System Shock hands-on was the biggest surprise of Gamescom this year

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,

The System Shock remake for PS4 from Nightdive Studios made a surprise appearance at Gamescom 2022, showing off the game's new neon-drenched aesthetic and action-packed gameplay. What did we think of this classic PC remake?

At Gamescom 2022, TrueTrophies got hands-on time with the System Shock remake coming to PS4 at an undisclosed point this year. Nightdive Studios, having taken on a remaster of Quake and Blade Runner only recently, is coming out with this fully remade version of the 1994 PC classic. Our initial impressions are that it has a stylish obtuseness preserved from the original — a quirk it owns so thoroughly that it has made the puzzle-orientated FPS System Shock one of our favourite games at Gamescom 2022.

System Shock (2022)System Shock (2022) is bringing 1995 back to reality

A short history of the old PC cult classic

Let's talk about System Shock's history, briefly. When the game launched in 1994, it was at the forefront of FPS design, though it had adventure game lineage running through every Cyberpunk-encoded wire. It's fair to say, I think, that Doom left it behind in the popularity contest after hitting a year earlier, while Wolfenstein 3D was still entertaining after release in 1992, while Bungie's Marathon would soon find footing in the Mac market in 1996.

System Shock was certainly not forgotten — it's heralded as a classic today — it was just surrounded by indomitable quality in that early FPS space. System Shock 2 would come to be in 1999, and the game would get two spiritual successors in Bioshock and Deus Ex. Now, Nightdive Studios have come along after porting the original in 2015 with the Enhanced Edition. That familiarity has spurred the team to make this new version — kickstarted in 2016 — which has been built from the ground up in Unreal Engine 4. The huge graphics overhaul has been matched by a myriad of smaller quality of life changes, like normal-looking motions, proper tutorialisation, and plenty of little bits to ensure no one is going to be fist-through-screen annoyed at some of the puzzles.

The System Shock Remaster gameplay impressions

That brings us right up to date with me at Gamescom 2022, stood outside the System Shock booth, wondering if I should have actually played the original before taking on this appointment. Not to boast, but I wasn't born when the game was released, so I missed the too-angular-spaceship on the original PC release. As a sweaty young simpleton outside the booth, all I could think about was the Cyberpunk genre, the modern glaze, and the 90s FPS adventure game energy. It all screamed Doom (2016) potential to me, but less metal and more beep-boop electronica with sickeningly trippy LSD visuals playing on a CRT.

If anyone else is coming in with those vibes, you'll be pleased — System Shock delivers. The opening cutscenes have that Blade Runner LA-thing going on that puts you in the midst of a technological and social dystopia. The first part you play sees you getting to grips with the point-and-click aspects of the game that involve a bit of button pressing in a super depressing apartment. While the first-person movement experience has been brought right up to date, feeling slick and crisp to move around to the point where you'll subconsciously pick it up without even thinking about the old drag-and-move viewport, it's the cursor-driven button presses that are so wonderfully straight out of the 90s. It's tactile in a way that exudes that chunky 80s futurist tech with big old buttons and pixelated toxic-green screens.

System Shock (2022)System Shock has plenty in store for new and old players

That is important to note, as it is the first inkling that suggests the developers at Nightdive Studios knew exactly what to modernise and what to leave alone. This is a game that needed everything around the gameplay to be as easy as every other modern FPS if it wanted to draw you in. Other touches, like keeping the art direction, and the compelling simplicity of working out what the buttons on a wall do with a cursor, worked then and they work now. When you decipher the language of the in-game controls, the plot gets its narrative hooks in you. Your hacker character is arrested by some armed guards because you have good, fast keyboard fingers perfect for breaking into weird stuff like the ethical parameters of an AI with a big creepy digital Medusa head.

There are corporations involved in this strange old year of 2072 — try the TriOptimum Corporation out as a classic Cyberpunkian name — and all sorts of techno stuff going on. It's great and, as far as I understand it, pretty untouched from the original. When you are in a packed room in Gamecom, it's a bit hard to glean the details through the headphone wires and see the screen from the insane practically-horizontal seat I was lying on. The point is, despite those detractors, I am already hooked on the story and all I saw was a single cutscene — this is very good.

System Shock (2022)System Shock (2022)

As gameplay opens up, you have to escape prison through a medical facility and a larger maze-like space. I think what is incredible, visually speaking, is that all these spaces you will be inhibiting are definitely the same layout, same design, and the same pacing as the original — yet even today they look extraordinary. The neon reds and greens light up dull metallic walls that are properly textured to give every room I saw the feeling of being inside a computer. Yet, when you yet up close to a screen or keypad, it kind of fades back into that old-school pixilated vision of the future. It's an immediately charming aesthetic, but moreover, it feels totally unique in the modern space of gaming.

As you work out how to get through zones, the old adventure game vibes come back. Now, I am a stupid boy at the best of times, but I embarrassed myself in that booth with my slow progress and pitiable 'Please help!' to the developer looking after me. Regardless, hunting down objects and messages for clues on how to progress was satisfying. Ultimately, it's nice to delve back into a game that isn't trying to make easy progress unnecessarily obscure for the sake of elongating playtime, but is constantly making you think. It's worth noting that hunting down a keycode for a door by rummaging through stuff and slipping through barely visible air vents won't be for everyone. Obtuse puzzling may be a problem that eventually rears its head later in the game, but in that 20 minutes I played I was enamoured.

System Shock (2022)System Shock (2022) has some natural greenery, too.

Combat did pop up briefly in my session. Melee combat packs some brutal hits but I have concerns that it might not have enough variety. Gun combat seems fun, but I didn't get to play around with it much. The enemies are pretty cool, but I am waiting for more than zombies to pop out at me from behind a door. Interestingly, I spotted that there were some fun difficulty parameters you could set for yourself for puzzles and combat that were independent of one another, bringing up memories of those new Ubisoft difficulty sliders.

There was a trippy as hell scene where you can hack a device by playing out a spaceship encounter. The introduction to the mini-game was so 2001: A Space Odyssey that it baffled me at first, but the visuals are so cool it really grounds you in the technology at hand. Speaking to the CEO of Nightdive, Stephen Kick, after the session — totally oblivious, though; I'm not cool like that — he seemed equally struck with these aspects of the original game. In speaking to him it was clear that Kick and the gang believe that the 90s lineage that has been left behind by other games is actually integral to the reboot. It shows in-game, too. The entire experience seems to be wrapped in not just a serviceable remake of the original, but a loving one that is totally in sync with the intent behind the blueprint of the original game.

System Shock (2022)System Shock (2022) retains some of those trippy visuals

I get the impression even after having left the Gamescom booth that it is not just a modernisation of an old classic (though in many ways, it certainly is that too). My initial takeaway is that this is a statement from the Nightdive team about how important and how relevant games from the 90s are. These games have more to show us in gameplay design and all this team wants is to give us a beautiful translation of it. My surprise that it worked has stuck with me after the show, and I find myself thinking: System Shock was one of the best games I saw at Gamescom 2022.

Did you enjoy the article? Let us know in the comments! As always, we try and remain active there, so any further questions ask away. One of us will be there to chat. See you there!
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation and Sony news. He writes about PS5 exclusives like Horizon, The Last of Us, God of War, and Death Stranding 2 using experience from years of playing PlayStation games. He also covers PS Plus and trophy news, as well as his favorite games — The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, and some indie gems — before an evening swim.
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