Night Dive Studio’s upcoming remake of the original System Shock is set for release sometime at the end of this Summer. The original released way back in 1994, and was in many ways ahead of its time. It was one of the first fully 3D games, instead of linear levels in games like Doom it focused on open exploration, looting for resources, shooting, and story. Among other things, it also introduced audio logs as a storytelling tool, something still widely used in many games today.
The original System Shock from 1994
Bringing something as old as System Shock to modern audiences is no small task as the game is obviously very dated in technical terms. Nightdive started development on Unity engine and even released a demo for Kickstarter campaign back in 2016. After that, the game was put on hiatus, the developers switched to Unreal 4 engine and restarted development. With the new engine they expanded the scope of the game and abandoned the plan to make a 1 for 1 remake, instead they opted to make something more realistic, and improve on the original level design.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the Kickstarter backers started to complain since they backed the project expecting a promised 1 for 1 remake. When combined with a severe case of feature creep during development, Nightdive eventually pulled the plug on the first Unreal engine 4 build and went back to the original idea of a faithful remake. The latest demo features a complete Medical level, is much closer to the original, and is available for free on GoG and Steam.
The developers also added a filter to the textures that show pixelation when looked up close, a nice little touch that adds to the nostalgia to some people, while it's a terrible eyesore to others. An option to turn the effect off would be welcome, but for me personally it's not a big deal.
Even though the game looks gorgeous there are some problems with the visuals. For one the game is too dark in its current iteration, much darker than the original game. The other problems for me are some elements of the art style, the game features a lot of colourful lights scattered pretty much everywhere from floor to wall. While they may be pretty to look at, they make reading the environment a bit straining on the eyes. Sometimes it's hard to determine what's interactive and what's not.
Gameplay will be familiar to anyone enjoying the slow and steady approach of looting everything not nailed down, killing enemies on the way, and solving an occasional puzzle. The demo features five weapons, and a bunch of grenade types. Every weapon is beautifully animated with a satisfying sound to boot, while the grenades are a little bit unpredictable to use. You'll often miss your mark when throwing a grenade as they tend to slide quite a bit when touching the floor. Melee with the lead pipe is obviously an improvement over the original but it still feels a bit floaty. Overall, considering Nightdive is a small team and we can't expect perfection, however the gameplay is more than good enough. Gunplay is satisfying, enemies are aggressive enough to pose a challenge, but not overwhelmingly so to frustrate players.
One element of gameplay that probably won't be everyone' s cup of tea are the Cyberspace sections. While they're much easier than in the original game, it's still fells like a chore when you need to complete them.
As for the soundtrack, the original tunes won't feature in the remake. Instead, we'll get some mood setting ambient tracks. The track featured in the demo is not particularly memorable, but it sets the right tone for exploration.
All in all, judging by the demo we'll get a fine excuse to revisit the Citadel station. System Shock is a landmark game whose influence still goes strong 27 years after release, and for that reason alone it deserves a remake that will do it justice. Nightdive did not set any concrete release date, but if everything goes according to plan, the game should come out near the end of the Summer. Hopefully there will be no more setbacks and the game will release after five years of turbulent development.
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