by Derk Bil
reviewed on PC
When I learnt of Night Dive Studios was tinkering with the original System Shock to create an enhanced edition, warm waves of excited nostalgia washed over me. System Shock was the game that I enjoyed so much that I invited myself over to a friends house to play far more often than he probably wanted to have me around. I did not own a PC at the time so he got the short end of the stick - tough luck!
The graphics weren't exceptional, the aesthetics bordered on the abstract, it required hours of wrestling with DOS memory and sound card settings, but it was all worth it. System Shock offered an at the time unparalleled experience. It was a cyberpunk roleplaying game, a shooter and an adventure all rolled up into one neatly bundled package. The then unrivaled ambiance of dread looming over its players set the bar for generations of games to come.
But nostalgia is fickle mistress that does not always allow you to see how things really were. What System Shock did not do was to set new standards on how shooters would be played with mouse and keyboard. Shooter controls in the 90's were clunky at best, barely useable at worst. System Shock featured on-screen directional buttons which determined whether you were looking up, down, or straight ahead. Turning around was an equally mind boggling experience: you'd drag your mouse into a sweet spot on the screen, hold the mouse button pressed and then drag your character sideways.
If there is one area where remakes can make their mark and add value to old games, it is in the controls, closely followed by allowing for higher resolutions. But before I get into whether Night Dive Studios has succeeded there, let’s backtrack a little and look at the rest of the game.
System Shock excelled at building up its story and it has stood the test of time - it is as masterful as ever. You play the role of a hacker who has been forcefully recruited to remove the ethical constraints from a space station’s AI, named SHODAN. Being successful you are rewarded you for your trouble and given a military grade neural implant, making you the envy of hackers everywhere.
But the insertion of the device into your brain is not a simple procedure and requires you to be put into a coma during which your body has time to heal itself and integrate with the implant. The game starts when you awake from your six-month medically induced coma. You immediately figure out that everything is not okay with the world, and especially not with the space station that is orbiting it - which you happen to be on. While you were vast asleep, your contractor and SHODAN have been very busy indeed, and not for the betterment of mankind. As you work your way through the many corridors of the space base, you start to unravel the full scope of the disaster that has taken place. Not a single president's daughter has been taken, but the fate of the world still very much does depend on you!
From the moment you open your eyes, it's clear that things are bad. How bad exactly will only be revealed by exploring the station, talking to its new denizens and reading the messages left behind by the people that inhabited the station before them. All the while music - and rather excellent music - is gnawing at your sanity.
Night Dive Studios, careful to keep the original experience intact, opted to leave the old controls in and making an almost fully modernized interface available by the press of the E button. While it was fun to toy around with the old controls for a short while, I was glad to switch over.
The old controls require a lot of interface panels to be visible on-screen, wasting a lot of space as a result. These panels consume over half of the total screen, leaving little space for the actual game. Fortunately the enhanced edition of System Shock not only fixes the controls with mouse-look, it also offers a full screen toggle button that nicely brings the game into the 21st century.
System Shock never truly excelled in the graphics department but the new, higher, graphics resolutions do give them a nice boost.
Games have come a long way since System Shock. While the gaming sessions behind my friend’s Pentium 60 conjure up some great memories, I’m glad to be able to enjoy the enhanced game today and on my speedy Core i7.
The game’s setting, story and music still hold up and excellently combine to really propel the game and forward. I can tell you that it has been a true delight once again. The discoveries you make and the creatures you encounter… it's a super intense and very complete experience, even by today’s standards.
The old System Shock was not the easiest game to get immersed in and that was mostly due to its controls. The overhaul makes the game infinitely more enjoyable simply by virtue of no longer needing to struggle with these. The higher resolutions help to further highlight the greatness of this classic that inspired the creators of now legendary cyberpunk games such as Deus Ex or System Shocks' grandchild, Bioshock. If you want to explore the origins of these games, then this is the game to start with.
Every component of the game contributes to telling a terrific story.
Controls are improved but still a little clunky. Graphics quality could have been cranked up a bit higher.