System Shock (2023) is a remaster of the original game that came out back in 1994, and whilst I never played (or even heard of) the original title, checking through some old gameplay videos, it's evident that Nightdive Studios poured a lot of love and passion into this remake.
As a preface, I wanted to add that System Shock offers a customisable difficulty that makes it accessible for those who aren't into being lost and dying constantly! I never changed it from Normal, as I figure it's important to judge games by what their intended version is.
I'd like to mention that the game that I thought I was going into is very different from what I got: the title's Steam page makes System Shock sound like a hectic FPS in space, so I expected something like DOOM. I anticipated tons of battles, multiple weapons, abilities, and even a tinge of horror... what I got was more of a 3D metroidvania that doesn’t hold your hand.
Due to this, my first few hours with the game felt less than favourable. I spent a painful amount of time at the brink of death, scavenging for any sort of healing I could find, and fighting every enemy melee because there wasn't enough ammo to cover more than a fight or two. Additionally, because I didn't expect the game to be a metroidvania, I just ran around like a headless chicken, entering rooms haphazardly and collecting everything I could find; I was too deep in by the time I realised I needed to pay attention to key cards, rooms, and the map. Finally, to make matters worse, after surviving for an entire hour by the skin of my teeth, I eventually perished and lost all the progress due to crappy autosaving.
It's safe to say that I wasn't the game's biggest fan at that point. I began quick saving every time I felt unsafe and playing much more carefully, and I decided to erase any assumptions I had: System Shock isn't like DOOM, and I had to learn what type of game I was dealing with. After fighting for my life — and continuously failing — I finally decided to start from a fresh file.
This was finally when I began liking the game a bit more. Whilst it was still a bit rough around the edges with the lack of tutorials, confusing areas, and an unfathomably low amount of ammo, I had a better grasp of where I had been and what I was doing. It wasn't until I hit 10 hours in System Shock that I finally started understanding that I would have to figure things out on my own because the game wouldn't tell me — the tutorials were never going to arrive.
From an outside perspective, it must sound incredibly dreadful that I was hopelessly lost until the 10th hour, but I genuinely enjoyed the experience once I knew what to expect. System Shock is a game unlike any I've played in a while: it has a bit of everything and it gives you no hints, so it was challenging in a way I didn't expect. Although the combat is pretty simple (and almost boring), it's not the only thing you'll face — there are tons of puzzles to beat and features to work out on your own that keep you busy enough.
I'll be honest with you: I couldn't tell you much about the story. It's all told through myriads of notes spread across the ship, which is definitely my least favourite way to unravel a narrative. Whilst they all have a voiceover, it takes an enormous amount of focus for me to listen to them while walking around, and the sheer number of them ended up in me standing around listening to randomised bits of stories for too long. I don't have the memory or attention span to keep up, and on top of that, I was either about to die or constantly dying, so I just didn't care. But I didn't personally feel like it hindered my experience not to know every single detail of the narrative.
Finding notes and memos isn't the only incentive to explore, however, as you can also find various upgrades, which I highly appreciate. From being able to see the enemy's life bar to having a shield that'll absorb some damage for you: there's a good reason to go out of your way to check every nook and cranny of the ship, especially if you care to hear the story, as the notes are spread all around.
For the most part, you'll be running around trying to find the right keys to open doors and get to the elevator to reach a higher floor. Each time you get to a new level, you'll have to explore the new area to get the right keys again, all the while fighting new enemy types. There's a nice variety, they're all very easy to fight by just learning their attack patterns or even luring them into a corner and blasting them with a grenade.
Aside from getting boosts, health items, and ammo, you'll find a lot of items to vaporise; this exists to give you Scrap, which you can then feed to a machine to get Credits to buy any supplies you might need. Although having to click on each one and then select "vaporize" from the drop-down menu was slow and annoying, I don't think it's necessary to do so all the time. For the first nearly 10 hours of playing, I didn't get to use the Scrap I had hoarded up in fear that I'd misuse it (due to lack of understanding the game), and then when I was confident enough to, I had an overflow of health items so I didn't need it.
And lastly, although the puzzles aren't overly complex, with the lack of tutorials and their randomly generated nature, they are more than challenging enough, and I quite enjoyed tackling them. For the most part, this is what you'll be doing in System Shock: exploring to get items, fighting enemies to clear the ship, and solving puzzles to enter rooms so you can get to the next level.
In fear of ruining someone's experience of finding everything out for themselves, I won't elaborate on what type of things I had to figure out on my own. I just cannot stress it enough that there are no tutorials — I didn't know how the weapons worked for hours, I didn't understand what the point of the energy was, I had no idea how to get Credits... the game doesn't even explain to you what the puzzles are, or that they even are a puzzle. There is zero hand-holding in the game.
This isn't a bad thing, however; I got to get through being unable to Google for any answers, and there are no words to describe how it feels to finally get that "click" when your mind makes a connection and you now understand one of the features. It's a rewarding experience that isn't as common nowadays in videogames. And if you struggle too much, you can customise what sort of difficulty you want in-game, too, making it more accessible… or Google!
That all being said, I really enjoyed my time with System Shock. If not just for the phenomenal remake, then for the challenge of surviving in a game that gives you no help whatsoever. Plus, I will never get tired of that fantastic sci-fi aesthetic!
System Shock (2023) (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Unforgiving, with no tutorials, and a true-to-classic experience, System Shock is a retro survival horror title through and through, but you should still consider checking it out, even if you don’t care for the original.