The 90’s saw the advent of many game changing technologies, not the least of which were the rise of the internet and the personal computer. This in turn gave rise to computer games, one of the first and most noteworthy of which was System Shock (now the 1995 version). The reasons for this are many and could be written about in several more articles, and I would be a fool to throw out my own material. So, instead we are focusing today on how this powerful bedrock game evolved into a surprisingly worthy re-creation that I think could give an entirely new generation of gamers the chance to experience what the original felt like to the previous generation in 1995, with some obvious changes of course. Starting with…
The Station’s Style is Eminent
The most important thing to get right, as this is what people will most likely resonate with the most, is its style. Or maybe its feel, alternatively. If something is out of place, people who played the original would certainly notice.
On the other hand are the new players. If something is out of place, they obviously won’t notice, but what needs to be done for this group is that no section of the station should be unremarkable. System Shock is supposed to evoke unsettling emotions in the player, and a big part of that evoking is the visuals.
It is highly intentional for the art to feel surreal, as this isn’t supposed to be a real space station. It’s more like a mockery of what a station would look like in the future if it was ravaged by capitalist efficiency; all function with the sacrifice of comfortable space for its denizens (until executive, of course. It is a cyberpunk game at the end of the day.)
The fact that I have never played the original must mean that they have succeeded, at least in some capacity. Because I was certainly very unsettled playing this game. By referencing reviews of the original game as well, I can confirm that this evoking of surrealism is something many people have picked up on.
This mainly has to do with the color choice, the patterns, and the claustrophobic environment. All of it congeals together into this liminal, almost nightmare-like environment, disorientation included.
Sounds of Citadel
The other big thing besides the visuals is the music. I have a feeling this one is a bit more divisive amongst fans.
The music keeps with the nightmare effect, but evokes a less chaotic atmosphere than the original, favoring a more foreboding dreamlike scape. Music is also hard to do justice with words. So, while undoubtedly good, I think it is best experienced rather than described. Just throw it on while you’re doing dishes or something.
All of this together is very effective at maintaining and morphing the atmosphere as the game goes along.
The fact that the environment in many ways feels alien adds to the sense of adventure, that the only way out is through, so to speak.
The Hacker’s Arsenal is Expansive
So, now we are moving on to how the game has adapted mechanically from 1995. There are a few major things to note here:
- The game’s inventory
- The item ‘chest’
- The recycler
- The game’s intro
The game’s inventory is relatively basic, a grid system with each item taking up a certain amount of space. What’s important is that it is very different from the original, which was just a list of items that you could select from. A welcome change that is not only more engaging, but also less visually boring. You can also change the color if you wish through the HUD color menu. I think it’s supposed to be an accessibility feature, but still cool to have.
The next thing is what I called the ‘item chest’. It’s not literally a chest. It’s more like a dumbwaiter with all the sci fi flair you would expect. Essentially, it’s a really small inventory space that can be taken with you between levels of the ship. Like a backpack that you have to always be in the same place to access. This is a helpful addition to the game just because they changed how the inventory works. With all the weapons, ammo, healing items, and whatever else, there is less space to work with overall. So having a little item elevator that can spot you in key situations is very nice.
And with all of the garbage on the station being able to be picked up and put in your inventory, it might be a natural inclination of a game programmer to have you do something with it. That’s where the recycler comes in. There is one per level on the station, just like the item elevator, and garbage can be put directly into it, or the garbage can be turned into scrap, which takes up less inventory space but has reduced returns in the recycler. This is one of the main ways you acquire money in the game, which you will find its uses for quickly. This I think was added because of System Shock’s reputation as an immersive sim. Put simply, if the items on desks and shelves aren’t interactable, even if they’re useless, then the game is less immersive.
The last thing is the game’s intro. You start in the Hacker’s apartment before he is arrested, and sets up the plot for the rest of the game. It’s a quick way to teach you that you press right-click to open doors, and otherwise is a cool, quick way to add some personality to a silent protagonist. You can find references to other Nightdive games in the room, and the colors gives you a taste of what you are getting into as it begins. There’s more, but in case you are reading this and have no clue what the game is, I’ll leave it a surprise. What’s important from it is that it introduces our villain, SHODAN.
Remastered, Really Scary
Of course, you can’t discuss System Shock without discussing SHODAN, one of the most notorious AI villains, and an ironically relevant one today.
SHODAN is still the queen, surprise, surprise. With the heavier atmosphere to boot, her presence is more terrifying than ever. The main thing to note here I think is that the mixing of the VA is still done in the right way.
You see, SHODAN’s voice has a bunch of stutters and modulations in it, which is supposed to show that she is going mad. The stutters get worse the longer the game is going, as her plans are foiled one by one and her minions continue to fail her.
Without this, even if her lines were the same, she would be undoubtedly a different character. And since she is so integral to the game, the game would also be different. This in many ways could have been the most important thing to get right. System Shock is SHODAN, and if there was one thing that everyone remembers about the game, it’s her.
Should You Play it?
Yes. Absolutely. In the age of games being released in half-baked states for profit, System Shock remake is a polished gem of a game that pays tender homage to the original rendition.
It took a long time to come out, but it was well worth the wait as the developers figured out its setbacks. It’s nice to see people who care to deliver what they promised, and I hope they enjoy a job well done.