System Shock Review – Welcome back, hacker

Reviewed May 29, 2023 on PC


Xbox One, PS4, PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S


May 30, 2023


Prime Matter


Nightdive Studios

Before Deus Ex, Bioshock, or Prey (2017), there was the grandaddy of the sci-fi FPS immersive sim, System Shock. First released in 1994, the game is renowned for its massive influence on PC gaming. That said, even the most nostalgic of gamers can acknowledge that the original has not especially aged well in the visuals or gameplay departments. Fortunately, Nightdive shares that sentiment, and has come out with a remake funded by Kickstarter that gives System Shock a much-needed update in many areas, while leaving the core experience mostly untouched – for better or for worse.

Set in the far future on a space station orbiting Saturn, you play as a nameless hacker who has been manipulated into releasing the ethical constraints on the station’s AI, SHODAN. Waking up on the station with only audio logs and SHODAN’s taunts as a guide, you must venture through the station, level by level, to disable SHODAN’s defences and prevent her from escaping and threatening humanity.

As a horror experience, System Shock was revolutionary in its day, and the remake provides some crucial updates to maintain that atmosphere. Bringing back SHODAN’s original voice actor, Terri Brosius, to record new lines was an excellent decision, and SHODAN remains a menacing villain to this day. Taking advantage of graphical improvements in the last 30 years, the darker lighting heightens the sense of isolation and threat as you crawl through the station, with danger around every corner. The audio logs of the station’s crew lamenting the destruction as SHODAN took over still remain a haunting example of sterling worldbuilding, which future games inspired by System Shock would go on to iterate further.

“…System Shock now mostly feels like a modern game, compared to the feel of the mid-90s relic to those who didn’t grow up with it.”

In addition to updating the horror atmosphere, Nightdive has also gone to efforts to bring System Shock’s gameplay into the 21st century. You can now freely look around with your mouse, and the user interface is far less cluttered and easier to read. The hacking minigames have been substantially overhauled, and are actually quite a lot of fun. The stealth and combat mechanics overall have been largely improved as well. In short, System Shock now mostly feels like a modern game, compared to the feel of the mid-90s relic to those who didn’t grow up with it.

While the gameplay and controls have been updated, the general structure of System Shock is largely unchanged. I feel like much more could have been done to streamline some of the original game’s more frustrating or obtuse elements. As soon as you wake up on the station, you’re largely left to your own devices, with a rather vague notion of where to go next based on clues pieced together from logs scattered around the place.

System Shock is the sort of game where you can get three-quarters through the experience before learning you were supposed to be writing down on a physical scrap of paper a string of numbers placed in every previous level. System Shock provides no way of recording this kind of crucial data in-game or even hint to the player that this information is crucial to record. Certain valuable pieces of equipment are hidden away in innocuous areas, necessitating a considerable amount of backtracking if you accidentally missed them. One late-game door that I had unlocked with a switch kept re-locking whenever I entered it via a particular direction, requiring a frustrating return trip to reset it. That last one might have been a bug, but it added to the overall slow pace of the game and monotonous backtracking.

Furthermore, many doors to required areas are locked unless you have lowered the floor’s security level. This must be done by combing through the level shooting every security camera you come across. This is made more annoying due to many of them blending in with the ceiling or being otherwise located in unintuitive locations. Games from this era are known for that degree of freedom and lack of handholding. However, modern games such as Bioshock or Prey (2017) have done a marvelous job of balancing a sense of danger and isolation with providing adequate guidance to the player through their user interface and minimising repetitive busywork, maintaining the desired pacing and preventing the player from wasting their time.

Despite the improvements to the shooting mechanics, System Shock’s combat still feels quite frustrating in many aspects. Enemy AI is quite simple, and they will generally either rush straight toward you or stand stock still and shoot at you from out in the open.

Most of the enemies also felt like they had way too much health and dealt way too much damage, considering the meager amount of ammo and health pickups the game makes available. As a result, most firefights felt like the lowest-energy shootouts imaginable. I would poke my head out of cover, shoot, go back into cover, and then rinse and repeat until all foes are down with most of the difficulty stemming from the ridiculous amount of punishment it took to take most foes down.

There is also a notable lack of feedback when you are injured, leading to many times that I would take damage or just flat out die when entering a room, with no clue of what caused it until it was too late. Much of the time, it was either one of those kamikaze Roomba robots or the cyborg soldiers who would occasionally drop proximity mines when they die, just to spite me. On other occasions, enemies would hide on platforms or in corners taking potshots at me, without any visual indication of where this new source of damage was coming from. In short, the experience of playing System Shock largely feels like a strange hybrid of new and old which doesn’t quite work together: a competent 21st-century FPS featuring enemies and in a setting from the genre’s infancy, largely unchanged.




  • SHODAN remains a threatening and creepy main antagonist
  • Improvements in controls and user interface are very welcome
  • Hacking minigames test the player's reflexes and puzzle-solving quite well
  • Advanced lightning and visuals substantially improve the horror atmosphere


  • Enemies have simple AI, cheap tactics and far too much health
  • Too little guidance regarding where and how to proceed
  • Dull busywork drags the game's pacing

Nightdive’s System Shock remake is a strange game, and whether it will appeal to you may largely depend on your nostalgia for the era of gaming from which it came. This remake still shows its age, despite the considerable and impressive paint job, lighting, and updated controls. If you don’t mind the sometimes murderous level of difficulty, tons of backtracking, and minimal handholding, System Shock may be a compelling piece of gaming history that is worth checking out.