Nightdive's remake of 1994 classic System Shock hasn't had the smoothest development run, first having some money issues in its Kickstarter a while back, then having to reboot itself with twenty-twenty-something release dates chucked out there more as hopeful concepts than assurances.
Having gone hands-on with a short 20-minute-ish demo of the game at this year's Gamescom, I can confirm that the remake is real and seems faithful to the original despite some heavy tinkers in the modernisation station. For nostalgic fans it should make for an exciting revisit to cyberspace, but I'm unsure whether it'll land quite as well for newcomers seeking a showdown with Shodan.
The demo kicked off right at the beginning of the game and immediately showcased one of Nightdive's licks of modern paint. In the original, you'd have a cutscene of your main character (referred to simply as the "hacker") pottering around their apartment block, but in the remake the devs have turned it into a playable intro where you're actually able to stroll about and soak in the atmosphere. It may only be a short rummage around your digs, but it's a neat step towards making an iconic immersive sim all the more immersive without harming the integrity of the original.
Later I found myself in a claustrophobic space station populated by rotund robots, corpses, and sad aliens. As a newcomer to System Shock, it seemed like a strong start as I pressed green buttons to open sliding doors and plopped discarded crisp packets in my inventory to stave off the oppression. The atmosphere was spot on, it being all hisses of torn cables and the patter of your footsteps on cold, iron grates. The colour palette is awash with neons and CRT greens, with pixellated building blocks when you inspect things up close. It really does capture the feeling that you're trapped in the bowels of a ship controlled by an unhinged AI, and ensures it looks the part too.
Later in my door opening saga, I encountered one that needed a keycode, so I circled the same few rooms endlessly, until I found the note containing said keycode and disappeared it into the depths of my inventory. After a bit of a struggle, I found the right section of my inventory to then consult the keycode, went up to the door, and then manually popped the numbers in (manual inputs are an immersive sim's bread and butter). Voila! Only, like, it was an absolute ordeal that perhaps captured some of the original's finicketies. Where it might control like a modern game and, largely, present itself as a 21st century production, it definitely wrestles with some elements of its past that may not bother veterans, but could rub newbies up the wrong way.
After a smidge of combat, in which I bonked some aliens and some robots with a steel pipe, I felt the same push and pull of new and old. Where the controls and animations are wonderfully executed and 100% more intuitive than you'd expect, there's also a slight weightlessness to defending yourself. Quick smacks of my pipe didn't register much of a reaction on the enemy's part, nor was it easy to tell whether I'd truly connected with my target. Sure, this might get polished up later down the line, but it makes you wonder whether the original's combat should be preserved a bit less accurately.
The last portion of the demo was spent in cyberspace, having jammed my arm into a special socket in the wall. Things went all vaporwave as I steered a little spaceship through a set of colourful corridors, pew-pewing missiles at rival ships and hoovering up health pickups. It was fun albeit confusing and without any real context. What was the end goal? What would I receive? How do I get out of this mini-game? Again, probably very fun and intuitive for returning fans, but fine if a bit irritating for someone like me who's new to it all.
Without a doubt, though, the game had the magnetic pull of the best immersive sims. No matter how frustrated I was at some of its more obvious antiquities, I was totally sold on System Shock's world. I'd was there examining little chips on the floor, or reading audio logs and relishing the fact that a compass wasn't responsible for steering me through absolutely every objective (even if I wished for a bit of a helping hand sometimes.)
From what I played of the demo, Nightdive's System Shock remake seems to capture a lot of what people liked in the original and should please the old guard. But in crafting a faithful remake, where they've got to be so careful of invoking the ire of the veterans, I do wonder whether some aspects of the game never got a chance to be reborn for the better, instead gunning for safe options that may veer into outright unwelcoming for those new to a classic.
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