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System Shock remake release date, story, platforms and trailer

Will it, won't it? The final word — as of now, since nothing is final final in the world of game development — is that it will. The System Shock project is back on, and if all goes fine, it might be hitting our gaming systems as early as the first quarter of 2020. It also looks like the developer NightDive has scaled down their ambitions for a sequel and reverted to the idea of remaking the original game, keeping as much of the feel of the cult classic as possible. The only difference is, instead of being Windows-only as was planned, the title will also come to MacOS, Linux, Xbox One, and PS4.

We've rounded up everything there is to know about this upcoming remake. Will it still be the System Shock that dominated the '90s? Or will this tale of a rogue AI find the '20s to be less to its liking?

System Shock's release date

"Early 2020" is all we know about the release date of System Shock as of now. But given NightDive's track record and game release schedules in general, it might be wise to expect (further) delays. The game will be available on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Xbox One, and PS4.

System Shock was originally developed by LookingGlass Technologies in 1994. LookingGlass was also responsible for some other iconic titles of the '90s, such as Ultima Underworld and Thief. Despite critical acclaim, System Shock and its sequel's sales didn't quite live up to expectations, and LookingGlass folded up in 2000. Much later, in 2012–13, Night Dive acquired the rights for System Shock 2, and a few years later for the whole franchise. And the iconic game got a second chance to impress.

Is there a trailer for System Shock?

Not yet, not for the latest iteration, but you can take a tour of a toilet. Seriously: the development team feels that bathrooms in games are not given enough care and attention, and they wanted to rectify that. (Don't laugh — bathroom analysis is a serious subject in game development.) There is also a pre-alpha gameplay teaser out. While you wait, you might also consider following SHODAN on Twitter.

There is an earlier trailer from 2017, but keep in mind that the project's aims have seen quite a bit of back and forth. One player made a very helpful comparison between the original and NightDive's earlier remastered vision. The contrast between the blocky graphics of the 1990s and the more contemporary appearance of the setting and gameplay is immediately obvious. The map and inventory system also seem upgraded. While the layout of Citadel Station remains identical, the ability to cram in more pixels per inch now gives us more realistic effects.

Is System Shock a reboot, a remaster, or a good old sequel?

Sequel, reboot, remaster — what's in a name? The point is, System Shock is coming back to our gaming screens in early 2020. Probably. This is courtesy NightDive Studios, a US-based developer that specializes in giving old and not-so-forgotten games a new coat of paint and adapting them for modern-day systems.

NightDive launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2016 to fund the development of the project. It met its $900,000 goal and then some, thanks to over 21,000 backers. However, since then, there has been a lot of back and forth from the developer, from changing the release date, to shifting game engines, to switching up whether it would be a remaster or a reboot. At one point, NightDive put the project on hiatus, and it looked like System Shock would never materialize. As of now, though, the project is back on, and the reboot (there's your answer) will give players a chance to clamber aboard the iconic Citadel Station and pit their wits against the evil AI SHODAN once again.

Okay, but wasn't there already an enhanced edition in 2015?

Yes, there was; it was called System Shock: Enhanced Edition, and it was for PC, released on GOG. The enhanced version was mainly an update to the game's insides to work better on modern systems. Added features included screen support up to 1024x768 pixels, and 864x480 widescreen mode; mouselook; and re-mappable keys with three profiles: original, custom, and left-handed. It also fixed some bugs.

Enhanced Edition was NightDive Studios' first flirtation with System Shock. It was well received, and shortly after, they announced their intentions to work on a reimagining of the game, with new and improved assets and support for additional platforms (Xbox One and PS4, apart from Windows). Night Dive's CEO Stephen Kick promised that any remakes or new games in the series would remain "very true to the spirit of the originals."

Who is behind the remake of System Shock?

NightDive Studios has been reincarnating classic video game titles since 2012. This independent developer and publisher is based in the US, with about 100 titles across a variety of digital platforms. In addition to dusting out forgotten games and giving them a boost for contemporary systems, they have also developed some original titles. Restoring old games to present-day glory, though, appears to be more than a spit-and-polish job, as NightDive's publication rate is about 60% out of all the games they pursue.

NightDive debuted with System Shock 2, re-released in 2013, originally from 1999, and has since added a number of beloved titles to its portfolio. These include The 7th Guest, Strife: Veteran Edition, Forsaken: Remastered, Metal Fatigue, Sid Meier's Colonization, Sid Meier's Pirates! Gold Plus, and 35 children's games from Humongous Entertainment's Putt Putt, Pajama Sam, and Sky Fox series. NightDive is also working on System Shock 2: Enhanced Version.

What is the story of System Shock?

System Shock was a trailblazer in the immersive, action-adventure RPG genre, widely hailed as being far ahead of its time, a cult classic, and an icon. Way back in 1994, it managed to give us the same dystopian, sci-fi atmosphere that games like Deus Ex and BioShock later did.

The short version of System Shock's story is that you are a nameless protagonist, known only as the Hacker, alone on an abandoned space station called Citadel owned by the TriOptimum Corporation, where a rogue AI called SHODAN has taken control. Your task is to find out what went wrong and correct it. The longer version is quite a bit longer, and includes a backstory that explains how the Hacker ended up on Citadel with a military-grade neural interface. Oh, and did we say alone? We meant that only insofar as human companions go. The Hacker has to dodge mutants, cyborgs, and security robots and eventually enter a special area called Cyberspace to go one-on-one with SHODAN.

What is the gameplay of System Shock like?

Even if you're not old enough to have played the original System Shock, it is highly unlikely that the gameplay or the setting is going to look alien. Think BioShock, Mass Effect, or Prey. Of course, there is a lot of action and adventure, all set in a cyberpunk future (though the 2070s don't seem as far off as they did in 1994).

In March 2019, NightDive released the full (pre-alpha) gameplay for the medical level. Even though it is sans effects, weapons, enemies, and sound, it looks pretty good. One reviewer who got to try it out appreciated the "retro chunkiness" of the era, a design element rather than an issue with the resolution. These are the little details that make being back on Citadel feel like a homecoming (at least for the older lot among us).

The gameplay itself won't show much change, except for better controls via modern-day peripherals, of course. The usual RPG elements of manipulating a HUD, interacting with objects, and finding and using weapons will be present.

How are they funding the development?

NightDive Studios' original 2016 Kickstarter campaign raised a handsome $1.35 million, going over their goal by 50%. However, the lengthy development stage and an unprecedented (but perhaps not unsurprising) scope creep ate into the funds quickly, forcing them to revise their ambitions. The project is back on now, with a vision that is closer to what was envisaged right at the outset, and the hopeful release date isn't too far off.

The developer is still taking pledges from backers via BackerKit, where you can pre-order some nifty gear, like t-shirts, crew pins, special-edition steel-cased PC editions, the soundtrack, and a coffee-table book containing the concept art for the reboot. The goal is to raise another $200,000, of which about $77,000 has already been pledged.

Wait, wasn't System Shock put on hold?

Yes, it was, but the TL;DR version is that it's back on now. When NightDive's CEO announced that they were putting it on "a hiatus" and part of the development team had been disbanded, many thought that was it, that the System Shock reboot would end up dusty and forgotten in the "Remakes That Never Were" section of the archives. 

The original release date was set for 2017, but of course, the path of true dedication never did run smooth. Even before 2016 was done, the release was pushed back by a year to the second quarter of 2018. But 2018 arrived, and there were no signs that the project was nearing completion. That was when the CEO of Night Dive, Stephen Kick, announced the hiatus. But it was a short-lived break: NightDive popped back up in a month with the news that System Shock was back on again, with a "change in direction" and — fingers crossed — an early 2020 release.

How will it be different from the original game?

NightDive's goal is to stay as true to the real thing as possible and also to the original developer LookingGlass' vision: "We are making System Shock for gamers that missed the opportunity to appreciate the original, and for the dedicated fans of System Shock 1."

If the concept art is anything to go by, it looks pretty good. NightDive had originally planned to use the Unity engine, but they have since changed course to go with the Unreal 4 Engine. Game director Jason Fader explains that they will be reworking and overhauling some of the space station so that it "aligns with player expectations for a modern game." Even the bathrooms have been reimagined with holograms instead of doors, because its likely no one cares about privacy in a cyberpunk dystopia.

Are there more games in the System Shock series?

Yes. There was a sequel, System Shock 2, and a System Shock 3 has been confirmed. System Shock 2 was released in 1999, created by LookingGlass and Irrational Games and published by Electronic Arts. The story is set in the teen years of the 22nd century. The protagonist is SOLDIER G65434-2, who wakes up in a cryo tube after an alien virus infects the rest of the crew. Yes, SHODAN is involved, and yes, there will an Enhanced Version of System Shock 2.

System Shock 3 is being developed by OtherSide Entertainment (though NightDive owns the franchise now), which is led by Warren Spector of Deus Ex and the original System Shock fame. OtherSide comprises developers from the original game, so the chances are it'll be a cracker. The gameplay trailer and screenshots released in September this year backs that up. If all goes well, this may be another 2020 release. And of course, SHODAN will be back.

What other games can you play as you wait for System Shock?

Oh, wow, how long have you got? System Shock inspired an entire generation of action RPGs and continues to do so, so you won't be stuck twiddling your thumbs while you wait. There cannot be a better one to start with than the critically acclaimed Deus Ex, first released in 2000 and still in the top ten of a best-of list in 2019. This action-RPG is set in a cyberpunk dystopia that will soon look very familiar. The setting is Earth, not space, and Deus Ex combines stellar storytelling with a choice of gameplay strategy (stealth, shooter, etc.).

The BioShock series is also worth a play. There are three games in this — BioShock, BioShock 2, and BioShock Infinite — and the intriguing thing about them is that, unlike most other System Shock-inspired games, this one is set in the past. The first two games are also set in an underwater city called Rapture. Their retro sci-fi setting is unique, though there are certain disturbing elements within them.

If you'd like your survival-horror-adventure experiences in space, then Prey is the one for you. It's up to you to single-handedly keep angry aliens at bay aboard a space station. Soma is another game set in an underwater facility, and the game's use of psychological horror makes us recommend you don't play in the dead of the night.