System Shock is an immersive sim by Nightdive Studios, a remake of the 1994 original by Looking Glass Studios.
You play as a hacker who awakens to find your space station’s crew dead and the corridors filled with cyborgs and mutants, and you must defeat SHODAN the AI and escape the station alive. The sci-fi survival horror story is similar to a lot of other games, especially ones that came out after the original, but it’s well executed here, with SHODAN in particular being a threatening and fun character.
The first-person shooting is hamstrung by the tight corridors you usually traverse. Often, the best way to conserve resources is to use corners as cover, which isn’t super exciting. The resource management adds a bit more depth because you’ll need to choose which weapon to use and which ammo to deplete, but the combat still isn’t the core draw of the game.
On each floor of the space station, you explore while gathering resources, fight cyborgs and mutants, solve puzzles, and acquire items needed to progress to the next floor. Audio logs are used liberally and to great effect, and combined with objectives that require you to remember the environment around you, System Shock creates a deep sense of immersion. You have to check around each corner and listen carefully for explosives and enemies, and this keeps the exploration tense.
On the other hand, it’s incredibly easy to get lost. The game’s areas are sprawling and mazelike, crucial objects that you need to interact with look almost exactly the same as random set dressing on the walls, and I didn’t notice doors a few times. It’s also sometimes unclear exactly what you’re meant to do, let alone where you should do it.
In theory, the audio logs remedy the worst of this, where characters will give you hints, but it’s entirely possible to miss an audio log and the hint. At certain points I had to use a guide because I could not figure out what I had missed, and it’s unfortunate that the game is sometimes so obscure.
The tutorials also aren’t great. I didn’t understand wire puzzles at the beginning of the game until I kept flipping things at random and worked out what I’d misunderstood.
The cyberspace sections play more or less like a space shooter in tight corridors. Cyberspace is visually cluttered and it’s easy to get turned around, but it adds some variety, even though the combat is one-dimensional.
You have limited inventory space, which is made much worse by the inclusion of junk items you can recycle for money. The optimal play is to grab every junk item and take it to a recycling station so you can afford weapon upgrades, and if you did that, it would add hours of boring playtime. You can mostly ignore the system and skip some weapon upgrades, as I did, but this feels poorly thought out, as you can essentially trade fun for power.
The graphics are functional and attractive, but there’s a pixel shader applied to objects at certain distances that looks weird sometimes. The sound design really creates a creepy sci-fi vibe for the game, and overall the game’s presentation holds up well.
I haven’t played the original System Shock, but the remake feels like a modernized take on the original, rather than a wholly new game. Compared to later immersive sims, there’s a lack of flexibility in how you solve problems. There’s no stacking boxes to get to an area or breaking through a door. You just have to solve things the exact way the game wants you to. It’s not strictly bad, but it’s less freeform than some other games in the subgenre.
Despite this, I had a ton of fun with System Shock. The exploration and atmosphere are a cut above most games, and if you don’t mind getting lost and possibly needing a guide, I can highly recommend it.
System Shock is out now on PC for $39.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for System Shock.