Looking Glass Studios cyberpunk first person shooter System Shock, released in 1994, spent many long years as abandonware. Then last year, Night Dive Studios came along, sorted out the legal rights, and released an enhanced version via digital distribution. It was recompiled to run natively in Windows, and featured slightly sharper graphics and greatly improved mouselook controls. There was much rejoicing from certain sections of PC gaming, fanboys like yours truly who hold up Shock as one of the classics of the 90s.

However, Night Dive have clearly decided Shock deserves a more extensive modernisation. In fact they’re going and totally remaking the game, using the Unity engine and have released a bit of pre-alpha footage to show us how its going.

(brought to our attention by RPS)

Looks like they’re keeping the original level geometry. The level of detailing has been greatly improved – see those pipes along the maintenance corridors, and we have modern fancy lighting and texturing. Still, it’s all based around those square-cross-section corridors. I can see that being divisive, since gamers might not see the point on piling details on such old fashioned, blocky geometry. Or they might find it still feels suitably claustrophobic, like something out of Aliens. I’m more in the latter camp right now.

One highlight of the vid is that chamber with the windows. In the original game at this point, you just see pixel stars scrolling past. So okay, space, but you quickly move on. Now we see Saturn, half in shadow from the distant sun, moving across as the station rotates. That’s rather more impressive, the sort of thing that prompts you stop to look at for a moment and consider your situation. You’re utterly isolated, a zillion miles from earth. It’s a good example of adding something to the game’s atmosphere, without having to really change anything fundamental.

I’m less keen on the lack of music. An interview with polygon states they are ” Changing up the classic chiptune soundtrack to something a bit more subtle”. I realise strong melodies as you play are a bit out of fashion nowadays, but the old tunes really helped set the scene. They were moody, haunting, ideal for wandering an abandoned station filled with murderous cyborgs.

It’s very early days yet, of course. Here are some things I am pondering!
-how will this handle Cyberspace? A lot of players found these sections, where you float around in wireframe tunnels, to be disorienting and irritating.
-Shock, being of the old school, isn’t the sort of game to put pointers onscreen telling you exactly where to go next. Information isn’t super hard to find, but you do have to search a bit and pay attention to instructions and clues. I wonder if any concessions will be made to modern gaming.
-Energy weapons could do with some sort of boost; it always seemed preferable to save batteries for cyber upgrades and stick to regular guns.
-I hope the rocket boots remain, even if they served basically no purpose other than to fling you into a wall.