You’re an unnamed hacker who’s trying to get into the TriOptimum Corporation servers. Your goal is to steal military cybernetics that will enhance your natural abilities.
Unfortunately it’s not long after logging in that some folks comparable to the SWAT team break into your house with guns pointed at you. You give them the bird when they demand you turn around, and they knock you unconscious.
When you wake up somewhere else, a corporate executive offers you your life and the cybernetics you were trying to steal, in exchange for using your technical skills to break into SHODAN (Sentient Hyper-Optimised Data Access Network), the AI that’s hellbent on destroying humanity and runs TriOp’s Citadel Station facility near the planet Saturn. You agree to the terms…but you’re in for, well, a shock.
If this premise sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you played the original way back in 1994. Nightdive Studios took on the task of remaking this classic in modern HD nearly 30 years later. Harvesting the power of Unreal Engine 4, lighting is significantly improved, graphics are obviously enhanced, and there have been some other subtle improvements, such as making the cycling of your endless inventory a bit easier.
Admitedly I never played the original, so I was going into this game with a fresh perspective. Upon the first couple of hours of gameplay I certainly got a lot of Half-Life vibes, with the sci-fi like setting and zombies chanting “I’m hungry” while they’re chasing after you. So let me just preface this by saying: if you’re the faint of heart, this game probably isn’t for you. You’re going to see floors strewn with dead bodies. Some of those bodies have been dismembered; you’ll usually see a limping arm somewhere along the hallways of Citadel Station. You’re going to see big pools of blood, and some of those pools are accomodated with spilt guts. And whenever you get a game over, you’re going to see SHODAN take over the hacker’s body. His head will be inside the machine, while the rest of his body is suspended in midair.
Seven Years in the Making⌗
But man, this remake took a long, long time to get here. The project went on Kickstarter way back in 2016, and the game didn’t come to full fruition until it landed on Steam less than two weeks ago on May 30th. In 2018 Nightdive Studios made the announcement that they needed to “reassess our path”, shifting from Unity to Unreal, and mentioned “the more that we worked on the game, the more that we wanted to do, and the further we got from the original concepts that made System Shock so great.” As such, the project was temporarily put on hold.
Now that it’s finally here, though, I’m not sure if I’m in agreement with the “Very Positive” rating on Steam. In fact, I would label my review as controversial, since I had discovered a lot of things I simply didn’t like about the game. It wouldn’t surprise me if I get some hate for it. I couldn’t get myself to invest anything more than five hours into the game.
What I Liked⌗
Let me start off with the positives: I like the sci-fi setting. Animations are pretty decent. The voice acting, such as the repetitive nature of SHODAN’s robotic voice, definitely hit home the point that she’s pretty scary. The cyberspace levels, where the game turns into an on-rails shooter, is nice icing on the cake, with levels that are very colorful. I like the feeling of suspense and isolation as you, the hacker, are pretty much the only human left on Citadel Station. Everyone else roaming the station is either a robot, a cyborg, or a half-dead corpse that was taken over by SHODAN. Any other human that was once a part of Citadel Station no longer exists. The only times you’ll hear a human’s voice is by picking up the various audio logs that are scattered throughout the station.
The visual upgrade in both the lighting and graphics department is certainly a welcome change; there’s one particular area in the game where you can look out a window and see outer space, along with the ring that surrounds Saturn. Even for a video game, it’s a pretty sight to behold.
Aside from that, however, I was really not fond of the maze-like halls that is Citadel Station. There is little-to-no handholding in this game; there’s the brief five-to-10-minute cutscene that plays at the beginning, and from that point, you’re on your own. You basically have no idea where to go, as there isn’t a navigation system that points you in the right direction, unless you have the difficulty tweaked down. It doesn’t help that there’s a ton of doors to open, and you’re not sure what door will lead you to what. As a result, I found myself going around in circles often. Perhaps if you’re familiar with the original game, it wouldn’t be so bad, since you probably knew where to go. But by the time I thought I had finished the first level, it turned out I needed to destroy every camera in order to use the elevator – no thanks.
Speaking of difficulty, a nice perk is when you first start a game, you’re able to adjust the difficulty of various settings, such as combat difficulty, or puzzle difficulty (yes, there’s a few puzzles that need to be solved in this game). But keep in mind you cannot change the difficulty later on. There’s three levels of difficulty for each category: 1 is the easiest, 2 is in the middle, and 3 is the most difficult. I kept every category at 2.
The reviewer’s guide I was supplied with warned me that this game is difficult, and they definitely weren’t kidding. All too often I found myself cussing out loud because a cyborg zapped me multiple times with his laser, and I didn’t really have a way to combat it with the limited ammo that I had. The limited recovery items available didn’t help. And if this game was designed to give you a good jolt in the air, they certainly fulfilled their job. I would be looking at my inventory when out of nowhere a zombie approaches from the corner of my eye and starts slashing at me. The only way I can make this game easier is if I start a new game at a lower difficulty. The only way I can have a navigation system that points me where to go is to start a new game at a lower difficulty. That kind of sucks with all the progress I had made.
The autosave system is hit or miss. Sometimes the game won’t automatically save until a good chunk of the game is completed. This can be very frustrating when you get a game over – which, for me, happened quite often. You’re forced to watch that cutscene of SHODAN taking over the hacker’s body, with no way of skipping it. When you select “Continue,” you go back to the last autosave (unless you have a manual save that’s newer). That autosave might be a good hour or two behind than where you were at the game over. Now you have to go through all those maze-like doors again, watch those animations of the hacker picking up a new weapon, go through another level in cyberspace, defeat the same set of monsters, re-finish the same puzzle, etc. And if you get a game over again, well, be prepared to go through all that crap again. The only way you can alliviate the situation is by saving manually. Be sure to do so frequently. That way, after a game over, you can restart from that save point.
Don’t try mashing buttons during the game over cutscene. I did this on my Deck, thinking I could skip the cutscene. Turns out I was brought back to the main menu, and not only this, but my save data was gone! Just disappeared out of thin air! The only way I could recover the save was by transferring the save I had on my desktop. Really, really not sure why mashing some buttons would delete your save data, but do yourself a favor and don’t do that.
The Steam store page advertises the fact that it supports Steam Cloud. Surprise: it doesn’t. To pick up where I left off on my desktop, I had to manually transfer the save file over to my Steam Deck and vice versa. There isn’t any cloud save support. That’s a lie.
I’m still not done talking about the issues. On desktop (Nobara Project), the game randomly crashed. At first, I was using GE-Proton8-3. Thinking that that might have been a bit too bleeding-edge, I resorted to vanilla Proton 8.0-2. That didn’t help. I made some progress in the game, opened up the door to the toilet, and the game just shut itself off. On Deck, I wasn’t experiencing this problem. Maybe my Mesa drivers are a little too bleeding-edge? I’m not sure. But there was random crashing on desktop for reasons that I can’t explain.
Also, if you’re planning on playing this game with a gamepad as opposed to mouse and keyboard, bear in mind the game isn’t super optimized for this. You can cycle through your inventory with the D-Pad, but managing your inventory is a bit of a pain in ways that are hard to explain. You’re best off using a keyboard and mouse for now.
And besides this there are still other things I could complain about – such as the terrible default sensitivity of the camera when playing any of the cyberspace levels. You’d figure in the seven years that it took for this remake to take shape, at least some of these issues could have been addressed.
Runs Great on Deck⌗
Despite the plethora of issues, the game runs really well on Deck, actually. You should be able to get away with Medium settings with a TDP limit of 7 W, GPU speed to 700 MHz, and resolution set to 1,152 x 720, with vanilla Proton 8.0-2. Average battery consumption with these settings is around 12 W. On Ultra settings, set the TDP limit to 13 W and GPU to 1300 MHz for the same framerate. At 30 FPS you can max out the graphics settings with a TDP limit of 9 W and GPU speed of 900 MHz. To get a full 60 you’ll need to have Medium everything and disable both the TDP and GPU speed limits – even then there are some graphics settings you may need to tweak lower to get a solid 60.
See Steam Deck HQ’s report for more details.
Not for Me⌗
Overall I give the System Shock remake a thumbs down. Fans may be excited that a game they played nearly 30 years ago finally got a faithful remake. And to them, this game means everything to them.
In some ways I get the hype. There are things Nightdive Studios got right – the lighting, the graphics, the animations, you name it. But there are just so many things that turned me off – the maze-like system, with no way to know what’s the right way to go; the ridiculous difficulty, which can’t be adjusted after a save file is made; the repetitive game over cutscene that can’t be skipped; the unreliable autosave system; the sudden deletion of my save file; the lie about Steam Cloud support; the random crashing on desktop; the not-so-great gamepad controls…and the list goes on.
It does appear that the company behind the remake is being attentive to some of these issues, though. According to their Kickstarter update they’re looking into fixing quite a few things, such as the AI, some of the weapons, places where there might be a crash, improved throwing of the grenade, and plenty of other planned fixes. Still, I’m not planning on coming back to this game any time soon, for the reasons I mentioned above.
- superlative lighting and graphics
- decent voice acting
- animations are pretty solid
- performs great on Deck
- no guidance system on higher difficulties
- Citadel Station is a maze and often makes you go back to places you’ve already been
- too hard to enjoy
- difficulty can’t be adjusted
- repetitive game over cutscene that can’t be skipped
- save file on my Deck got deleted for the oddest reason
- no Steam cloud support
- autosave system takes saves that are few and far between; you often end up repeating an hour or two of gameplay after a game over, unless you save manually
- random crashing on desktop
- gamepad controls, while there, aren’t exactly great
System Shock is available on Steam for $40. It looks like according to the Kickstarter there will be a native Linux version “in the future.”
Review key provided by UberStrategist.