Go back to System Shock

Written by: Stoo

Date posted: July 13, 2020

Following the sad demise of Looking glass studios, for many years it wasn’t possible to purchase System Shock or its sequel. Fortunately the rights to both games were eventually picked up by Night Dive Studios, a company on a worthy mission to re-release abandoned games. In 2015 they brought Shock 2 to Steam and GOG, and a couple of years late followed it up with an enhanced version of the first game.

Just to be clear, this isn’t the remake, a separate project on which Night Dive have been labouring for several years. It’s the original game, but with a couple of useful improvements.

Firstly, there’s a major boost to graphics. If you played the Enhanced Edition shortly after release you might recall a few modest upgrades. You should look again though, because they’ve since ported Shock over to their own Kex engine and the changes are a lot more extensive.

Higher resolution assets are used, I believe from the Mac version. Screen resolutions are supported all the way to 4k (still on 1920×1080 myself). You’ll still see chunky pixels sometimes, particularly for inventory items, but overall the environs around you are far more crisp and clear. Throw in the 60 frames a second and Citadel Station feels rejuvenated, ready for the player to explore anew. (Also still full of murderous cyborgs and mutants).

Those little character portraits with the audio logs are sharper too. A small detail perhaps but it helps the player relate to the unfortunate souls about Citadel, all of whom were murdered when Shodan took control.

The other key upgrade relates to controls. The old setup with a free-floating pointer is fairly clunky, so Night Dive have added proper, modern mouselook. Now turning and looking up and down are the fast, precise actions they should be, instead of feeling a bit like you’re driving a tank.

You still need the original controls to access your inventory, so the game switches back whenever you pick up an item. You can flick back and forth at will by hitting the ‘e’ key.

I should also mention the simple convenience that comes with a release on digital distribution. No hunting abandonware sites if you don’t have the CD, no messing with DOSBox. You can be up and running in a few clicks.

If I have one criticism, it’s that the weird rubbery resistance to your movement, that occurs in certain places, has persisted from the original game. It seems to mostly happen on the edges of some platforms, as if an invisible force field is pushing you back. I don’t understand why this odd behaviour would be carried over to a new game engine, but then what do I know about progamming? (I know this: it’s really complicated and makes my head hurt).

The original game meanwhile has not disappeared; it comes bundled as an extra with the enhanced edition. I’m glad of this, because I think players should have the choice. Also it’s important to preserve the classics so we might understand their place in gaming history. However, from what I’ve seen so far, there’s no particular reason not to played the enhanced edition.

So our thanks then to Night Dive for taking one of the greatest PC games of the 90s, sprucing it up a bit, and making it easily available. The enhanced edition is is currently £7 on Steam, £8.19 on GOG, and I’d say that’s well worth it even if you already have a copy of the original.