Playing System Shock today is a bit like going back in time. The legacy of this franchise cannot be overstated. It revolutionizes the action genre. It’s clear that many games, like BioShock, Prey, and Singularity, would never have looked or worked the way they do without System Shock. The question is whether System Shock has anything to say in 2023. Given the current discussion about artificial intelligence, you’d think of course there should be a place for it.
It all starts more than 50 years into the future. You are a hacker who was caught trying to steal from the Trioptimum Corporation. You are arrested and taken to Castle Station, where you are asked to lift the moral restrictions on the station’s artificial intelligence “Shodan”. Edward Diego asks you to do him at gunpoint, he promises you a deal, and then a guard knocks you unconscious. The darkness embraces you, and after a while, you wake up, alone, left in an incubator at the station. It soon becomes clear that things happen when you have a cold.
I don’t feel any immediate nostalgia here, but I’m already experiencing the charm of the games I grew up with in my sizzling first steps. You will be given simple instructions to pick up some equipment, and then have some easier tasks. There is no clear marking or explanation of how to do what you need to do. You’re free to do whatever you want, really. It’s a bit reminiscent of 2017’s Prey. You have a backpack with limited space and limited resources to keep track of. Every shot you fire counts, and you have to limit your use of everything you find in order to survive. It is quickly revealed that the evil artificial intelligence Shodan has something to do with the enemy mutation, as he wants you and everyone else dead. Unfortunately, as terrifying as Shodan is, it looks like the AI in the System Shock remake could use some tweaking. Enemies are difficult to navigate through the environment and are easy prey most of the time.
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I think the graphics and design are very good. It looks very modern retro and I love it. Most of the squareness of the environment, which appears to have been assembled from cardboard, has been preserved. It looked good, it sounded good, and I was swept away by the vibe in no time. Shodan’s voice actors do a great job of making the AI sound scary, just like in the original. It was great to hear Terri Brosius, who voiced the character from the original, return for the remake. My biggest problem with the original and the remake is the combat. They never felt better, even in the 1990s. In this version, it feels a bit like reaction lag and attacks lack power. When you hit an enemy with an iron pipe, not much happens. Considering this aspect of the game still feels very much stuck in the 1990s, it feels a bit disappointing.
I’m a bit tolerant of the fights, even if they aren’t great, because a lot of the focus is on exploring and building your character. You put things on your characters very early on. Similar to equipping a knight in an RPG, you place items in a menu that give you abilities. In addition to these implants, you can also find a large number of voice messages and information. As in “We Go Back,” “Watch,” “Tacoma,” and “Prey,” there are puzzles to figure out. One of them sent me into the computer world of synthesizer music. I really like what I see there. Without spoiling too much, it reminded me of older 3D space games.
There’s more to it than combat, which makes some flaws less obvious. With the help of objects and clues from the environment, you can travel through places that are otherwise impossible. At first, facing these obstacles, I felt lost, and I loved it. However, I can understand that many people don’t like this. You’ll need to save often, move around the environment, and accept that backtracking is part of the experience. It’s about vacuuming the environment, navigating the space station bit by bit, while defeating the enemies that confront you. In some cases, you can use the environment to illustrate, thanks to traps, in others, you only need your trusty weapon. I love that you need to check a map to plan your route, but I know a lot of people hate getting lost and get frustrated because of it. At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice.
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If you haven’t played the original System Shock, here’s your look at an all-important but largely forgotten action RPG with an emphasis on horror. You have a memorable villain who makes his presence felt in the right way. This artificial intelligence is not as tangible and present as Grados in Portal, but it is psychotic and murderous in a completely different way. There’s a cold logic behind everything Shodan does, and you carry the knowledge to get her off the moral leash. In all this, there may be an analogy or a metaphor that can be linked to the development of artificial intelligence in our real life. The System Shock remake is perfect now. It allows us to share a classic with a new look, and a theme that happens to be relevant to the story.
However, it’s clear that even with some changes here, it’s a ’90s game at its core. The UI is clunky, the combat is imprecise, and the story doesn’t really dig deep. However, I had a great time. It’s dark, lonely, and atmospheric. Gaming historians and nostalgics will get the most out of it, but I don’t think what we have here is going to win many new fans. The new graphics, increased number of locations, and other things say it matches what is acceptable for games today. At the same time, the basic structure is outdated, which will frighten some people. The environment is the same, it’s easy to get lost. This can confuse you for the first few seconds. Then add in deadly enemies and you have something that won’t appeal to everyone. Which is a bit of a shame, because it’s a good game.
Although time has not been kind to the original, the remake manages to solve many of the problems I had with System Shock 1994. It may not revolutionize our gaming world, but it could spark some exciting discussions about artificial intelligence. It might not bring in many new fans, but it’s still a declaration of love for the original players. I’m happy with what I’m playing. It all trumps individual issues. On the other hand, I have no real nostalgia to look back on because I’m a little too young to fully appreciate the original game. However, I can say that despite the many criticisms, it is innovative. He was ahead of his time and did a lot of storytelling in the action genre. I think if you like the series, you’ll have a good time because I did. I hope the second gets this treatment before the third comes out.