tldr; If you played the original; have fun this might not be for you. If not well then don't get swept up by the hype - if you are thinking of getting this game consider the fact that are you able to live without all the quality of life updates modern gaming has brought you?
So dear reader if you did not know the game "System Shock" got remade and launched on May the 31st 2023. I bought this on release day so there were no reviews online at the time. Now, don't get all jittery expecting me to start spewing out gaming reviews on the regular. This is an exception, largely because I thought it might be a thought provoking topic. It stirred up some musings I'd like to share. I will first layout the objective view, then followed by more subjective view and where I start nit picking.
No, "System Shock" isn't a cherished memory from my childhood, it's a relic from an era I did not witness. If it was not obvious, this game is/was before my time so I have no nostalgia for it and I don't really know the affect the original has had on my life. But this remake has presented an interesting dichotomy: the veterans lost in their nostalgia and the rookies befuddled by the dated mechanics. It's a generational gap.
First, let's lay down some facts. "System Shock" hails from the era of dial-up internet and bulky CRT monitors, a brainchild of the 90s gaming scene. It was groundbreaking for its time, weaving a deep narrative into an immersive gameplay that captivated countless hearts. The remake aims to rekindle that spirit, albeit in a prettier package. I feel this is why it holds a special place in the hearts of those who played it during their formative years, it's more than just a game, it's a cherished memory.
So let's set the scene from my perspective.
Picture this, I am deciding wether or not to purchase it on Steam on release day or not, so I start looking online for what people have to say from various sources.
Rave reviews and curious promises of the sinister AI SHODAN's dominance, people are leaving reviews saying it's the future of ChatGPT and people salivating at the prospect of be dominated by SHODAN, this all naturally intrigued me, I too wanted to witness SHODANS dominance. I took the plunge, a little foolhardy, perhaps, but the 'hype' was real. What I encountered, however, was an odd mix of PS3 era graphics and awful graphics slapped onto a fossilized core gameplay. The mechanics, while a nostalgic nod for some, felt antiquated and clunky to my modern gaming palate. It is so hard to pin it down but this feels clunky and outdated compared to the polished experiences I am used to. Perhaps this is due to the natural evolution and refinement of a product. But does that make it bad? Not necessarily. It's simply a clash of differing expectations shaped by the times we grew up in. And right there is my point - The generation gap. Nostalgia vs modern expectations.
To end the objective bit and more onto the subjective bit I'd suppose I'd have to say: It's not about deciding which is better or worse. It's about understanding that different generations have different experiences and expectations. And that's okay. There's value in exploring and appreciating the diversity of experiences. Perhaps you are a modern gamer and you gave this a shot and found out this is the game for you.
Now for the subjective bit—buckle up, because it's going to be a bumpy ride.
I was one of those duped by the hype. "System Shock" didn't impress me. It was a chaotic cacophony that failed to stir up the fun-factor. The 'gameplay loop' was barely existent, the combat mechanics were as responsive as a plank of wood, and the guns... don't even get me started. They felt as impactful as a water gun in a thunderstorm, completely missing the satisfying auditory and visual feedback we've grown accustomed to. The combat feels awful it's like your enemies are paper and not reacting to your actions at all. There was no connection, no sense of action and reaction. What happened to the tactile thrill of combat, the strategic positioning, and engaging enemy behavior? Hell, I missed the trusty cover system and modern 'rag doll' physics that provide much-needed visual feedback. And the melee combat? About as exhilarating as watching paint dry. You bait, dodge, swing, rinse and repeat, until you're bored to tears. Just who exactly can say 'Yes this is a great combat loop I am enjoying my encounters' especially at the price this game is sold for. For the price I had the expectation that all of these refinements to be retro-fitted, but no it stays true to itself and hey given what we are working with here I can't really fault it too hard. I found it boring.
Then there's character movement. You know how in FPS games, the character's motion, footfalls, even camera movements just feel... right? It's about the weight behind actions, the sense of momentum. Well, this game made me feel like I was in control of a rusty tin man. Movement feels "stiff". There's something wrong about it that I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps it's the lack of those subtle refinements that developers have perfected over the years, which, when absent, make a game feel hollow. It also made me realize how important simply pressing WASD is in gaming, by pushing these humble movement directions you are setting into motion a complicate symphony of moving parts all blending together just to move a step in that direction.
Don't even get me started on the graphics. They're a veritable assault on my aesthetics - a gruesome mashup of pixelated textures and mediocre modern graphics. They fail to create an immersive atmosphere, which left me relying on the music and lighting for a semblance of ambiance. But lo and behold, even those elements are unimpressive. I can only dream of the neon glow that some 'RTX ON' magic could add to the dismal lighting, or the audacity some bold sound design could bring. So even in the era of 'RTX ON' this brings the permanent 'RTX OFF' once again, um that price?
The last few points I want to make are with regards to the level design, but if it's mimicking the original there's nothing that can be done but let's look at it anyway.
The level design is a dull expanse of huge, empty rooms and lackluster puzzles, punctuated by audio logs that are about as engaging as elevator music. The game is in dire need of some life, some vibrancy, some uniqueness to make each room worth exploring. Sadly, it is as lifeless as a cemetery. Some how when you open a door an enemy is standing right there in the door way waiting eternally for it's "surprise" moment. It really detracts for the ambience. Surprisingly this game needs more life, it needs more reason for these rooms and they need to look different. Then there is the issue I have with the audio logs, I don't know if it's the voice acting or the character portrayal of the situation but it failed to hook me. Oh but you will be thankful for those audio logs as that will be your only source of stimulation as you walk from wherever you found it to your next destination, in the void of a lifeless area. Oh but of course modern day gaming fails at this as well, most 'open world' games suffer from this a lot more, so there needs to be a balance some where.
Then there is the hacking minigame. Perhaps in its heyday, it was innovative and engaging, but to the modern palate, it's about as enticing as cold, day-old soup. Your aim wanders like a drunkard on a rickety ship, and trying to anticipate where your shot will land feels like a game of Russian roulette. Credit where it's due, though, it does offer a jarring deviation from the usual gameplay. Yet again, the vast, empty spaces rear their ugly head, making every level feel like a tedious march through an endless wasteland. Trust me, the thought of a tighter, more varied level design crossed my mind more times than I'd like to admit.
I found the puzzles to be real tedious and frankly boring, I felt as if a change of perspective when interacting with these puzzles might've helped or the way of interacting with the puzzles should change at least it just does not work in it's current form.
And then we have the delightful task of inventory management. In the right game, it can be a compelling mechanic, like in 'Biohazrd/Resident Evil 4'. But here, it feels like the awkward first attempt of a fledgling genre. A proto inventory management if you will. There's no rhyme or reason, just a motley collection of trash and duplicate weapons.
There's a glimmer of charm buried somewhere in this game, like a diamond in the rough. For those patient souls with an abundance of time, this game might offer some obscure, retro delight. But alas, for me, it was an experience best forgotten.
And that's my perspective, folks. I might be spoilt by the creature comforts of contemporary gaming, but I reckon that's a fair trade-off for the prolonged development times we put up with. But wait a minute - wasn't 'System Shock' in development for years too? In a blink, I realized I was traversing a barren landscape of unenjoyment - a real crying shame. The stylistic choices assaulted my senses and kept me from immersing myself in the game, much like the eyesore that was 'Ghost In The Shell SAC 2045'.
Now, it begs the question: Is it possible to blend a modern gameplay experience with a classic story? Sure, but the devil's in the details - perfecting combat dynamics, weapon feedback, sound effects, muzzle flashes... and the list goes on. Without the financial muscle of a AAA studio, this might just be a pipe dream.
But, let's not lose sight of the bigger picture here. This isn't just about gaming. It's a microcosm of the generational shifts we see in our culture, our consumption of media, and our interactions with the world around us. What thrills one generation might seem alien and superfluous to another. (P.S I don't like Star Wars episode 7,8,9)
So, what's the next move? It's simple - open dialogue. Let's acknowledge our differences and strive to understand. Sure, we won't always see eye to eye, but at the very least, we'll learn something new. I hope this sparks some introspection, dear reader, as much as it did for me.