System Shock Review (PS5) – A Remake that Terrifies for all the Right Reasons

AI is not to be underestimated in any scenario.

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In some ways, a remake of the cyberpunk classic that is System Shock feels years overdue. It is a groundbreaking title that deserves to be recognized as a staple of the genre and the original version is essentially impenetrable to new audiences. Yet, in some ways it still seems like a baffling project to undertake, given how System Shock is a vitally important experience to a very small group of people.

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However, System Shock was never really intended to be a game for everyone. It requires effort to enjoy it for what it is and in the TikTok era of instant gratification and miniscule attention spans, it leads one to wonder who this is made for. For fossils like myself who grew up loving 90s cyberpunk and titles directly inspired by System Shock like Deus Ex and Bioshock, despite having never played the original, this is a perfect jumping in point.

System Shock is available now on PC and releases for consoles on May 21st.

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System Shock Remake on Console Announcement Trailer | Nightdive Studios

After playing through the remake for this review, I decided to purchase the original System Shock on Steam just to compare and contrast. After spending a few hours with the original, I can see why people have always said that it deserves to be remembered purely for the groundbreaking games it inspired as opposed to its own merits.

Thankfully, this remake does manage to be an enjoyable experience in its own right, while simultaneously managing to also pay homage to the classic title it is based on. Nightdive Studios accomplishes this by completely rebuilding certain aspects of the game, while ensuring that they all still follow the same creative mentality that made the original so remarkable. For every fresh improvement the remake introduces, there is an equally impressive piece of preserved design to go along with it.

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As was the case in the original, the rogue AI known as SHODAN is what the entire game revolves around. Although the player character didn’t create the SHODAN system, it was you who removed her ethical constraints, turning her into a megalomaniacal entity willing to turn an entire Citadel Station into a horrifying experiment that involves transforming the crew into cyborgs and cultivating a mutagenic virus within the station.

This creates a nice Tony Stark, (or Hank Pym if you prefer the comics,) versus Ultron scenario that is threaded thought the unfolding plot. Casting all Friedrich Nietzsche-inspired dichotomies aside, the player’s mission is very straightforward: stop SHODAN before she can make it to Earth to carry out her reign of chaos on humanity.

System Shock Is Brilliant At Making the Player Feel Isolated and Paranoid

The way that SHODAN is written and acted is iconic.
The way that SHODAN is written and acted is iconic.

The most important thing in System Shock is tone, and that strongly defined tonal choice carries throughout the entire game. Although it isn’t strictly a horror title, there is an unbearable tension that permeates every moment of System Shock that is truly palpable. This is put front and centre and it is executed extremely well. A sense of atmosphere is effortlessly created via grim audio logs.

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Listening to folks leaving heartbreaking farewells to their loved ones and attempting to come up with desperate strategies to combat SHODAN as cyborgs close in to bring their inevitable death is even more harrowing when you know that your character is the one who caused all of it. Still though, at least they left behind some sweet loot.

The environment that is the Citadel Station feels like a character unto itself, with a claustrophobic sense of dread lingering in its cold, oppressive mechanical corridors. At times it feels as though you are wandering through the bowels of a cybernetic seas creature, like something from a futuristic Moby Dick. The streamlines HUD allows for functionality, while thankfully still being minimal enough to show off the cool retro future visuals on display.

Gameplay can feel jarringly stilted across the first few hours, but eventually the stiff flow of combat becomes more palatable. The weapon variety on offer also helps with this, with the arsenal consisting of everything from laser rifles, and incendiary shotguns, to the mag-pulse, which launches deadly balls of fiery energy at enemies.

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A Shock To the System

Melee combat in System Shock feels very cumbersome.
Melee combat in System Shock feels very cumbersome.

Although System Shock doesn’t offer the same variety of stealth options as something like Prey, that too feels true to the original experience featured 30 years ago. Speaking of how the remake pays homage to its roots, the intentionally pixelated high-res textures serve as a neat but important reminder that this is an experience from a bygone era. This is also the case with the game’s checkpoints. Death can result in a great deal of lost progress in the System Shock remake.

Inventory management, resource management, and weapon mods are all features included here and serve as a stark reminder of just how ahead of its time the original System Shock was. The amount trends that the original game set cannot be understated, and seeing that preserved in the vibrantly colored unique aesthetic of a revolutionary title is a true joy.

While it might be an off-putting experience to some younger gamers due to its plodding pace and steep difficulty curve, this is an experience worth seeking out. Nightdive Studios describes the System Shock remake project as a labor of love, and that sentiment in evident at every turn. It may not be as smooth gameplay wise as the recent Dead Space remake, but System Shock still stands out as a sci-fi horror tour de force.

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System Shock – 8/10

8 out of 10

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Written by Daniel Boyd

Articles Published: 156

Dan is one of FandomWire's Gaming Content Leads and Editors. Along with Luke Addison, he is one of the site's two Lead Video Game Critics and Content Co-ordinators. He is a 28-year-old writer from Glasgow. He graduated from university with an honours degree in 3D Animation, before pivoting to pursue his love for critical writing. He has also written freelance pieces for other sites such as Game Rant, WhatCulture Gaming, KeenGamer.com and The Big Glasgow Comic Page. He loves movies, video games and comic books.