all sorts of useful items like ammo, weapon upgrades, and boosters.
Waypoints that have become common in most newer adventure games are nowhere to be found here. This game expects you to take notes based on what you see or hear. If you see a number, write it down, if you hear someone talking in an audio log about something they were trying to do, pay very close attention and write that down too because that might be what your next objective is. System Shock really doesn't hold your hand whatsoever. It was definitely designed to be a difficult game to complete, but not an unfair one. However, I do know that a lot of people aren't going to like this aspect, and it won't be an enjoyable experience for everyone.
Practically every enemy type from the original is back and given a fresh coat of paint.
Weapons are definitely much more fun to use in this game than in the original. There are a wide variety available including: melee weapons like a pipe and a wrench, pistols (including an energy one that is super useful), a shotgun, mag-pulse rifle, assault rifle, railgun, and the list goes on and on. There are different types of ammo and grenades that can be used and each type is effective against a certain type of enemy. The guns have a good amount of weight to them and feel satisfying to shoot creatures and robots with. Sadly the melee weapons don't have the same weight. It just never feels quite right when you hit something. Most of the time you just don't even know if you are making contact with your swings. Hopefully this gets fixed in the future. Other than that, combat felt good. Being able to lean left and right can really help keep the player from taking insane amounts of damage when trying to take down enemies. Utilizing cover like corners and ducking behind boxes is very important, so every little thing like that helps.
Practically every enemy type from the original is back and given a fresh coat of paint, and for the most part, I really like the updates. Seeing the updated mutants lumbering towards me made me crack a smile just like when I saw the first room of the remake. The enemies range from mutants, to security robots, to cyborgs, to things that I don't want to spoil, including the boss fights. Let me just say that System Shock has a really nice variety of enemies and besides some of them being kind of annoying to fight at times, I don’t really have any complaints. It doesn't hurt whatsoever that the taunts of SHODAN are just as great and unnerving as in the original, with her original voice actor returning and just absolutely crushing it.
I honestly think this remake is a worthy revisit of Citadel Station and even though there are a few things that new players might find frustrating, it is definitely a game that I would have to recommend and is easily one of my favorite games this year.
Atmosphere is thick with horror and takes the source material seriously
The enemy and level redesigns are faithful to the original and look great
Exploring Citadel Station is rewarding and intense
SHODAN is a standout presence as usual
Some players might not like how difficult it can be
Some of the level layouts are incredibly easy to get lost in due to being from a 29 year old game
Melee combat lacks weight
Reviewer played System Shock on PC. No key was provided by the publisher.