When I played through the original System Shock for the first time last year, I didn’t enjoy it half as much as I’d hoped I would. I found it more frustrating than fun, and not just because of it’s fiddly UI and controls. I felt the game lacked structure in terms of narrative, level design and progression.
I still enjoyed the overall experience (hence my positive rating) but I had little desire to play through the game again. But recently, a System Shock remake has been announced, seeking funding via Kickstarter. Based on an early surge, it’s looking likely that the game will easily meet its funding goal. Hell, it will probably surpass that goal before this post has even gone live.
But the Kickstarter offers more than the typical written promises and concept art. It’s accompanied by a short, pre-alpha demo. I gave the demo a spin to see how it compared to the original and I thought I’d share my impressions and hopes for what this remake may offer.
Graphically, when compared to the original, the remake is obviously far superior. Even though this demo is pre-alpha, and there’s clearly work still to be done, the remake is shaping up nicely in terms of its graphics – particularly its lighting and effects.
But this was expected, as was the implementation of a more ‘modern’ control scheme and UI. It was nice stepping into the world of System Shock again, and not immediately spending five minutes wrestling with the controls.
I think the most impressive thing in the demo in terms of the visuals, is how they capture the original art direction. Yes, the improved textures and detailed models are nice, but it was far more important that the style of the original game remained intact.
The demo also has some neat little animations for your character. Unnecessary, maybe, but a nice touch that I hope carries over into the final release. The demo itself is quite short – about 5 minutes – and takes you through the opening area of the game. You get to explore a little, fight 3 different enemy types and use a couple of weapons.
As far as a pre-alpha demo goes, it’s pretty convincing. But it is limited. And there’s still a lot we don’t know with regard to how the developers are approaching the remake in terms of level and mission structure.
Because, honestly, I’m not that excited or interested in a straight ‘like for like’ remake of the original. Because as I said at the beginning of this post (and in my System Shock review) there are aspects of the original that frustrated me.
This remake could be an opportunity to correct those issues. To restructure the levels in a way that provides a more logical consistency to design. To provide a clearer objective to the player. To take aspects of System Shock 2 in terms of inventory management and upgrading, and then apply them to the original.
Of course, changes to the original design won’t please the purists, but I do feel there are many aspects of the original game that can be tweaked or altered for the benefit of the remake, without losing the heart of what makes System Shock such a compelling series.
It’s a tough line to walk, but if they get it right, the System Shock remake could see a fantastic return for a beloved series and introduce it to an entirely new audience. This is one I’ll be keeping a close eye on. Let’s hope they don’t f**k it up.