Having grown up in video games, there are some titles that you just keep hearing about over and over again, sometimes as games to avoid and other times as games having a significant impact on gaming as a whole. System Shock is one such game that is part of the latter, and at PAX West, I got some hands-on time with the upcoming remake of the first game that would help define the immersive game genre for years to come. At long last, backers of this game have some light at the end of the tunnel.
Remade from the ground up, in System Shock, you play as a hacker that has to navigate around and survive against the rogue AI known as SHODAN, who has taken over the area where you live. As one of the progenitors of the Immersive Sim genre, you will have to find your own way around and figure out ways to get around the numerous enemies and traps that SHODAN has laid out for you. As a fan of this genre of games, particularly Deus Ex and Dishonored, it was a fun look into the past through modern-day glasses.
The demo available at PAX West drops you right in, with a new opening cinematic from the viewpoint of an AI drone trying to track down your character, the hacker, and their capture by the authorities. After your capture, you are forced to do a sketchy job for some powerful individual, get immediately knocked out, and the game begins. You quickly learn that something has gone wrong, and there are strange mutated humans skulking around the dimly neon-lit areas and various robots all attempting to kill you on site. With nothing but your witts, you start scavenging what you can find as you look for a way out.
I spent my time rummaging around, trying to find healing items and ammo to protect myself with and beat back some mutant-looking people that got too close. Even though I died (which unfortunately started me back at the very beginning of the demo), I simply found new paths and areas to explore that I had missed the first time. One thing that had been stressed to me was that this remake is still based heavily on a game from a far different time where the mentality of game design was a bit different where hand-holding the player was far less expected or encouraged. If you prefer your games to be more spelled out and point you in the right direction, System Shock may not be the game for you.
This version of the remake is made using Unreal, after having jumped shipped from Unity a couple of years into the game's initial development. The team at Nightdive Studios went with a retro-inspired aesthetic, with everything having 90’s inspired textures while still being 3D models, on top of some sort of pixelated filter, that everything comes across as a bit more classic as well. For me, I felt like the look works and is a unique approach that I haven’t seen before, and wouldn’t mind other remakes adopting going forward.
I opted to play through the demo with a mouse and keyboard, though controller support is available as well, and it felt smooth to play. It controlled as well as any other first-person titles I have played in recent memory, once again owing it to being developed from the ground up with modern hardware. I can’t speak to how it compares to the control scheme of the original, but it works well here in the remake.
The only real criticism I have with the System Shock Remake is that I can’t keep playing it. I came away from the demo incredibly impressed and excited to experience the rest of the game when it eventually comes out. Kickstarter backers and System Shock fans shouldn’t need to wait much longer, though, as it looks like the wait is almost over! In the meantime, I’ve decided to buy the original game on Steam to check out, just to see what I missed back in the day until I can play the remake again.
Keyword: The System Shock Remake is finally on the horizon and it can't come too soon - PAX West hands-on>