GLaDOS is perhaps the most famous rogue AI in video games, but long before I played Portal I was facing off against an antagonist an AI that absolutely terrifies me in a way that GLaDOS doesn’t: Shodan. While there is some humor in GLaDOS’s horror, Shodan is a terrifying megalomaniaca AIl that revels in genetic experiments and creating cyborg monstrosities while demanding her subjects worship her as a god.
System Shock is a first person adventure game that has been painstakingly recreated by brilliant retro resurrectors Night Dive Studios. In it, you play as a who is hacker forced to fight their way through Citadel station after the station’s AI went rogue. In fact, you’re the reason Shodan’s leash is unhooked. It’s your job to undo this damage as you find yourself trapped on a Citadel Station that is controlled by Shodan, with its cramped corridors filled with mutants, cyborgs, and robots bent on destroying or enslaving you.
Body horror abounds in high definition. Before the denizens of Citadel Station were depicted in highly pixelated gore, you can see the fruit of Shodan’s carnage in a whole new way. Despite System Shock’s graphical overhaul, Night Dive Studios left a bit of pixelated retro feel in their art. If you get really close to an object the textures are pixelated in a way that feels like a deliberate art choice by the developers. It helps maintain that retro feel. But you also have all of the modern graphical bells and whistles you’d expect.
While the graphics changed significantly, there has been obvious care put into System Shock’s gameplay. It feels like a modern game, but it’s surprisingly faithful to it’s the original’s design. And that means this is a true retro adventure. There is absolutely no hand-holding, so you have to pay attention to dialogue and the environment to find your next task. There are no waypoints. You can reference dialogue snippets that you find as you explore Citadel Station and discover audio logs left from the deceased crew. There are also little to no explanation on the game’s mechanics—if you’re not familiar with this type of game, the learning curve might be frustrating. Especially because there’s a real possibility you can play yourself into a corner.
If you don’t save often enough, or lose track of an important game item, you can lose chunks of time. I found myself going back to my old habit of saving frequently, and creating a new save file each time I saved so I could go back and undo anything that might get me stuck.
System Shock comes from an age of corridor shooters, and feels only one step removed from a grid-based role-playing game. What I mean by that is: most of the game takes placed in cramped environments. You could argue that this is appropriate for a space station, but it does make System Shock feel labyrthine and claustrophobic—but more in a hard to navigate way than in a scary way.
In fact, despite the Shodan’s threats and the prodigious amounts of gore, System Shock isn’t a very scary game. It does achieve a cyberpunk sci-fi atmosphere, but the hacker you play as feels very capable of handling the threats that Shodan produces. Once I got a lightsaber (sorry, laser rapier) and boots that let me run super-fast and nearly fly, I felt like Shodan should be afraid of me.
System Shock is definitely one of the most authentically cyberpunk games I’ve played in a long time. Even the original game’s infamous cyberspace hacking segments are created in bright neon colors that invoke the feeling of flying through the ‘net and compromising systems in a way that 90’s popular media promised us.
While System Shock contains some frustrating elements for the uninitiated, fans of the original will absolutely love this remake. It’s even more accessible to modern audiences, if they possess a little patience to weather the 90’s video game design. This is my favorite game of its type since 2017’s Prey, and an absolutely worthy remake to a 90’s sci-fi video game classic.
A Steam key was given to us for this review