System Shock: Enhanced Edition (PC) Review

By Athanasios 25.10.2015

Review for System Shock: Enhanced Edition on PC

It's 1993 and Doom reigns supreme as the unquestionable overlord of the PC gaming scene. One year later, Looking Glass Technologies brings forth a title that many felt would dethrone the King and spit on his carcass… but it didn't. Why? The answer lies in the fact that System Shock was far ahead of its time, and therefore, it was less accessible than Id Software's plug-and-play funfest. It was a pure pioneer that introduced tons of innovations that would affect the gaming industry in multiple ways, with its two spiritual successors, BioShock and Deus Ex being the most concrete proof of that. As the industry kept evolving, however, flaws that initially felt like minor nuisances turned out to be major game breakers, greatly increasing the need for an update. Luckily, the task was given to Night Dive Studios, a company well known for upgrading many cult classics for modern platforms, although the result still leaves something to be desired.

The hacker of this story tried to chew more than he could swallow. While trying to mess with the security of TriOptimum's Citadel space station, he got busted and brought straight to one of the big guys. Surprisingly enough, that certain head honcho made him an offer of wiping out the ethical constrains of Citadel's AI, called SHODAN, in exchange for his freedom, plus a neat military-grade cybernetic implant for his hungry, hungry brain. He, of course, does what needs to be done, goes into surgery, and wakes up after his six-month healing coma, only to realise that SHODAN has gone rogue, killing half of Citadel's population, and turning what was left into deadly cyborgs and mutants, and if that wasn't enough, "she" wants to turn earth into her own twisted laboratory.

Ask any System Shock fan about it and the answer will probably be: fantastic audio-visuals, a perfect storyline, and a world that is hard to resist being wholly immersed into. Are these statements true? Yes… and no. Take its plot, for instance. Back when it was first released it was truly something unique. In reality, though, it's very simplistic. After SHODAN becomes Citadel's self-appointed god, the plot can be summed up in "find her - destroy her." There are gobs of emails, logs, and notes to be found throughout this adventure that add to the whole thing, but, honestly, they aren't anything special - at least not any more.

Screenshot for System Shock: Enhanced Edition on PC

What about the horror aspect, though? Has it aged as badly as the plot? The answer is: partly. The context-sensitive music, along with the horrifying enemy screams and growls, can create quite the atmosphere, and the dark, claustrophobic corridors of this war-ravaged space station certainly add to the overall mood, yet some tunes manage to kill the feeling of dread by being way too fast and… funky; the bad quality of some of the sound effects is painful, to say the least; the enemies look more like heavily pixelated plastic toys than grotesque sci-fi abominations; and, generally, what was once considered to be quite the scary title, now can't even hold a candle to its - far superior - sequel.

The only thing that remains fascinating even to this day is SHODAN, a character that still shows up in numerous top-ten villain lists, and not without a good reason. Her constant threats and mockery to the hero, her superior intellect, her cold and distorted digital voice, her megalomaniac behaviour, and, more importantly, the way she always feels as if she is omnipresent (and, in some regards, she is), manage to turn her into one of the most memorable video game antagonists ever. Enough about all these, though. What about the thing that matters most? What about the gameplay?

Screenshot for System Shock: Enhanced Edition on PC

There is a diverse arsenal consisting of various melee, bullet/energy-based weapons and grenades available, but this isn't a pure FPS. It involves exploring for clues and items, and lots of puzzle-solving, but it's not an adventure. System Shock is a little bit of both. For the most part, though, it's an exploration game. It's all about going around its few, but gargantuan levels, collecting all sorts of useful items, ranging from weapons and data files, to dermal patches that grant temporary boosts, but affect the hero negatively after a certain time, and even gadgets that can be used to see in the dark, create a rear view perspective, or even help him jet-jump!

The protagonist can look around, jump and duck, lean around corners, interact with almost everything in the space station, and, since he is a hacker, he can even enter the Cyberspace, a mini-game where his digital body can fly in a wireframe universe, enabling him to unlock doors in the real world, or find access codes and software updates. Furthermore, instead of just having the option of easy, normal and hard, it's possible to choose different settings for Combat, Puzzle, Cyberspace, and Mission, which means that plot elements could just be completely disabled to try to survive a monster-filled hell, or puzzle solving could be focused on, while trying to outrun a seven-hour time limit.

Screenshot for System Shock: Enhanced Edition on PC

All these were unheard of back in 1994, but, to be honest, the fun has diminished throughout the years. Nowadays, this whole mission feels like an endless search for simple items, filled with time-consuming backtracking between decks in order to foil SHODAN's plans, and numerous unexciting battles between her mutated/cybernetic slaves. The biggest problem, however - and the one that was annoying even back then - is how terrible the controls are. Nothing is broken or anything, but from moving and shooting, to looking around or messing with the UI, it feels more like driving a clunky and heavy construction vehicle; one with multiple levers and buttons to push.

It's important to realise that the version reviewed here is not a remake, but an enhancement, and since Night Dive Studios always tries to keep its products as close to their original form as possible, don't expect any major differences. The resolution has increased to 1024 x 768 (854 x 480 for widescreen), a mouse-look has been included, bugs have been fixed, and the 3D surfaces have been smoothed out. The rest, however, have been left intact, and while that isn't exactly a bad thing, it would be nice if there was an option to redefine the controls. In conclusion, what is System Shock: Enhanced Edition? The answer is: nothing more than a subtle upgrade of an extremely innovative gem of the past, which hasn't aged as well to remain entertaining to this day.

Screenshot for System Shock: Enhanced Edition on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Doom is Hollywood, and System Shock is the avant-garde cinema. The first is fast, loud and in-your-face; the second, subtle, and harder to enjoy and get into - and yet, the first remains fun even to this day. Is it due to its much simpler nature? No, it's just that some things just age better than others, and although the Enhanced Edition is a pretty decent update, it cannot erase the prototype's many flaws, especially its chore-like control scheme; a control scheme that can't be altered. To put it simply, this rightfully deserves its spot in the history of the industry, and fans of the original will surely appreciate Night Dive Studios' handling of their beloved classic, but the rest of the community are advised to reconsider spending any money on it.

Developer

Night Dive Studios

Publisher

Night Dive Studios

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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