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  • Writer's pictureFernando Da Costa

Review: System Shock (2023) Console Release


Developer: Nightdive Studios

Publisher: Prime Matter

Available on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC

Review system: PlayStation 5


SHOCK THE SYSTEM!


When it concerns Kickstarter campaigns, people tend to show hesitancy. They deem it a gamble to invest a considerable amount of cash in a project that may not see the light of day. Granted, we’ve seen a plethora of successes, such as the recently released Eiyuden Chronicle, but in that same breath, there have been failures. In a few cases, developers stole the donated funds and ran as fast as their thieving little legs could go. In others, there were unforeseen circumstances, like having to switch from Unity to the Unreal Engine, causing delays. Unfortunately, that’s the exact situation we find ourselves in with this situation.


System Shock is about as old-school as it gets. It’s a faithful adaptation of the 90’s iteration, and when I say faithful, I mean that. From my limited research, minimal alterations seem to have been made to the mechanics that turn the cogs of this machine. Basically, it’s a time capsule of its era, for better or worse. Frankly, the idea behind it excites me because it’s not only super nostalgic, but I get to see what inspired gems like Bioshock. My goal with this coverage is to decide if this game should have remained in the world that existed three decades ago or not. So without further ado, let’s go!



LISTEN CLOSELY!


Hand-holding has always been contentious. In fact, there’s a group of individuals vehemently against it. Well, if you fit into that spectrum, then perhaps System Shock may tickle your taint. The dialogue is a key element of progression. I’m trying to locate audio logs that the crew of this ship has left behind. These depict their final moments alive, and what they have to say might be of interest to you. Occasionally, they provide codes that are vital to going forward. If you don’t pay attention to their words, you’ll be meandering aimlessly. I fell into that trap a ton, more than I care to admit. I had to recheck through recordings for those digits. It got tedious, becoming increasingly so since there’s a good chunk.


While on the subject, if there are any illusions that System Shock is horror-based, tone down your expectations. While I’m definitely walking through bloody corridors with eviscerated bodies, it’s not very scary. At best, it’s psychological. We’re treated to the suffering and grief of the dead NPCs. It’s meant to establish lore. I enjoyed it, finding that it aided in sucking me into this universe. The story is intriguing, not to the point that it swallowed me, but I was motivated to roll the credits. It piqued my curiosity enough by asking a question at the beginning that had me hungry for the answer. By the end of my session, I was satiated.



System Shock’s genre is a topic that I’m grappling with. It boasts being a Thriller, but I'm not comfortable agreeing. Yeah, there are instances when it’s the epitome of it, but it’s not fully embraced. Sure, it’s true that when I heard the groans of my enemies, I quickly whipped around in a panic. However, that tension was fleeting. Essentially, the threat of a rogue A.I never settled in my head. Maybe that’s due to a failure to grasp its psychotic nature. I believe that it’s because there’s no urgency. While I may have wanted to know what led to current events, the stakes to do so were incredibly low. I never felt like my life was in danger.


DID YOU SEE OVER THERE!?


Accessibility is a passion of mine as a man in need of it in some avenues. I’m an advocate for allowing everyone the chance to indulge in gaming. That said, what negatively affects me with System Shock is the labyrinthian-level design. Now, it’s not because it’s atrocious. It’s the opposite as the piping, metal joints, and tables are all meticulously crafted. Nightdive Studios poured buckets of blood, sweat, and tears into perfectly emulating the original. Of course, they’ve added a couple of flairs of their own. Every room looks distinct in an effort to avoid confusing players, but it isn’t foolproof. I still got disoriented, running in circles without a single clue of where to go, and the culprit was actually the map.



Believe it or not, it has seen a reconfiguration for this remaster and should theoretically be easier to read. Ironically, it’s the contrary. It’s difficult to discern because it won’t properly communicate if there are multiple floors. It’s literally a flat image with discolouration that’s meant to show elevation, and it fumbles the ball. Typically, when I’m lost, I scan for incomplete sections. Upon seeing one, I’ll hurry over, only for a wall to greet me. I’d then have to find a ladder to help me climb to the next layer. On that note, I had trouble tracking these down, too. They aren’t ordinarily nearby, requiring a bit of searching. Not to mention how they blend into the environment. System Shock punishes you for tunnel vision. I recommend looking in every nook and cranny so as to avoid seeming like an idiot.


DEATH IS CLOSE!


If you’re afraid of dying, it’s best to get used to the idea because you’re going to be meeting your maker often. For reference, before I was given System Shock, PR told me that choosing the Hard difficulty would make for a 30-hour session. I’m on what equates to Normal and am at 19. I’m also only at the fourth level, which isn’t even halfway. It wouldn’t surprise me if a majority of that were spent eating plasma beams. This game’s unapologetically merciless and maintains that old-school toughness that had me weeping as a child. The thing is, my demise was strictly due to my stupidity. It wants a calculated approach, not a charge. I had to concentrate as I swung my wrench to ensure victory, resulting in engagement.



Oh, and I can’t stress this enough, but please save frequently for the love of all that is holy. Nightdive Studios has made doing so an excruciatingly simple process to nudge you. I‘ve just got to pause, scroll down, and Bob’s your uncle. Granted, System Shock has an auto-save function, but it’s so sporadic. Relying on it is essentially promising yourself that you’ll be repeating the last several minutes. Because of that repetition, monotony does set in, but fortunately, it’s preventable. Eventually, you do unlock the ability to respawn, negating this headache, but until then, you’ve been warned.


YOU WANT TO SCRAP!


Something I don’t believe was in System Shock ‘94 is the scrap feature. While exploring, it’s highly likely to stumble on junk. Lots of the areas you waltz into are littered with mugs, scalpels, biohazard bags, and other trinkets. They have no actual use, however, outside of being vaporized, which rewards you with, well, scrap. Those can then be melted into a currency spent on ammo or modifications for the guns scattered throughout the ship. I found this feature fun, and not to worry, as supplies are in abundance. My one hiccup is being unable to dismantle extra firearms or melee weapons. It’s minor, but feels like such a silly oversight.



A particular detail that I want to highlight is how Nightdive Studios threw us a bone. Pipes and armaments are scattered in various locations. What’s awesome is that they’re not tied to one spot. It’s not like they’ll never be seen elsewhere. I’m enamored by this, dare I say, quality-of-life inclusion. It’s a breath of fresh air, knowing that I won’t miss a weapon due to not being diligent. It’s always irksome losing the chance to acquire a plasma ray capable of dismembering my enemies because I didn't travel to a specific corner of a room. It alleviated the frustration of trying to understand the map, too, since there are zero missables.


AREN’T I ON THE PS5?!


System Shock’s controls are, for the most part, responsive. Where it falters is with the U.I. To put it plainly, it’s having an identity crisis. See, Nightdive Studios have seemingly forgotten that they’re developing a console port. As such, there were instances where it felt like a keyboard and mouse would be the better option. For example, I’ve got access to eight perks, but to select either, I’ve got to glide over with a tilt of the right stick before clicking. Hell, if you take a gander at the hot bar, the keybinds are intact. That isn’t all she wrote, as it’s equally clunky to maneuver across the items. Again, a tilt of the right or, this time, left stick suffices. The thing is, it isn’t that useful when faced with hard-hitting action that requires fast-paced reactions.



CHOOSE YOUR FATE!


To my understanding, the modular difficulty setting, as shown above, was present in System Shock ‘94. The only disparity is that you could select zero back then, which made this romp a cakewalk. Regardless, it still isn’t troublesome, even at the lowest threshold available in this remaster. The level of customization is fantastic. I really adored how weirdly strategic combat gets when set to two, forcing me to carefully plan my strikes or how waypoints are a thing at a Mission Level of one. It’s such a relief because due to my disabilities, I misinterpret information as being important when, in fact, it isn’t. Having those to guide me while preserving the challenge in other avenues is lovely; it’s phenomenal, and we need more. Without a doubt, System Shock ‘94 was not only ahead of its time, but it’s stellar for the accessibility community.


A LITTLE OLD, A LITTLE NEW!


The visual fidelity needs to be seen because I’m unsure what wizardry Nightdive Studios pulled. It looks superb from afar, but if you were to hug a wall, you’d be welcomed by an homage to System Shock ‘94. In other words, you can see the pixelation. I’ve heard of double entendres for literature, but damn, it bleeding into the graphics is just, well, I have to applaud it. The 3D models look to have this halfway take of realism and cartoony. I also have to point out the butts that the aliens have. When I rag-dolled one of them, and they landed, ass up, I laughed. Sadly, as much as it tickled me, it does immensely devalue the creepiness factor. Regardless, the spirit and aesthetic of the original was perfectly captured.



BEEP, BOOP, BEEP!


Get ready for some gnarly whiplash because this paragraph will be a hell of a ride. For starters, System Shock has nailed the ambiance of a dreary station. It does a substantial bit of the heavy lifting when it came to the immersion. I was in it until I suddenly wasn’t. This complaint will be subjective, but I don’t know why periodic snippets of music play. It doesn’t just kill the mood, but it pisses on the grave. I would’ve rather the incessant humming of space and moans of the infected stay. Give me an atmosphere over the dance breaks. At least the voice acting is well done. SHODAN is a treat, and the delivery of fear and anguish in the crew mates is serviceable. I was pleasantly surprised because I had expected a train wreck, but it wasn’t, and that’s egg on my face.


AND THE SHOCKING VERDICT IS…


System Shock is a proper tribute to the 1994 classic. It’s fun, but that bone-crunching toughness might chase folks off. It almost did me, and as I kept dying, the frustration boiled. As I mentioned earlier, though, it’s not due to lopsided balance. It’s because I’m the type to rush into danger, and if you do that, be ready to be utterly decimated. I did adapt, and when I did, I was enjoying myself. As for the accessibility, well, I give it with my disabled seal of approval. You can remap inputs, too, and I strongly suggest doing so. If you don’t, button positioning is awkward, particularly for sprinting. With a bit of shuffling about, the experience will be smoother. It remains a buy for me, but if you have a keyboard and mouse, purchase it on a PC.


SYSTEM SHOCK IS RECOMMENDED!


Special thanks to UberStrategist who provided this key on behalf of Nightdive Studios for the purpose of this review

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