4 / 10

7 minutes


  • It’s not good
  • Graphics are a not great mix of pixelated walls and “high-res” monsters; also, way too dark
  • Melee feels horrible, weapons don’t feel impactful; not enough ammo around
  • No objectives, no clarity

I’ve spent the last four hours wrangling through System Shock Remake Demo’s empty blue corridors, feeling as clueless as The Tourist (2010) when it comes to figuring out what I’m supposed to be doing or how half the mechanics in this game even work. And yes, that was a reference to one of the more unpleasant movies I’ve seen. It seemed appropriate since this is one of the more unpleasant demos I’ve played.

Mutant looking like a bad Spiderman costume someone found at Dollar Tree

Let’s start from the very beginning.

System Shock was an early ’90s title developed by Looking Glass that ended up being one of the most influential games in the sci-fi/cyberpunk genre of PC games.

It’s been cited by Ken Levine as one of the major inspirations for Bioshock, and ditto for Warren Spector and Deus Ex (which, incidentally is one of my favorite games) – needless to say, it’s also a game that I had high hopes for.

At some point, a company called Night Dive Studios secured the rights to the franchise, released the “enhanced edition” of System Shock 1, and started working on a full remake of the game.

About a week ago, the first demo of the game was released from its cage and thrust into the wilds at GOG.

First things first: eagle-eyed readers might notice the words ALPHA BUILD in the right corner of the screenshot above. The actual release date is set for December 30, 2020, but I’m not entirely sure if this is accurate based on the state of the game right now.

And with that bit of foreshadowing, here’s my hot take: the game is not good.

There’s definite potential here for an entertaining sci-fi horror-shooter, but it’s going to be a long way to that point.

The Story So Far

There’s definite potential here for an entertaining sci-fi horror-shooter, but it’s going to be a long way to that point.

You start out as an unknown hacker waking up from a six-month coma. Apparently, in the past you tried to deface the website of some huge conglomerate but failed miserably and got caught by the feds. Normally, you’d be shot for such an offense, but one of the execs at the company decided to make a deal with you instead: if you could hack this supercomputer on some space station orbiting Saturn, he’d give you some new dental implants because, like, your teeth looked awful.

You succeeded, you got your implants, and you spent months healing from your surgery. Alas, in that time the supercomputer decided to go crazy and turn everyone into mutants and zombies. [note: not actual story, but it’s close]

90s Era Game with ’00s Era Textures

Well…Night Dive Studios decided to go with a hybrid old-and-new art style, which essentially means pixelated-looking (ugly) textures with higher-res models for creatures. Except the enemies aren’t great-looking either.

I understand the rationale – to preserve the style of the original game – but the end result of this unholy chimera looks, at worst – awful. At best, it just looks weird.

And I don’t want to say that 100% of the game is graphically garbagio. There are some scenes that offer hints of potential (kind of like the rest of the game). Here’s one:

A room with so much wasted potential.

Initially, I walked into this room wielding my bloody pipe and thought, “Oh shit, now we’re getting somewhere.” I was ready for some spicy new environments, man-eating plants, whatever – to finally change up the formula. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and the game quickly returned me back to the reality of dull, lifeless navy blue corridors with poor lighting. (speaking of which: a brightness setting would have been appreciated in the demo).

I’m all for setting atmosphere, but when graphics prevent you from being able to make out enemies zapping you from a distance, there’s a problem.

When the shooting starts, the looting starts

In System Shock – both the demo and the original – you start with a lead pipe. You’d better learn to love melee combat, because ammo is extremely scarce for most of the game. And sadly, whacking at zombies with a pipe isn’t as fun as it sounds – melee in general feels very off, partly due to your hits having little impact (or looking like they have no impact due to choppy animation and/or no real hit confirmation), and partly due to the idiotic way your hacker boy swings it. I hesitate to even call it a swing, since it’s more like a two-handed jab. With a pipe.

Fighting zombies (who have extraordinarily long arms for some reason) is essentially a coin-flip as to how much damage you’re going to take.

You get a pistol early on, but not a whole lot of ammo (more on this later). Maybe half-way through the demo you find a (working) sparq gun that uses energy – a resource like health – to zap stuff. I think there were two charging stations during the demo, but there’s a large section of the game where you won’t have one available to you unless you backtrack to the beginning areas.

There are grenades but these are kind of laughable, because they get thrown instantly upon hitting the hotkey (no equipping and aiming here!).

Besides zombies, there are a few other mobs that you’ll encounter during your travails in System Shock. A disproportionate amount of these monsters are cyborgs who zap you with their little Noisy Cricket gun (which does a shit-ton of damage) and get this: once you do kill them, their gun falls on the floor and immediately breaks. I’m not joking. And you can pick it up afterwards and it’ll be damaged and useless. I envisioned being able to pick these up to replenish your energy supply, or to break them down for parts, or maybe even wield them as a one-time use weapon; instead, it sits in your inventory and just taunts you. “You thought I, a gun that was working seconds ago, would actually be usable? By you? Hahahahahaha sucker!”

From what I remember, there are two types of cyborgs, the drone guy that I described above and cyborg assassins which come later in the demo and really kind of hard to see.

There’s also some hostile robots in the beginning but these are basically target practice.

Now let’s talk about looting corpses.

This game is stingy beyond belief with loot.

This game is stingy beyond belief with loot. The absolute best thing you’re going to find on a corpse is a medi-patch thing (heals 30 health), which is already incredibly rare. You won’t find ammo. Nor guns (except the aforementioned broken ones that are unusable). Or anything else moderately useful. This is a big problem in the early- and end-game parts of the demo since you’ll be out of pistol ammo and far away from a charging station. Near the end, I ran out of all ammo and literally started sprinting at bad guys with my 2″ long pipe.

[Okay, slight aside. I hate the idea of charging stations, because it takes a limited resource and makes it unlimited so long as the player is close to – or willing to make the trek to – the station. And if the player got into an extended gunfight and wasted all of their ammo, now they’re forced to go back which just doesn’t seem fun.]

There’s one last thing that needs to be mentioned here before I get off my soapbox. And that is the complete lack of any sort of clarity in the game. In other words, very little is explained about gameplay elements and you never have any idea of where you’re supposed to be or what you’re supposed to be doing. There are these audio logs scattered throughout levels (and now you know where Bioshock got that idea from) but they don’t provide clear direction. There are no objective markers, the map doesn’t tell you anything, and of course there’s no one to ask because Everyone’s Dead.

This ambiguity also spills over to some of the switches and puzzles. There’s one really important switch about 75% through the game that’s locked behind a mini-game where you have to plug/unplug certain jacks and toggle circuits to get a specific color. But the game doesn’t actually TELL you to do this, and whatever you plug in just ends up activating a green light at the end no matter what. As as result, I thought I’d completed the puzzle and spent the next thirty minutes backtracking, trying to figure out what got activated.

I’m actually pretty tired, both from playing through this demo and then re-torturing myself by writing an entire essay’s worth of complaints. Who really should be playing this game? Anyone who absolutely loved the original System Shock would probably be a prime candidate. Everyone else should go play Deus Ex.

System Shock Remake Demo is currently available for free on GOG.

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4 years ago

[…] First off, when you take out an enemy, you get their equipment. That’s their gun, a grenade of some sort, and spare ammo. God, I wish more games had this for the sake of realism. Guns shouldn’t just break because its owner died. -System Shock Remake demo review […]