A star rating of 4 out of 5.

The System Shock remake is the definitive way to play System Shock — that is our System Shock remake review. You can close the tab now... But wait, there’s more!


This is such a faithful and enjoyable remake that, unless you really want to see for yourself where it all began, there is now little point in playing the seminal 1994 classic.

Gone are the dizzyingly archaic controls, replaced instead with a far more natural-feeling FPS experience that doesn’t get in the way of the story or combat.

Also new is full voice-acting, which really makes Citadel Station feel like a place where people lived, worked and died in awful circumstances, elevating the very personal horrors faced by the crew.

The developers at Nightdive have really leaned into the horror, more so than the original did, and this new take is all the better for it.

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We would argue, despite that, that the System Shock remake retains too much of its mid-1990s design choices, harking back to a time at which best practices in game development were nascent at best. It is well worth sticking with and enjoying, however, as what made the original so great is also intact, updated with gorgeous visuals that pay homage to its blocky and pixelated origins.

For the uninitiated, you play as a hacker caught breaking into megacorporation TriOptimum’s servers, looking to steal the plans for a military-grade neural implant. Their security forces quickly apprehend you and shuttle you to Citadel Station, where vice president Edward Diego offers you the implant with top-quality surgeons doing the work in exchange for removing the ethical constraints of the station's AI, SHODAN.

Refuse and you will see yourself ejected into space. The hacker agrees - understandably, given the consequences - and is put into a medical coma for six months, only to awaken to find bedlam and horrors of their own doing ahead.

It may or may not shock you that BioShock draws a lot of inspiration from the System Shock series. Both are games where the populace has become corrupted and dangerous, with audio logs generously sprinkled around the world fleshing the story out - so it's safe to say you will feel quite at home on Citadel if you loved romping through Rapture.

The atmosphere of Citadel Station is thicker and more oppressive than ever. Realised in Unreal Engine 4, the corridors and maintenance shafts are dripping in cyberpunk and sci-fi goodness. It really is a joy to stop every now and then and smell the mutated flora and fauna.

The soundscape is brilliant too, with the station humming and whirring away indifferent to the misery taking place on its many levels.

A real showstopper is how the station rotates, revealing Saturn below, as well as the distant sun. There are real-time shadows being cast, moving quickly across the walls, which looks great and adds to the atmosphere.

It’s well worth taking your time, too, as System Shock is a game that demands your patience. If you run through each level blasting away without much thought, you will be utterly and completely lost — not only to what is going on, but also what you actually need to do.

Key codes, plot details and clues are all tucked away through records and logs left by the crew, some of which are easy to miss.

A still from System Shock
System Shock is a game that's well worth your time. Nightdive Studios

These logs are well worth listening to as they are brilliantly voiced by quite a large cast. Some predate SHODAN’s takeover, offering a glimpse into the daily life before it was ripped away.

One particular log sees a doomed worker asking his wife to hold their cat one last time, which really pulled at the heartstrings.

The writing and performances do a great job of representing the final struggle against SHODAN. Some are resigned, others are taken by surprise, and some go out fighting. All are desperately sad.

SHODAN, of course, is the real star of the show. Her utter contempt for you and the rest of humanity is apparent as she berates and belittles you. You truly feel like the insect she makes you out to be, caught in her nightmarish web.

Despite all the hostilities, we can't help but be extremely fond of her deliciously evil ways - and neither can anyone else, as her intimidating prowess has endured all these years.

There is a great sense of personal progress as you find more upgrades to your neural implant and new weapons to tear mutants and cyborgs apart with. You really do start to feel like an unstoppable force as you learn the ins and outs of Citadel Station.

That is, until you are humbled by opening a door like any other only to find yourself in one of SHODAN’s traps, fighting tooth and nail to stay alive with half your resources depleted.

Aiding in your combat is a suite of suitably chunky and lethal weapons, a fine ode to the mid-'90s sensibilities of first-person shooters. Nightdive Studios has remastered plenty of such classic titles, and that expertise is on full show here.

The AI is, unfortunately, a little too simplistic. We couldn’t help but laugh when a big reveal was made of an imposing robot that can throw explosive barrels — it marched its way towards us, picked up a barrel and proceeded to throw it at the doorframe we were stood behind again and again, until it blew itself up in the process. Thanks, SHODAN!

Mostly, though, you will find yourself scurrying for safety as all hell lets loose.

An unfortunate wrinkle carried over from the original is the absolute labyrinthian design of Citadel Station. It seemingly didn’t occur to TriOptimum when building Citadel to put up signs, as you will find yourself lost and retracing your steps - a lot.

We think Nightdive Studios could’ve taken a bit more artistic liberty with updating this element of the game. Unobtrusive colour-coordinated strips along the wall would have gone such a long way to help new players parse the world without straying from being a faithful remake.

A still from System Shock, with a gun shooting at a robot
Blasting an enemy in System Shock. Nightdive Studios

We also found the lift situation a little frustrating. You may expect, getting into a lift, to be able to get from the bottom to the top of the facility. “Insolent fool!” the design team at TriOptimum cry out. Perhaps thematically, lifts that keep the disgusting crewmembers away from the executives make sense in a high-tech low-life setting, but we found it just got in the way of having fun and exploring the world, and only the most hardline fans of the original would complain about a central lift.

The hacking element of the game sees you in a newly-rendered cyberspace, which is essentially the game Descent - but instead sees you battling with SHODAN’s anti-virus software.

You move through a very Tron-like environment with six degrees of movement freedom, which can be slightly motion sickness-inducing if you’re not used to it. It’s a little too easy when compared with the rest of the game, and we found ourselves strafing in a circle holding down the fire button waiting to get back into the meat of the challenge.

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Similarly, the electrical panel puzzles are obtusely opaque. Quite often, you will reroute power without any sense of what it is actually doing. Any fuse box we’ve looked at has had innumerable scribblings describing what each breaker does and we don’t think that this would have changed much by 2072.

Quirks aside, the System Shock remake is more than worth your time. It is incredible to see how the core design of a nigh-on three-decade-old game holds up and its influence on the industry is plain to see.

Nightdive has gone to the extreme in preserving and reinvigorating a piece of video game history, and you will no doubt have an absolute blast as you skulk and shoot your way through Citadel, with the story and gameplay loop more than making up for the shortfalls.

System Shock remake launches today (30th May) on PC via Steam, Epic Games Store and GOG. You can buy your copy from CDKeys for £24.99.

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