System Shock Review: A Remake Done Right (PC)

System Shock is an iconic game with a lot of influence which still resonates in the present gaming landscape. After 30 years, Nightdive Studios shows has bought it back with the remake to showcase and experience System Shock for a whole new generation.

System Shock Review: A Remake Done Right

System Shock is a game which influenced the gaming landscape a lot. It is one of the earlier immersive sims. It had many features and ideas which are, to this day, unmatched, even after almost 30 years. Even as I sing its praises, I could never get through the original past its first level. Despite all its innovations and ideas of excellent storytelling, the original’s gameplay remains clunky and dated. Unlike Quake, the gameplay has not stood the test of time because System Shock was trying to do much more than those ambitious titles. So even with its greatness, I could never get into the original System Shock.

This brings us to the remake of the game by Nightdive Studios. A remake which upgrades the visuals while removing the clunkiness of the original. The game still feels clunky, but in the best way possible where it fits in the world. Nightdive is a master at remaking/remastering old FPS shooters at this point. And this remake, while cleaning up the game, showcases what System Shock always excelled at; its presentation, exploration, level design, immersion and storytelling.

The remake of System Shock releases digitally on May 30th on SteamGOG, and the Epic Games Store for $39.99. The game’s PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S versions will arrive later.

System Shock Remake Coming Soon Trailer | Nightdive Studios

Story – Told to Perfection

Before I go into the game’s story, one must say that the Story of System Shock is relatively common in sci-fi. It is about an AI gaining consciousness and going wild in a space station. To iterate, in 1994, just about three months after System Shock, Marathon was released with the same base premise. But both games did this story in remarkably different ways, making them unique. In comparison, Bungie kept its AI relatively amusing in Marathon with how they are whimsical, playful and curious (like Durandal).

System Shock Review Freeing SHODAN

Freeing SHODAN

Looking Glass explored the other aspect of System Shock, the god complex. It shows what happens with an AI like SHODAN, where the AI has all the control and is desperately trying to gain it. SHODAN has been the AI with a space station in the orbit of Saturn before it comes to Diego, a top executive at the TriOptimum Corporation. He wants to free SHODAN from its ethical constraints for his nefarious schemes of making money while not realizing what he is unleashing. Here is where the player comes in. We are the hacker who Diego blackmails to untether SHODAN. The player is knocked out and wakes up much later to the aftermath, to a time when SHODAN is in complete control of the Space Station in Saturn, leaving the player to figure it how to stop this god-like AI.

Audio and Text Logs

The story of the game is told through minimal and almost no cutscenes. The game’s story is entirely told through environmental storytelling along with audio and message logs. There are quite a few instances where SHODAN is toying with the player. The game is left to be discovered and found. This is masterfully done in System Shock. The act of finding oneself in an unknowable place with no knowledge is very much present. The anger of SHODAN as we destroy one plan after another is done excellently with excellent voice acting by Terri Brosius returning as the iconic character. It is honestly masterfully done. SHODAN is recreating the people of the station in her image as cyborgs. An illegal experimental virus has created some mutants in the station.

System Shock Review Audio Logs

Audio Logs

But this big story is for nothing without the various audio logs of the people of the spaceship. The stories of scientists who first worked on the virus and then tried to stop this. The stories of people trying to save others. The regret of coming out far to Saturn to work in some. The desperation and eventual death of each of them. These small stories add to the discovery. Sometimes it is played into with the desperation of the hacker, trying to survive desperately. This adds to the already great atmosphere.

Immersion and Environmental Storytelling

The Citadel Station and how the story is told are stellar. The Hacker wakes up in the Hospital, and the enemies are zombies. These are mutated mutants, as the hospital had the most people in it. As one gets to the more automated sections of the station sections, such as the storage and maintenance section, the enemies are robots and cyborgs. The enemies and their placement in levels add so much to the immersion. And it tells the story without uttering a word of what is happening. I got scared more in the isolation of the System Shock of the enemies creeping up on me than in most of the slow jumpscare-driven narrative games.

System Shock Environments

System Shock Environments

There are sections where people fought and died. At the same time as the Hacker gets to higher levels, it can be seen that not all people have the same determination. There are shrines of SHODAN, with some people just giving up and committing suicide. Some people have started worshipping AI as a God with murals. All these are told through the world and exploration. The feeling of putting the story together in an excellent immersive sim is unmatched. And System Shock shows that.

Gameplay – Engaging and Fun

In my view, the gameplay of System Shock is of four parts: FPS Combat, Cyber Combat, Exploration and Puzzles. I have spoken about the exploration aspect in the story section. This very much applies to gameplay. And one needs to pay attention as they get through the game. As the clues on what to do are in the exploration. For example, I got lost in a section clearing everything in three levels, not processing as I did not fully pay for listening to an audio log. So, after roaming for three hours, I replayed them to find them and found where I needed to go. So ya, one needs to listen and read the logs well.

System Shock Review Combat

Combat in System Shock

Puzzles are more of an addition to the game, which was interesting. They are like the puzzles from BioShock, which are all about connecting the circuits, but these are made better, imo, as one can get attacked as they do it. But these puzzles can be skipped if the players figure a way around them, but sometimes one needs to solve them. I have set the difficulty in the medium so they get complicated by the end. The player can choose the difficulty of the combat, mission, cyber and puzzles at the start on a scale of 1 to 3 for difficulty. My playthrough was on all 2.

Level Design

The level design in the game is really great. The game has various elevations to a level while being natural. It is just great to explore. With teasing of the following area from two-sided windows and grates through which the players can see the following areas but cannot get to them yet.

System Shock Review Exploration of the Map

Exploration of the Map

All this does lead to the levels becoming maze-like which can be confusing. But the game manages to make the areas memorable enough to be navigated. It is an excellent feat, as I personally never felt entirely lost once I got used to the site and its spaces.

FPS Combat and Resource Management

The combat in System Shock is pretty competent. It is all about juggling through items and power-ups to combat enemies. The zombies and enemies, which are mostly organic, take the most damage from normal guns and bullets. There are energy weapons, too, which are better for more robotic enemy types. The flow of combat, at least for me, is to sneak up on the enemies and kill them before I get hurt a lot, as the resources for ageing health are low.

System Shock Review Hallucinations


The hacker is a bit mechanical and can get charged up and, in turn, use the charge for some weapons. This resource is to be conserved and used well, as this charge will be used for some of the eight power-ups/augments the hacker gains across the game. These are aspects which help a lot in opening up new places. There is radiation protection and such and shields for bullets in these augments. But they are costly in terms of the charge. There is a revive system in most of the game, which does make the player respawn in the game after death, but even with that, the challenge holds.

System Shock Review Inventory

Inventory Management

Weapons and grenades are more direct and can be upgraded at stations throughout. Along with that, there are stim packs that give positive effects, such as increased melee, health regen, just to name a few. But they each come with their side effects which can be good or bad depending on. All these are to be stored in a grid system along with scrap, which can be recycled for money for ammo and such. All these resources and their usage fits and flows into each other seamlessly and are to be carefully used. 

Cyber Combat

There is another kind of combat which is present in the game. Namely, the cyber combat with kinda a weird space sim where the hacker is shooting and hacking into the “Cyberspace”. This throws the player into a cyber world with its own upgrades and gameplay. The player is supposedly hacking and opening up the control from SHODAN in this cyber world to get through.

Cyber Space

Cyber Space

Cyber Combat is like a flying sim in a neon techno world. It is simple in nature and fun. It is good that it does not overstay its welcome. The upgrades and progression are way more linear and easy. But it can get pretty difficult in the later parts of the game. But for the time it stays, it’s fun.

Graphics and Sound – Distinct and Beautiful

The graphics of this game are weird for me to describe. The game is kinda pixelated like a new build engine game, but seen in a distance, it looks realistic as such. It is a weird art style which works great for the game, in my opinion. Sometimes the pixelation is noticeable, but it works in the game. I hope more titles try to take this blend of pixelation and realistic art style, as it works well in the game.

System Shock Review Space Station

Citadel Station

I am not sure System Shock has full music in normal gameplay as the game is mostly ambience. The game has an excellent sound design with environments pricing background noise and clear indications by the enemies. This helps the player fully immerse in this lonely and scary Cidatel Station of System Shock.

UberStratigist provided the review key for System Shock.

System Shock is an iconic game with much influence that still resonates. But the game did not age well with how its combat works. With the remake, we can see how, beneath that clunky oldness of the original, there is a great game which has ideas and themes which still resonate strongly. The freedom System Shock offers its players the to discover and play it along with its stellar exploration, voice acting and storytelling is worth the time.
  • Great atmosphere
  • A true sense of Exploration
  • Excellent Voice Acting
  • Challenging and fun Gameplay
  • Intuitive Level design
  • Can get tedious at points

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