Nightdive Studios is a peculiar beast. The developer is known for a string of high-quality remasters on both PC and console, but a full-blown remake might seem to be a little out of its wheelhouse at first glance. That is, until you learn about the studio’s humble origins, and its founding by CEO Stephen Kick.
“I think it bears repeating, but Nightdive studios was founded off the back of Steve getting the publishing rights to System Shock 2,” says Larry Kuperman, Nightdive Studios’ director of business development. “We are focused on restoration of classic games, and I don't think that there is any company that would be as aware of the weight of history behind System Shock and the importance of it as we are.”
The creation of the System Shock remake feels like Nightdive Studios coming full circle. For context, Kick was a character artist at Sony Online Entertainment, working on games like Planetside 2. During a vacation, Kick was dismayed to find that his CD-ROM copy of System Shock 2 wouldn’t run on his Chromebook. Worse still, the game wasn’t easily playable on modern hardware, absent from online storefronts like Steam and GOG.
“Like, what happened to this game?” Kick said in an interview with YouTube documentary channel Noclip. “It’s widely considered to be one of the best PC games of all time. There’s something wrong here.” It turns out that the rights to the System Shock franchise were with a US-based insurance company that, thankfully, was keen to work with Kick in bringing System Shock 2 to GOG. The release was such a success that Kick was able to found Nightdive off the back of it.
It wasn’t a straight shot to the System Shock remake from there, though. Nightdive Studios cut its teeth on doing exactly what it had done for System Shock 2; remastering classic PC and console titles for ease of purchase and play on modern systems.
The studio has since partnered with various publishers to bring iconic 90s and 2000s era games back into the limelight. The team is the reason you can play classics like Doom 64, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Forsaken, Shadow Man, PowerSlave and many more on PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch.
These aren’t quick ‘n’ dirty remaster jobs, though. Nightdive commits to giving its titles a full refurbish. Often, its remasters will be fitted with 4K resolution and high framerate support, modernized controls and plenty of quality-of-life and accessibility features. And those are really just the tip of the iceberg.
One that’s a particular standout to me is Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. The original is an infamously obtuse, objective-driven game. Nightdive took much of the frustration out of navigating its labyrinthine world with streamlined maps, quick travel and improved movement, so players can focus on what Turok 2 does exceedingly well: the shooting part.
All this experience leads us to Nightdive’s biggest project to date: the System Shock remake. While indeed using the 1994 original as a template, it’s the studio’s first attempt at a from-the-ground-up remake with completely new textures, lighting and mechanics. Side by side, the remake is a night-and-day upgrade over the Looking Glass-developed original. But Nightdive was adamant on retaining that classic look and feel.
“Our decisions about the art style were very deliberate,” Kuperman explains. “We wanted you to be aware that you are playing a classic game. That you are playing something that's important, that's different, and that has historical significance. And I think we've achieved that.”
2023’s System Shock certainly has a standout aesthetic. Its low-res textures blend surprisingly well with Citadel Station’s moody neon lighting; a sharp cyberpunk injection helps its cold, dark corridors feel dangerously alive. It’s not wholly unlike Doom 3’s approach to atmosphere, albeit trading cheap jumpscares for a mutant-ridden space station that’s already fallen into chaos and disarray.
That uncaring, sinister mood is brought to the forefront by System Shock’s rogue AI antagonist, SHODAN. Once more, we have an area that Nightdive went the extra mile to get right.
“From the very, very beginning,” says Kick, “we had decided that if we couldn't get Terri Brosius to reprise her role of SHODAN that we weren't even going to bother with this. She was that important.” Kick went on to explain that Brosius accepted the role “without hesitation,” additionally bringing the original’s sound designer Eric Brosius on board to recreate SHODAN’s iconic glitchy computerized speech pattern.
That Nightdive seal of quality
You might be aware that bringing System Shock to market wasn’t easy. The remake was delayed multiple times, with development often halting so the studio could take stock and revisit the drawing board.
“When you're dealing with a franchise that has this kind of significance,” Kick says, “you're very careful about what you do. And that was one of the main reasons that we took that first hiatus a number of years ago is because I feel like we had strayed too far from what made System Shock what it was, and more importantly, how it influenced other games.”
Kick’s words here tie back to what makes Nightdive something of an anomaly; that commitment to going the extra mile in both making classic games accessible for modern audiences, and also ensuring the overall mood, tone and feel of any given project is left intact.
The System Shock remake very much maintains its immersive sim roots: sprawling maps with items, lore and secrets carefully placed throughout. But Nightdive is aware that in reviving the classic, the bar for entry must be lowered.
One look at the remake’s options menu is enough to confirm this sensibility. Yes, there’s modernities like 4K support, resolution scaling and an FoV slider. But there’s also options for different HUD styles, multiple DLSS settings, keybinds and full gamepad support. All things you couldn’t get in the 1994 original without modding the game.
The remake maintains the four distinct difficulty sliders, too. Love a good combat and resource management challenge, but not so keen on puzzles? These can be adjusted individually. And yes, the choice to impose a strict 10-hour time limit returns here, too, alongside a permadeath option.
Nightdive has to be elated with System Shock’s strong critical reception. It’s been received warmly by fans both old and new. So, you’d think that naturally, a System Shock 2 remake should be on the cards… right? Well, not necessarily.
“There's been a lot of discussions about what it is we want to do next, whether that be a full-on remake of [System Shock 2] or if we want the Enhanced Edition to breathe on its own for a bit,” Kick explains.
“But we've talked about exploring the System Shock universe in different genres. Maybe an XCOM-like that takes place before the events of System Shock 1, where you're the resistance on Citadel Station, fighting SHODAN’s cyborgs and machines.”
Defying expectations to create an entirely new game in the System Shock universe is certainly an enticing prospect. And once again, would be new territory for Nightdive Studios. Whether the developer goes ahead with a System Shock 2 remake, or decides on a wholly original title, it seems like the future of the long-dormant franchise is much brighter than you might expect.
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Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.
- Jake TuckerEditor in chief, TechRadar Gaming