System Shock Remake Pre-Alpha Impressions: Needs More Time In The Oven
After an all-too-brief glimpse into the reverse horror platformer Carrion, next up in the Games Festival demo-a-thon is a title we've been looking forward to for a long time. Since the Kickstarter back in the summer of 2016 we've been desperate to get our hands on something playable from the System Shock remake, and now its here thanks to The Game Awards.
Previous backers get to keep this pre-alpha demo forever, while the rest of us poor plebs only get to play around for 48 hours.
If you haven't been following the System Shock saga, this return to a sci-fi / horror classic has gone through a rather odd development cycle worth noting before you play. It ended up switching from remake to reinterpretation and back to remake again, as well as changing engines mid-development. The fact the demo is here at all is a surprise in its own way.
Although the opening of this limited time playable area is the same as the tech demo we saw some time back, this time around we get the full first level to explore, so let's dive in and see how System Shock is shaping up!
The Past Is The Future Again
This rendition of System Shock aims to stick strongly to the old school aesthetic, which comes with its own set of pros and cons.
But before we get to that, it's worth noting the lack of optimization. The demo stutters quite a bit when first loading up. After launch it all seems pretty smooth.... until you start racking up a kill count.
Unfortunately there's a bug involving how rag doll physics work, so the more enemies you kill, the worse the performance gets in the demo. Something to bear in mind and to hope see fixed in the future.
With that out of the way: The game tries to stay true to the original, which means some of the controls are a little wonky.
Reloading for instance was pretty much impossible to figure out without actively searching the forums. Turns out you have to press "T" (wait what, why T and not R?) but none of the menus tell you that fact.
Sadly we can't remap anything at this point in development, either. That's going to throw some players for a loop because the left mouse / right mouse is the opposite of what you'd normally use for shooting and interacting.
UI and keybinding aside, the puzzles are what you'd expect from the remake and are put together pretty well. While the first keypad code is incredibly easy to figure out (its literally written on the wall in blood) the rest of the demo makes you work a lot harder to access new areas.
One code even requires you to listen to an audio log, so you can't skip those and need to delve into the lore. The electricity puzzles are also randomized and change each time, so you've got to engage your brain more often if you died or re-started the level.
While the full first level is now complete and features all its graphic assets, some tweaks to the color palette are warranted. System Shock is supposed to be dark, but right now its too dark. Not in terms of story, but in terms of actual lighting.
Many of the objects are really hard to see with the current color scheme, and the old school object highlighting makes it worse. If you didn't play the original game, you could miss a significant portion of the items (like the magnum!) or just completely walk past dark elevators and doors.
While bodies are plentiful, oddly almost none of the corpses have items, so its not really clear why they are all searchable right now, as that's just a waste of time.
Finally, the vertical movement controls also need some tweaks, as there is incredibly wonky movement on the ladders right now. That's bad enough just trying to get around, but the issue becomes a major problem when you are trying to fend off a bloodthirsty mutant.
Mutants And Killer AI, Oh My!
While the sadistic AI running the station is of course the big bad to watch out for, there are plenty of more direct physical threats to deal with in the demo.
Unfortunately there's not much menace from the plentiful mutant enemies, who are actually scarier the less you see of them. When lurking in the shadows and you just see the eyes there's a sinister movement to these vile creatures, but the fear factor is missing when they get up close and personal.
The hybrid Borg-lookin' dudes with demonic red eyes and laser blasters are pretty menacing, however; and I tried to avoid them rather than getting into a firefight.
Between the old school mechanics and creature types we've seen so far, the end result of the demo is a bit of a mixed bag. System Shock has potential... if it spends quite a bit more time in the oven first.
Despite the numerous issues at this stage in development, the overall graphics and atmosphere are what fans of the original System Shock are looking for.
In the end I came away neither hyped nor overly disappointed after playing the demo. My gut feeling? If the development crew doesn't run out of money and actually releases a finished product, I expect it will be just all right. But we'll have to see.