It is 1994, and I’m sitting apprehensively in front of my new Pentium PC, waiting for my new game to load. How little I knew, how naive I was, but to be fair – how was I supposed to know that I was about to play one of the greatest genre-defining first person shooters of all time? System Shock. Even now, 22 years later, just hearing the title jump-starts my ageing memories of genuine fear and abject terror. Yes, it was terrifying, one of the scariest games I’ve ever played – up there with the likes of Silent Hill. And now they’re making a new one…
The thing is, despite the fear and the cold sweats, I loved System Shock. There was just something about the entire concept that appealed to me – you wake up as a nameless hacker on Citadel space station wherein the AI, SHODAN, has gone postal and is in the process of doing rather nasty things to the inhabitants, and its up to you to stop her.
But that was then, what have they done now? How have they changed the game? Well… the short answer is… they haven’t! The new System Shock, launching next year, is a from-the-ground-up remake of the original game, but this time using the Unity game engine. This brings about the most major change – high resolution textures and lighting effects – but every area of the game has been taken and delicately tweaked to bring about this transformation. Think of a skilled craftsman restoring a 16th century castle into a modern home – that’s what Nightdive Studios are aiming for and, from what I’ve seen so far, are largely achieving!
OK, enough of the gushing, what are we looking at here? This is the pre-alpha demo of System Shock. As such, it’s nowhere near finished yet, but it’s enough to show promise. The map layout, enemies, items, UI are all faithful reproductions from the original game, but more exciting is the return of Terri Brosius as the voice of SHODAN, one of the creepiest and memorable of gaming’s antagonists. Her frankly amazing voiceover, coupled with the new ambient sounds and subtle lighting effects, create a dark and foreboding atmosphere that is intoxicatingly chilling. Add in the new physics effects and blood smeared high-res graphics, and you find yourself immersed in the horrific world sculpted by the developers.
It’s not all roses though, there are still some issues that will hopefully be addressed as the game is made. Ignoring the game crashes (it’s a pre-alpha demo, of course there are crashes!), there are a couple of things that I’m hoping to be improved. For starters, if you add an item to your quick-launch bar then pick up more of that item, they won’t stack together automatically, which can be a pain when you really need that extra medpack you just acquired! There’s no quest log, so it’s hard to remember what you’re supposed to be doing and there’s no map either (though I’m sure that’s just not in the demo).
There are 2 “puzzles” in the demo, both of which stumped me – the first was because I’m stupid and unobservant (the pin code is smeared on the wall in blood, for goodness sake!), but the second where you have to reroute the power in a broken panel required me to resort to Google after thinking that I should have picked something up first, though it was completely obvious once I realised that you have to click on the individual screws – so maybe some hints might be useful, especially in the early part of the game. Finally, in the original you could enter cyberspace and do battle in a different plane in order to bypass locks and the like – sadly this isn’t in the demo at all, but considering the artisan’s touch that Nightdive have applied so far, I’m sure it will be in the final game.
Overall I’m excited to see the final game. If it’s anywhere near as engaging as the demo then it will be a sure fire hit, and then if you consider that there will be more mechanics to play with, more items to use, harder puzzles and more – I don’t see how it could be anything less than superb.
If you’re a fan of the original, if you’re a fan of FPS games, if you’re a fan of horror games in general, this game should be on your radar. I can’t wait!