There’s one dilemma with adapting a 30-year-old game, and that’s how much you adapt. If you make it completely new and reimagine everything, then how much of the original game do you actually still have? Again, if you don’t change enough, how much of a remake is it?
This System Shock remake is an attempt to answer that, and it’s an interesting attempt, because I think if you showed it to someone unfamiliar with the original, who judged it squarely in a 2023 context, they’d look at it and wonder what the fuss was all about. about.
In these, I would keep images of the original, which I have included in this piece from a quick playthrough earlier. And as you can see, the difference is dramatic. Lighting makes a huge difference in mood, and there are clearly decades of technological progress on display. And yet, somehow, the game still feels old.
This may seem like a mistake, as the developer couldn’t live up to creating a game with the legacy it deserves, and maybe that still is – this is just a demo I’m playing. But the more I play, the more I’m convinced it’s a deliberate thing, that the game wants to feel old. It’s almost like there’s a pixelated layer applied to everything to do it. You can see it in objects, in enemies – everywhere.
And I think that’s a really smart and sensitive way to both honor the original game and kind of test people’s expectations about what’s possible here. He says don’t get carried away and expect too much – this is still the original System Shock game. And now you’re probably thinking, “What’s the point then?” I’ll play the original.” But don’t do it. there are a bunch of other things going on here that should change your mind.
First, there is new content. There’s a whole new section at the beginning, in the intro, that wasn’t there before. That old scene where you see yourself being chased through an apartment and then arrested: now you’re playing that sequence. It gives you the chance to walk around your own apartment for the first time, opening fridges and flushing the toilet – the kinds of things that used to excite people in the ’90s when interactivity like this was new – before sitting down to hack away at a computer and arrested by the authorities.
Additionally, a lot of work has gone into how the game plays. In 1994, when System Shock came out, you had to enable freelook in games! It was so long ago. Camera fixed by default. This now seems ridiculous of course, but standards have changed and the remake did its best to keep up with them, and make this a much more natural, intuitive experience to play. And this is.
Developer Nightdive has also done things like improving the inventory system, improving the interactive boxes and puzzles, and improving the differentiation between the items you pick up, which now have fancy animations when you use them.
What strikes me most about the remake, though, is how different the feel of the atmosphere is. The original behaves much more like an action game, with a very catchy electronic track popping into your ear, whereas here, it’s gone. The remake has settled down a bit, taken a breather and instead leaned into the atmospheric space station eerie. And it makes a big difference – it’s pretty creepy now.
On the surface, then, this isn’t the blockbuster I was expecting. But actually, underneath that, there’s a lot here to admire. I think Nightdive has shown real care and respect to the original, and it’s remarkable, really, how strong the experience of this game is. The slower approach to a first-person shooter, with puzzles and inventory management, is still really relevant, and this sudden shift to first-person shoot-’em-up segments is still as dizzying and dazzling – and daring – as ever. System Shock still has it.