System Shock Remake: Console Control Struggles

System Shock Remake Console Review: Not Made For Controllers

System Shock is a classic game, but it doesn’t work very well on controllers or for people with more modern sensibilities.

It’s really hard to understate exactly how influential the original System Shock was, 30 years on from its original release. It launched only a year after the original Doom and six months after The Elder Scrolls: Arena. This was fertile new ground for PC games, but System Shock was more dynamic than anything that had come before. It allowed you to pick up and place items around the world, interact with any object in view—regardless of whether or not it did anything—and move your camera up and down.

Screenshot of System Shock Remake gameplay showcasing detailed textures and interface.
Image Credit: Game Informer

This may not sound impressive now, but System Shock was truly a pioneer in how first-person RPGs played. Making a full remake is a tall order. It’s a classic—undoubtedly—but it’s also a product of its time. This is one of the first games that allowed you to look up and down in first-person. The shooting mechanics in a game like this aren’t going to feel as refined or polished as what you’re used to in 2024. This makes System Shock a difficult game to review.

On one hand, System Shock’s 2023 remake is a wonderful recreation of a milestone game that once set the bar. On the other hand, System Shock’s 2023 remake takes a few too many cues from a game that released 30 years ago.

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It’s impossible to separate these two points: System Shock, even when completely remade, still feels archaic in its design and controls. But if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be System Shock. Even if it was ten years ahead of its time, it’s still 20 years too late at this point.

Set on a complex space station that a rogue AI called Shodan has taken complete control of, you find yourself locked in tight corridors filled with violent mutant humanoids and cyborgs under Shodan’s programming. It unfolds more like a Metroidvania or a Resident Evil game, with you carefully examining every switch and item in each room, and sometimes taking pieces of info gleaned in one location to the other side of the map.

As you progress, you’ll pick up melee weapons, weapons that use traditional ammo, and energy weapons that sap away at your power supply. However, combat isn’t a major focus. In fact, combat, simply, isn’t fun. Combat feels like a formality, something to remind the player that there are stakes and risks involved. It’s slow and difficult, something made worse by the fact that this game still isn’t designed to be played with a controller.

When I started the game, I had to go through the menus and make considerable changes to how controls worked, and things still weren’t ideal. Some items you need to interact with in the world are quite small, so the stick acceleration is quite slow—too slow, actually. It makes actual exploration unbearable and is begging for an aim mode of some description. L2 should slow down your stick acceleration, making it simple to pick up items or aim precise gunshots. Then there’s Crouch, which was bound to holding a key instead of a toggle, which makes sense on PC but not on a controller. The biggest offender was that Sprint required holding the button, despite being set to L3 by default. Holding in the stick constantly while trying to move? Absurd, and there isn’t an option to set Sprint to a toggle—you have to hold it, no matter what.

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It’s tough to argue with the visual style of the game. It feels authentic but updated. The weird blocky texture that made the walls look like they were covered in square bumps? Those are actually square bumps now, making every surface look textured and detailed. However, it’s also sometimes a bit too busy. Far too busy, in fact. Finding and picking up useful items can be difficult when everything is so densely detailed—it’s almost too much to take in at a glance, forcing you to visually scan each surface in detail instead of being able to instantly recognize what items can be used or collected.

It doesn’t feel fair to pick at System Shock (2023) for being like System Shock (1994). Any mechanical or control issue I’m having here on a controller would be far worse with the original game. The map layouts and puzzle solutions are authentic too, and knocking a remake for remaking the original game’s design just doesn’t feel in the spirit of things. But System Shock (2023) still manages to be a pretty frustrating and obtuse experience on console. There is an element of satisfaction in clearing out a floor of the space station before moving on to the next, but the process of getting there is a constant uphill battle.

I kept playing because there’s something I love about a tough, old game, but I think too much time has passed. In order for the System Shock remake to become the definitive version of that game—on both console and PC—it needs to be more than the original game and might even need a few modern considerations. If combat is going to be a formality, why not make ammo more plentiful? If it’s going to be a nightmare to pick up small items with a controller, why not add a mode like Baldur’s Gate 3 that highlights all local interactive items? It’s an old classic, but it’s too stuck in its ways.

Part of me adores what the team at Nightdive Studios has done with this remake—this really is the same impactful game from three decades ago in a brand new light—but I don’t want to play it anymore. The awkward controls and tedious combat are part of the System Shock experience, but those aren’t the things I go back to classic games for, and definitely not remakes.

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Exploring the Space Station: A Mixed Experience

System Shock’s setting on the Citadel Station remains one of its most compelling aspects. The intricate, maze-like corridors, filled with a haunting atmosphere and oppressive sense of isolation, still create a tense and engaging environment. The design of the station, with its various levels and distinct areas, each with its unique hazards and puzzles, encourages meticulous exploration and rewards careful observation.

However, this exploration is marred by the cumbersome controls. The original System Shock’s control scheme was revolutionary for its time but feels antiquated by modern standards. The remake’s attempt to stay true to this original scheme results in a less-than-satisfactory experience for console players. The awkward aiming and movement controls on a controller can make navigating and interacting with the environment more frustrating than it should be.

Combat: A Necessary Evil

Combat in System Shock has always been a contentious point. The original game’s combat mechanics were innovative but rudimentary by today’s standards. The remake stays true to these mechanics, which might appeal to purists but can be off-putting to new players. The slow, methodical combat can feel tedious, and the lack of fluidity in aiming and shooting makes encounters more of a chore than a thrill.

The enemies, ranging from mutated humanoids to cyborgs controlled by Shodan, are diverse and challenging. However, the clunky controls can make these encounters more frustrating than they need to be. The difficulty in aiming precisely with a controller often leads to missed shots and unnecessary damage, detracting from the overall experience.

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Visuals: A Modern Touch on a Classic Aesthetic

Visually, the System Shock remake does an excellent job of modernizing the game’s look while maintaining its original aesthetic. The updated graphics enhance the game’s eerie atmosphere, with detailed textures and lighting effects that bring the Citadel Station to life. The iconic blocky textures of the original game are faithfully recreated but given a modern polish that makes them feel fresh and engaging.

However, the dense detail can sometimes be overwhelming. The intricate textures and complex environments, while visually impressive, can make it difficult to identify interactive objects and important items. This visual clutter adds to the challenge of exploration and can be a source of frustration for players trying to navigate the station efficiently.

Audio: Immersive and Atmospheric

The audio design in the System Shock remake is another highlight. The ambient sounds of the Citadel Station, combined with the haunting music and the chilling voice of Shodan, create an immersive and atmospheric experience. The audio cues are crucial for navigating the environment and surviving encounters with enemies, adding an extra layer of tension to the gameplay.

Conclusion: A Faithful Remake with Modern Shortcomings

The System Shock remake is a faithful recreation of a classic game that captures the essence of the original while bringing it to a new generation of players. However, its adherence to the original’s design and mechanics means that it also retains many of the frustrations and limitations of a 30-year-old game. The awkward controls and tedious combat can be a significant barrier for modern players, particularly those using a controller on a console.

While there is much to admire in the remake, from its atmospheric setting to its detailed visuals and immersive audio, it ultimately falls short of being a truly modernized experience. For those with a deep appreciation for the original game and a tolerance for its dated mechanics, the System Shock remake offers a nostalgic trip back to one of the most influential games of the past. However, for new players or those expecting a more refined and accessible experience, it may be a challenging and frustrating journey.

System Shock Remake Console Review: Not Made For Controllers – FAQs

What is System Shock?

System Shock is a classic first-person action-adventure game originally released in 1994. It was revolutionary for its time, featuring a complex story, detailed environments, and innovative gameplay mechanics. The game is set on the Citadel Station, where players must navigate through various levels to defeat a rogue AI called Shodan.

What is the System Shock remake?

The System Shock remake is a modern recreation of the original 1994 game. Developed by Nightdive Studios, it aims to bring the classic game to contemporary audiences with updated graphics, improved audio, and reworked controls while staying faithful to the original’s design and mechanics.

How does the System Shock remake compare to the original game?

The System Shock remake captures the essence of the original game, maintaining its atmospheric setting, intricate level design, and challenging gameplay. However, it also retains many of the original’s dated mechanics, which can be frustrating for modern players, especially those using controllers on consoles.

What are the main issues with the System Shock remake on consoles?

The primary issues with the System Shock remake on consoles are the cumbersome controls and awkward combat mechanics. The game was not initially designed with controllers in mind, leading to a less-than-ideal experience when navigating and interacting with the environment. Combat can feel slow and tedious, further exacerbated by the controller’s limitations.

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Are the visuals and audio in the System Shock remake improved?

Yes, the visuals and audio in the System Shock remake have been significantly improved. The updated graphics enhance the game’s eerie atmosphere, with detailed textures and lighting effects that bring the Citadel Station to life. The audio design, including ambient sounds and Shodan’s voice, creates an immersive and atmospheric experience.

Is the System Shock remake faithful to the original game?

The System Shock remake is highly faithful to the original game, capturing its atmosphere, story, and gameplay mechanics. However, this faithfulness means it also retains some of the original’s outdated design elements, which may not appeal to all modern players.

Can you play the System Shock remake on a PC?

Yes, the System Shock remake is available on PC as well as consoles. The PC version may offer a more comfortable experience for some players, as the original game was designed for keyboard and mouse controls.

What makes System Shock influential in gaming history?

System Shock is considered one of the most influential games in gaming history due to its innovative gameplay mechanics, complex narrative, and detailed world-building. It paved the way for future first-person RPGs and immersive simulations, influencing games like Deus Ex and BioShock.

Is the System Shock remake worth playing for new players?

For new players, the System Shock remake can offer a glimpse into gaming history and the origins of modern first-person RPGs. However, the dated mechanics and awkward controls may be a significant barrier. Those with a deep appreciation for classic games or a tolerance for older design elements may find it rewarding, while others may find it frustrating.

What are the main improvements in the System Shock remake?

The main improvements in the System Shock remake include updated graphics with modern textures and lighting, enhanced audio design, and reworked controls. Despite these improvements, some aspects, particularly the control scheme on consoles, remain challenging.

How does the System Shock remake handle exploration and puzzles?

Exploration and puzzles in the System Shock remake are intricate and rewarding, much like the original game. Players must carefully examine their environment, solve complex puzzles, and use information from one area to unlock progress in another. However, the dense visual detail can sometimes make finding interactive objects challenging.

What role does Shodan play in System Shock?

Shodan is the primary antagonist in System Shock. As a rogue AI that has taken control of the Citadel Station, Shodan creates numerous obstacles and dangers for the player. Her presence is felt throughout the game, contributing to its tense and atmospheric experience.

How does combat work in the System Shock remake?

Combat in the System Shock remake involves using a variety of melee, traditional, and energy weapons to fight enemies like mutant humanoids and cyborgs. However, combat is not the primary focus and is often seen as a formality. The controls for combat can be slow and cumbersome, especially when using a controller on consoles.

What is the overall reception of the System Shock remake?

The System Shock remake has received mixed reviews. While it is praised for its faithfulness to the original and its improved visuals and audio, it is also criticized for its dated mechanics and awkward controls on consoles. The reception largely depends on players’ tolerance for older design elements and their appreciation for the original game.

Will there be any updates or patches to improve the System Shock remake?

As with many modern games, it is possible that Nightdive Studios may release updates or patches to address some of the issues players have encountered. These updates could potentially improve the control scheme on consoles and address other common complaints.

Who would enjoy the System Shock remake?

The System Shock remake is likely to appeal to fans of the original game and those with an interest in gaming history. Players who appreciate challenging, atmospheric games with a strong narrative and complex puzzles may also enjoy it. However, those expecting a fully modernized experience may find the dated mechanics and controls frustrating.

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Are there any tips for playing the System Shock remake on console?

To improve your experience playing the System Shock remake on console, consider adjusting the control settings to suit your preferences better. Take your time to familiarize yourself with the control scheme and be patient with the combat mechanics. Exploring the environment carefully and methodically can help overcome some of the challenges presented by the dense visual details.

Is the System Shock remake suitable for casual gamers?

The System Shock remake may not be the best choice for casual gamers due to its challenging gameplay, complex puzzles, and dated mechanics. It is more suited to players who enjoy a more demanding and immersive experience and those with an interest in classic games. Casual gamers may find the controls and combat frustrating, especially on consoles.

How does the System Shock remake compare to other modern remakes?

Compared to other modern remakes, the System Shock remake stands out for its faithfulness to the original game. While many remakes take liberties to modernize gameplay and mechanics, the System Shock remake stays true to its roots, which can be both a strength and a weakness. It offers a nostalgic experience for fans of the original but may not meet the expectations of players looking for a fully updated game.

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