I’ll come clean right from the start, despite being a card carrying member of the PC master race, I somehow missed out on System Shock. The games is considered a PC gaming classic and an early masterpiece. About a year ago I finally played the original game, but feel alot of it’s depth and impact was ultimately lost on me as I didn’t experience it “in the moment” of 1994. My general impression of the game is I’m sure it was great back in the day, but it’s not aged well. When Nightdive Studios announced they would be doing a remake within the spirit of the original game my interests were peaked. I’d like to be able to experience System Shock for the “first time” and thought a remake would recapture what made System Shock great for a new audience. The remake currently has a kickstarter running and a playable demo of what to expect. I quickly started the download.
The demo starts off within your typical sci-fi trope, you awake on a spaceship in which something has gone terribly wrong. After arming yourself with a trusty lead pipe, you begin to explore the ship. It’s not long after that when you start to find the mutilated bodies of your crew and killer robots. My first combat encounter seemed rather dull. The pipe didn’t seem to have any impact to it’s attacks, and combat was comprised of hit, jump back to avoid attack, hit again until the enemy finally died. Encounters with mutated crew members, wasn’t much different. In the original System Shock, I do remember a certain amount of dread with every conflict. This was due to the limited resources you had, and how deadly each enemy was. Within the remake, combat was just boring. There was no sense of danger at any time. Later, when I found a laser pistol things became more interesting, but that feeling quickly left while I shot a crew member in the face half a dozen times before they died.
The old school inventory has returned along with totally useless items to collect. One of my highlights during the demo, was collecting an entire human corpse in my inventory. It’s macabre and silly, but it’s nice to know players will have flexibility to horde body parts, if they choose to do so. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to do in the inventory system, aside from seeing it has return from 1994. I couldn’t figure out how to use grenades or other hot key items. Consulting the controls menu told me hotkeys where Alpha 1 through 4. If anyone knows what those are let me know, but it’s not 1-4. I sadly resigned myself to playing the demo without using grenades.
Another call back from the original game is lots of tiny buttons to push. Maybe I’m just getting older, but I had troubles finding what I had to click to open a door. This seems like it could be fixed with some better UI. I totally got stuck and had to consult a video showcasing the demo to discover what I had to click on. Turns out it was tiny circuit boxes that I had to click in order to complete a circuit. My 90’s PC gaming brain thought I needed to find a wire to connect to the panel instead of touching tiny pixel wide switches.
I understand that the demo is pre alpha build, but my biggest complaint so far is that the remake of System Shock… feels too much like System Shock. Don’t scoff at that last remark. I know it’s a remake, but according to the Kickstarter this new editions is suppose to be a reboot or remastering of the original. If this is the case, let’s take the 20 years of gaming experience since the original, and modernize it. This demo is essentially the System Shock of 1994 with a new coat of paint. It doesn’t excite me much. I would love to see System Shock comeback as a thrilling sci-fi horror game, but at this point in time, my impressions are that it’s more of a System flop than shock. There’s plenty of time for changes to be made though, for this to become more than just a reskin of a 1994 classic.