Review: System Shock (PS5) – A faithful remake that shows its age

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They just don’t make ’em like they used to, do they? 30 years after its launch on PC, the holy grail of immersive sims, System Shock, has made its way to PS4 and PS5 with this slick remake. This is the first chance we PlayStation players have had to try out the game that inspired the likes of PREY, Deus Ex and BioShock, and as such putting together the labyrinthine space station is like an entertaining history lesson. But despite its newfound visual polish, System Shock is really starting to show its age.

The original System Shock launched in 1994 and spawned an entire genre. Against the evil AI SHODAN, an unnamed hacker must fight his way through the maze-like space station, gradually unlocking more areas. Released on PC in 2023, this remake from Nightdive Studios adds a lick of modernized paint to this classic, with a visual and gameplay overhaul that should appeal to both new and returning players.

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We’d like to start by saying that System Shock is a real treat visually on PS5. It shows off this fascinating mixed art style of both modern and retro aesthetics that perfectly embodies the original – as if Nightdive is trying to evoke what you think the game looked like before. Although the many rooms and hallways have this hard metal design, there are refreshing, vibrant colors that make each floor of the game feel fresh and unique. It’s rounded out with rock-solid performance on PS5, meaning you can glide from the maintenance floor to the executive floors without any stuttering.

The first thing you’ll notice about System Shock is that it’s not there to help you at all. This is a difficult game, both because of the mediocre combat and the grueling space station puzzles. It’s both the good and the bad of this remake, as it’s stimulating to play a game that actually requires you to scroll through text and audio logs. Something as simple as figuring out a code may require you to visit multiple areas on different levels of the station, and you’ll have to physically write down the code because the game won’t save it for you. Playing a game with a notepad at your side is a rather niche aspect of a bygone gaming era, but you’ll undoubtedly sit up a little in your seat when System Shock challenges you in this way.

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Finally figuring out a long-sought code, or turning on the power that gives you access to a whole new level of the station, is immensely satisfying. This is also a game that feeds on your curiosity, where you can follow the storylines of ill-fated characters and slowly solve the puzzle of the AI ​​takeover of the station. Very rarely will System Shock spell it out for you, so if you don’t like scrolling through piles of text, the setting will probably seem very superficial. You certainly won’t find any environmental storytelling here like you would in Dishonored, for example, and System Shock does very little to establish a history prior to SHODAN’s current takeover.

However, that is the seed of our frustrations with System Shock. Since much of the context of the station lies in the text and audio logs, there is very little reason to explore the various hallways and offices other than the need to get to the next level. Every now and then you’ll find a new weapon or modkit station to upgrade your arsenal, but for the most part you’ll be wandering in circles wondering what to do and where to go, and more than a few times You’ll spend more than 20 minutes trying to access a room that offers very little reward. System Shock is littered with dead ends, which is fine in itself, but with another Since audio logging is often the big reward, it’s sometimes hard not to feel unmotivated.

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Exploration can also feel mundane thanks to the nasty recycling system, where you hoard loads of junk, evaporate it all to solve inventory problems, and then take it to a recycling station to earn a few Vitcoins. It’s nice to see what is clearly the beginning of the recycling system in PREY, but it doesn’t quite have the same satisfying loop. Here too it becomes abundantly clear that the game is not intended to be played with a controller. Inventory management is incredibly tedious and lacks the speed and ease of use found with a mouse and keyboard.

The frustrations are also reflected in the combat, which, if we’re honest, just isn’t great. To give credit where credit is due, System Shock tries to keep things fresh with the most random collection of enemies we’ve ever seen. From cyborgs to floating bacteria, there’s always an element of surprise when you encounter new types of enemies, and things certainly get better as you discover better weapons. The problem, however, is that the combat never really has the weight or dynamism that you would get in more modern releases. Melee weapons have no impact, weapons are missing Oomfand because you have virtually no cover, you’re essentially exchanging shots with an enemy who almost never misses – and this is the same in the cyberspace portions of the game as well.

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The respawn system doesn’t help either. Because the damage you’ve done or the enemies you’ve killed carries over when you respawn, there’s rarely a sense of tension in battle. Once you’ve unlocked that floor’s respawn area, you can get back into action within 30 seconds. You then have the choice of using your healing supplies to progress, or hoarding them for the boss fights, which means you’re constantly respawning, making for tense progression. There’s an extended difficulty setting to counter this if things prove too tough, but there’s strangely no option to change this mid-game, so you have to stick with it or start over with a new save.

Conclusion

Ultimately, System Shock is the faithful remake of a 30-year-old game, and you can feel that age in every facet of its being. In some ways, this is a tantalizing throwback to the game that started an entire genre, and if you have the enthusiasm or nostalgia for immersive sims like this, then it’s worth checking out alone. If you miss that nostalgic connection, however, System Shock is more of a showcase of how far the genre has come than a spotlight on how well it holds up. System Shock may have walked so others in the genre could run, but for us that walk is just a little too slow.

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