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System Shock through the ages: remake, Enhanced Edition and original visuals compared

Postcards from Citadel Station, past and present

A collage showing the humanoid mutant enemy in the System Shock remake, System Shock Enhanced Edition, and the original System Shock.
Image credit: Prime Matter / Nightdive Studios / Origin Systems / Rock Paper Shotgun

You didn’t hear it from me, but games look different now to how they did in 1994. Mmm. Nonetheless, Nightdive Studio’s System Shock remake stays resolutely faithful to the Looking Glass original even when giving it a modern 3D makeover, with a retro flourish in its intentionally pixellated textures.

As a snappy little After Eight to the main course of Jeremy Peel’s review and OG System Shock oral history (both great, do go read those first), here’s a look at how the 2023 remake’s visuals compare to the trailblazing immsim’s previous iterations. In other words, the 2015 System Shock: Enhanced Edition, also by Nightdive, and the original. Well, System Shock Classic, which is basically the original except it runs on my PC.

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These shots are all from early in the game, so if the System Shock remake is likely to be your introduction to SHODAN and her spacefaring army of chrome-faced meat men, don’t worry about major spoilers. That’s definitely a consequence of my concern for your enjoyment, and has nothing to do with the original’s pre-mouselook controls giving me a stress headache.

Whereas System Shock and its Enhanced Edition begin with a period-appropriate cutscene collage, the remake steps into first-person immediately, with a drone’s-eye tour of your hacker’s space city before switching to the black hat himself. I approve of the change – there’s a pleasing taste of Prey’s fakeout helicopter ride in how the opening credits are served as in-world billboards.

Likewise, the remake keeps your perspective to set up the hows and whys of your presence on Citadel Station – as well as its state when you wake up. I am digging that holographic cuboid monitor in the older versions, mind.

Fresh from an enforced nap, we’re immediately hit by three decades’ worth of graphical and – let’s be honest – UI improvements. It’s neat how the almost stained glass design of the cryo beds is maintained across the years, though, and the extra sharpness afforded by System Shock: Enhanced Edition’s modern resolution support makes for a remastered look all by itself.

Here’s the first of SHODAN’s mutants to show its ugly, varyingly detailed face. The remake certainly dials up the gore, both on this fella and in general; I’ve read some takes that this actually diminishes the scariness versus the origina/Enhanced enemy design, which relies more on the horror one can conjure up with some imagination. YMMV but I appreciate how the remake’s baddies have been more extensively corrupted by the rogue AI’s mad science.

Puzzles have had a relatively substantial remaking. What previously involved clicking on some 2D plus symbols while staring at a wall panel is now a more tactile, fully manipulable rewiring job, while staring at a wall panel.

Cyberspace! This is another area where Nightdive ran with the concept a bit, replacing the wireframe aesthetic with something altogether more solid and VR-ish. It arguably loses some the original’s eerie quality in the process, though.

This particular room, a key stop on your way through Citadel Station’s medical deck, is opened up significantly in the remake. Perhaps better reflecting its importance to the new owner, or just to make room for the addition of that cute little janitor-bot. Steam venting from the four cores also adds a nice dash of sci-fi atmosphere, not that System Shock was lacking in it previously.

Onwards now to the research labs, which manage to feel even more cramped and horrible than the med deck. There’s some lovely colour-contrasting lighting here in the remake, though the original and Enhanced Edition’s darker imagining still holds up for nerviness.

Finally, let’s check in with one of the less organic foes, a Security-1 robot. I’m not sure about the ROG Ally light rings on his newly remade chassis, but otherwise it’s a decently threatening design based on a bot that’s actually quite small and unimposing in the original.

Thus concludes this time-travelling tour. The System Shock remake is out now on PC, having overcome a series of lengthy delays.

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