Remembering Citadel: System Shock versus System Shock Reboot

Suddenly, we have an embarrassment of System Shock riches. First System Shock Enhanced, then a Warren Spector-augmented System Shock 3, and now System Shock Reboot, a total remastering of the first game. It’s just poor old System Shock 2 that’s left in the cold, as EA jealously guard the rights to the sci-horror series’ most acclaimed instalment. That’s another day’s concern, though: right now, let’s talk about the free alpha demo released to promote System Shock Reboot’s Kickstarter. When they say ‘reimagining’, just how much similarity and how much change does that actually mean? It’s compare and contrast time, chums.

I’ve taken a few close-as-I-can-get-’em screenshots of both System Shock Reboot and GOG’s System Shock Enhanced (whose changes are only really on the user interface and compatibility side of things), demonstrating how meticulous Reboot’s recreation of Shock 1’s first level is. There are layout changes, especially in the later sections, and also the original game shoves a few more enemies at you – Reboot is aiming to be a bit pacier, as tense and slow-burn as we remember Shock being, rather than the surprisingly abrupt reality of it in 2016.

Here’s the first side-room, where you obtain your starting equipment from. It also shows off the way the UI’s being minimised while trying to retain the essence of the original. You can see that Reboot being fully-voiced means we don’t get a big block of text on the bottom of the screen when NPCs natter over the radio, though I do sort of miss the 90s cyberpunkishness of the green text and bitmapped faces.

And here’s the first Humanoid Mutant encounter, right next to the legendary 451 keypad (it should be noted that Reboot has ‘451’ scrawled in blood in foot-high letters right next to the keypad. Whether it’s trying to be all iconic or just worried that people won’t figure it out otherwise, I don’t know). Team RPS had a brief discussion as to what the white patches on the foreheads of the original-look mutants are, in light of what we see in Reboot. Adam’s years-long conviction that they are big bushy eyebrows has been tragically demolished, but I don’t agree with his assertion that it’s patches of exposed skull – I think it’s simply light reflecting off the pate.

Crew member corpses are rather more elaborate and ghoulish now. We get sunken, terrified faces and pained slumps against walls, rather than just a comedy bone-pile on the floor. Notice how careful reboot is to even recreate the floor-tiling, by the way.

A robot-guarded room, showing off the difference more realistic lighting can make in conjuring drama and menace but also that Reboot absolutely does not ditch Shock’s trademark blue hues for contemporary browns and greys.

Shooting is, naturally, a whole lot more fluid and responsive than the first game’s light, mechanical gunplay. The only weapon Reboot does provide is appropriately under-powered though: a slow zap that affords an enemy enough time to get frighteningly close. Going on this, Shock has definitely not gone BioShock in terms of action.

Granted I’m lighting the scene a little more with a zap-o-blast, but just to demonstrate what Reboot looks like when you’re ambushed by a Repair Bot in a dark corner, compared to the almost impractical darkness of the original game.

And here are a few general shots of Reboot, just to show off how it’s doing lighting and atmosphere.

It’s a pretty thing, though inevitably not quite as high-end as a DOOM or Battlefield (it’s made in Unity, and the lazy cynic in me wants to say that I can always spot a Unity game, but I don’t really think that’s fair at all). Whether to mask this or simply in the name of tribute, it does a few things to more closely resemble the DOS game look of the original. First and foremost there’s the pervasive blueness, of course, but also check out these textures, most apparent on screens, terminals and electrical panels:

(Click for a bigger version). Concious faux-DOS right there. I half like it as a stylistic thing, and half think it doesn’t quite gel with the lovely lighting and shadowing, and becomes more of a distraction than a signature aesthetic. This demo is clearly marked as pre-alpha though, so we can doubtless expect all manner of tinkering with this style in the finished game, due this December.

There’s also a climactic moment in the demo, where it very much sets out its stall as being a beautiful, dramatic modern game, not a slavish remake. A vast view of space, planets and the outside of the citadel, as music which sounds a little like Garry Schyman’s brilliant BioShock score swells. Reboot is faithful in so many ways, but retro it does not want to be.

One thought I had while playing the Reboot demo is that it feels a little like what I think many of us believed/hoped BioShock 1 would be, before discovering that it leaned a lot more towards the FPS side of things than its System Shock legacy. There are little pop-up messages when looking at or trying to use things (though most are too brief or say ‘nothing’ for the time being), there are all sorts of items to poke at (sometimes pointlessly, but maybe that’s the point?), and the pace is slow, combat consciously awkward. That said, revisiting the first game to this extent, rather than our usual touchstone of the more RPG-infused Shock 2, reveals that, perhaps, BioShock was an awful lot closer to the first Shock than we gave it credit for. Shock is far more dialled down, yes, but there are a great many structural similarities.

I think Reboot is aiming to be Memory System Shock, recreating what the game felt like to us as young folk in the early 90s, and going on this it’s got a strong shot at getting away with it. It is perhaps in a slightly uncomfortable middleground between retro and modern and sometimes feels a touch clumsy for it, but I’m reasonably confident that polish can sort that out. Obviously anything might change in the full game, depending on how much more comfortable Night Dive are to depart from the original’s structure, but I’m certainly willing to give them my confidence based on this.

Also: there is very deliberately no SHODAN yet. A smart move, I think: an ace to be kept up the sleeve.

The System Shock Reboot Kickstarter is live now, and currently it has $580,231 pledged towards its $900,000 goal. The pre-alpha demo can be grabbed from Steam or GOG.

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  1. Kefren says:

    I spent a while writing a review on GOG, and annoyingly they seem to have deleted or lost it. Last time I spend my time doing that! Still: I really enjoyed the demo, and hope they keep the full game like this (i.e. not adding RPG and crafting systems). I missed the original music but the stark sound of the demo also worked.

  2. seroto9 says:

    I think you may have a typo in the first word, unless it’s something clever that only SS fans would understand…

  3. Spuzzell says:

    ‘Bioshock 1’ doesn’t exist. It’s just ‘Bioshock’.

    I’d hoped ‘Battlefield 1’ would have cured this pet peeve.

    I really liked the demo, I’ll be back for the full title but I’ve been burned on Kickstarter a couple of times and I’m not sure about investing yet.

    • Reuffee says:

      ‘Bioshock’ can refer to either the first game or the series in its entirety, ‘Bioshock 1’ simply clarifies things.
      Battlefield 1 is a stupid title though.

      • Spuzzell says:

        No, come on. ‘Bioshock’ is the game, ‘the Bioshock series’ is the series.

        • Wisq says:

          In a world where “clip” means magazine, “could care less” means they couldn’t care less, and “literally” means the exact opposite, I find it hard to be bothered by someone adding an extra numeral on the end of a game title to try to be more clear about it.

          • Spuzzell says:

            That’s how the terrorists win, you know.

          • April March says:

            Literally doesn’t mean figuratively when you use it figuratively. It figuratively means instensely. Did you literally not know that?

          • Josh W says:

            If it’s used ironically though, then he’s right.

        • dethtoll says:

          You must be fun at parties.

        • Ancient Evil says:

          So whenever people say “Call of Duty”, you assume they’re talking specifically about the original 2003 game of that name?

          • Spuzzell says:

            Are you asking me if, when someone refers to a game by its actual name, I assume they are talking about the game whose actual name they just used?


            Call me crazy.

          • Spuzzell says:

            I mean, think about it. If you say “Call of Duty 1” you are ‘literally’ (shout out to the upthread massive) referring to a game title that doesn’t exist.

          • Distec says:

            In a series spanning a bajillion unnecessary titles, I think adding a 1 to the first game is completely understandable if you want to be explicit.

            Pretty sure most of CoD’s player base isn’t even aware of the first game existing. They might think you’re talking about Modern Warfare (yes, even though it has a 4 in it’s name).

    • Mahaku says:

      I’d habe thought that “DOOM” currd you from peeving… it’s not The New Doom, y’know.

    • LionsPhil says:

      If I’m ever in a position to name a DOOM remake for some perverse reason, I’m calling it “Doom (1993 video game)” just to mess with Wikipedia.

    • baseless_drivel says:

      Oh, good grief. Colloquial and “official” monikers can exist simultaneously and peacefully, and do so often.

      Do you get upset when someone you like says “see you later” but doesn’t actually come to see you later? Hyper-literalism is a arguably a social disorder that will cause you great grief in life — there are always contexts through which language is filtered.

      When something gets a successor in a numbered series, the first one in that series is by default the first one. For example, they didn’t originally call the first world war “World War I” as if they were in anticipation of a second.

      “Bioshock 1” might not be the official and legal title of the game, but it is by no means incorrect. And at the very least, it’s at least attempting to be very explicit; “Bioshock 1” leads to absolutely no confusion as to what game you’re talking about.

      Also see: grammar pedants, many of whom ironically don’t really know that much about linguistics.

  4. Voodoo says:

    I wish some grand team could do this to the Ultima series, or at least Ultima 4 to 6.

    • Premium User Badge

      Andy_Panthro says:

      We’re more likely to see Ultima Underworld first, I would suggest, if only because we’re already getting a new Underworld game.

      But Ultima has problems with the rights being split between EA and Richard Garriott (I think RG owns certain characters and maybe a few other things, EA own the rest). Resolving those issues would be a headache for sure.

    • Mahaku says:

      Shroud of the Avatar isn’t a reboot, bit at least it’s RG/LB’s modern reimagining.

  5. Premium User Badge

    reddog says:

    I thought you can hear SHODAN speaking in the first bigger hallway, welcoming you to Citadel station or the medical level or something? Haven’t played the demo, but I think I heard this in the video. Sounded like it was the same audio as in the original.

    • Spuzzell says:

      It’s the same voice over artist, but it’s re-recorded.

  6. YogSo says:

    Team RPS had a brief discussion as to what the white patches on the foreheads of the original-look mutants are, in light of what we see in Reboot. Adam’s years-long conviction that they are big bushy eyebrows has been tragically demolished, but I don’t agree with his assertion that it’s patches of exposed skull – I think it’s simply light reflecting off the pate.

    Foreheads? Eyebrows? Exposed skull?


    The “white patches” are, and always have been, the mutants’ eyes.

    • Darloth says:

      I think I prefer the whitish taut skin with big weird eyes mutant from the concept art then the zombie-ish half-decaying blue mutant.

      Not that the blue zombie thing doesn’t look good, but it seems a little out of place, it’s just a bit too zombie and not enough mutant for me.

  7. Todd Hawks says:

    “…in the finished game, due this December.”

    From what I can tell it will be out December *next* year, not this year?

  8. Infinitron says:

    EA no longer hold any rights to System Shock 2.

    • Xiphan says:

      Haha, I came here to comment about that as well. The rights to the System Shock franchise have been acquired by Night Dive Studios in their entirety. So, hopefully once this project wraps up they may look into remaking SS2. :)

  9. haldolium says:

    I was wondering though if the unfiltered, pixelated textures in the new demo are actually their style or just unfinished. Does look okay on the walls, gives it some retro feeling, but stuff like the viewmodels look out of place then..

    • USER47 says:

      According to steam forums, it’s intended artistic choice. I am not a fan of it, intentionaly crappy textures seem a bit pointless in a modern remake. I hope they will reconsider it.

  10. Reuffee says:

    “BioShock was an awful lot closer to the first Shock than we gave it credit for. Shock is far more dialled down, yes, but there are a great many structural similarities.”
    I assume the ‘Shock’ in the second sentence refers to Bioshock, but i don’t think it’s very clear.

    • kalzekdor says:

      No, it refers to the original System Shock, which was more slowly paced than BioShock, or, “dialed down”.

      • TheMightyEthan says:

        I thought referring to System Shock as “Shock” throughout the article was a little confusing, since it hardly distinguishes it from BioShock.

  11. CMaster says:

    I somehow completely failed to spot that gun on my playthrough, and ended up just bashing the damn scorpion bots in.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    Regarding the extremely-obvious, “foot-high,” bloody 451 on the wall: I genuinely had to look at the Steam forums to find the access code because I somehow kept not seeing it as I traipsed up and down that hallway umpteen times before giving up. I think that it didn’t register with me as it was sooo close to the access panel, but boy did I feel silly!

    The demo itself was a nice surprise and a great way to launch a funding campaign. I’m not sure how close the final game will be to the original but I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play a modern take. I’m a Bioshock veteran but my only System Shock experience is from a partial playthrough of SS2 (I really must go back and finish that!).

    • Wisq says:

      I forget, how did they deliver the code to the user in the original?

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        It’s in an email.

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          Thulsa Hex says:

          Yeah, and there’s a goddamn email in you inventory screen at this point in the demo! It does nothing when you click on it, so for a while I was thinking that maybe this correspondence held the key and that it just wasn’t opening for me because of a bug.

          The demo did actually crash not long after I got through the door in question :(

  13. Askis says:

    It’s not made all that obvious in the demo, but that zapper has four different firemodes.
    IIRC, the default one is second-lowest in damage, but also power drain, next one uses more power but does a bit more damage, next uses a ton of power and does a good chunk of damage, last could be a “stun” setting, using very little power but I’m not sure it does any damage to the demo’s enemies at all.
    Since batteries don’t seem to be usable so far, it’s not a good idea to use the big whammy too often ;)

    • Askis says:

      And I messed up trying to quote…
      The only weapon Reboot does provide is appropriately under-powered though: a slow zap that affords an enemy enough time to get frighteningly close.

  14. Catterbatter says:

    I can feel myself being a curmudgeon, but I still play the original and think it’s fine. Couldn’t get into the sequel, which I gather is most people’s touchstone where System Shock is concerned. I don’t know if adding in elements of BioShock is going to make it a better game, but I’m inclined to think it won’t.

  15. Lintire says:

    I can’t believe that they kept the dumb stupid unreadable bio-meter but ditched the minimap.

    Overall, a fan of the graphical changes (especially giving the Hacker fingerless gloves, that’s completely in his ponytail-wearing greaseball aesthetic), not a fan of the mechanical streamlining on display.

    And System Shock 1 wasn’t exactly that mechanically complex to begin with.

  16. Geebs says:

    I was turned off by the initial screenshots (BLOOOOOOM), but the demo was seriously impressive. I think they’ve hit the “how you remembered it” target better than any other remaster I’ve seen.

    Re: “I can always spot a Unity game” – well yes, but that’s because they have a “Unity” splash screen and everybody has a huge back-slapping session whenever a high profile game is made in Unity. The renderer actually is pretty good; the only consistent problem is that Unity developers always screw up the mouse input (curse you, Bernband). In the SS demo, one of my mice worked in menus but not for mouse look and you can’t invert look with a joypad.

  17. LennyLeonardo says:

    The most disturbing thing here is the glove that only covers th e first three fingers. Why??!

  18. BobbyDylan says:

    They’re typing gloves for 1337 personal assistants.

  19. tonicer says:

    The textures won’t be getting much better i fear. Because it’s going to be multiplatform when it releases. I would recommend anyone not to buy it instantly and wait how good the PC port is going to be.

    • Eclipse says:

      herp derp.
      the texture being pixelated is an artistic decision (even if I don’t like it), it’s not like consoles cannot do texture filtering

  20. thenevernow says:

    I managed to miss the 451 code (and obviously I didn’t remember it from back in the day).

    Also, for once I am truly looking forward to this game!

  21. icemann says:

    A main concern of mine (and many others) is that Night Dive has stated that they want to make this reboot more towards how things were done in SS2. The thing there, is that System Shock 1 and 2 are two VERY different games. RPG and crafting mechanics just don’t suit this game.

    The music in the demo goes for a more Dead Space style which has many off side also.