System Shock Demo Sets a Promising Tone
It’s only been a few days since the Kickstarter campaign for a reboot of the original System Shock game began, and already the $900,000 target has been met.
According to the Kickstarter page, we can look forward to a faithful remake, built from the ground up with modernised mechanics, hopefully creating a much more accessible System Shock experience. The game was in dire need of some sort of reboot or remaster – very old and clunky controls, UI, and visuals make it rather difficult to play nowadays – so I’m pretty happy the Kickstarter has been so successful.
In a smart move, developer Nightdive released a short demo of the game along with the Kickstarter, which may have had no small part in people’s enthusiasm for it. I suppose the name alone would have garnered excitement anyway, but it certainly can’t hurt that the demo provides quite a positive impression of things to come.
We start off simply awaking from a sleeping area (cryo-sleep or something), no explanation, just a haggard looking room and creaky ship noises. After brief exploration of the room we find a stash of items. Various useful items such as a data reader, a navigation and mapping unit, and a comms device. When you pick up the comms device we hear from a woman from some counter terrorism body who informs us there is strong evidence of bio contamination aboard the ship, and more worryingly it seems like the ship is preparing to launch a strike against earth. We’re the only person around, so it’s our job to see what’s going on.
It’s a typically withheld introduction. We don’t really know what’s going on, don’t even know who we are, and certainly not how we’re going to proceed and stop whatever is wrong with the ship. It’s the sort of opening that, if you had no knowledge of the original System Shock game, would be really effective at creating some mystery and tension (it still is I suppose, even if you do already know what’s going on). Along with all these items we also get an access card which opens some of the doors in the immediate area, and a nice chunky pipe for hitting things with (didn’t reckon it was for plumbing). And off we go to explore the level.
The first thing of note is the atmosphere of the ship, both visually and aurally. Bearing in mind this is a pre-alpha demo, it impressively instils some dread and intrigue. The ship is dark, and there are signs of struggle and death everywhere – blood splatters, the odd dead body and mutilated body part.
The first combat we see is against a robot. The pipe does its job nicely, with a few bonks on the head the hostile contraption ceases to move. The situation doesn’t come across as particular worrisome or challenging – the original was a bugger for difficulty – however we’re not left unscathed either. It’s difficult to avoid taking damage in melee combat, and you need to hop in and out to avoid getting caught. There are healing items available throughout as well as a pod which fills your health all the way (there’s also a machine that fills your energy back up as well).
The second enemy we encounter is a little scarier. What appears to be a mutated crew member! Weird grey/greenish skin, bulbous eyes, and long arms and hands…all the better for slapping yo ass. Oddly I get a sudden urge to play Half Life – the way they attack, and how you have to deal with them reminds me quite a bit of the mutated scientists.
It’s not particularly complex and lacks a bit of oomph at the moment, but the melee combat shows signs of promise – maybe less clunk would make this a more legitimate way of taking on enemies.
Exploring around the ship reveals more items. Inventory management is a factor, each item requiring an amount of space (one, two, three squares, for example). You can find healing items, items to restore energy, even a grenade (which I am ashamed to admit I managed to nearly kill myself with).
The puzzling offered in the demo isn’t particularly difficult, requiring us to simply enter a code to open a door – the code being written on the wall next to the panel – and another needing us to fix a control panel. Fixing the panel simply requires you to click on the fuses in a line so they meet up with the power. I’m sure the rest of the game will need a bit more thought to get through, though. One issue I did have with fixing the panel, however, was actually being able to see it. It blended into the environment a bit too well, meaning I just didn’t realise I was able to interact with it.
When we progress past this point, we are finally treated to a firearm. There are four settings for this laser pistol, each resulting in a different intensity of fire. Using the gun takes up some of your energy though, and certain settings appear to take up more than others. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the variation of these settings – it’s not immediately clear that they do much differently from each other. They do actually vary, it’s just not very palpable, and honestly I can’t see so many settings being that useful. Otherwise, the laser pistol is good fun to use. It feels nice and powerful – not actually amazingly effective, but there’s good kick to it nonetheless. The visual effects are bright and striking, and especially if the Kickstarter stretch goal is reached for limb dismemberment, gun play could be very fun indeed. We get to try out the gun on a third enemy type – spider/scorpion looking robots that rush at you along the ground *shudders*.
Before the demo comes to an end, we’re treated to a brilliant view of space from a window. Some nice yet ominous music plays as we appreciate the sight, then we progress to the next door and the demo ends.
I must say, for a demo that lasts about 10-15 minutes it sets the tone for the game very well. It’s an inspiring look at what could be in store for us, and reaffirms the good hands the title is in. From my hazy memory it seems to be a good recreation of the original as well, making good use of more modern intuitive design. We just need to see more for a proper impression. As long as the combat is smoothed out a bit, later game having more detailed challenges (which I’m sure it will) and the rest of the game continues with the great atmosphere then we should be on course for a great reboot…then we can have one of System Shock 2 please?
While the game has already reached its funding goal, there are still stretch targets if you are interested in putting some money down. I’d recommend playing the demo for yourself, which can be found on Steam, GOG and the Humble Store.