SIGNALIS (PC) Review

By Athanasios 30.10.2022

Review for SIGNALIS on PC

Many indie games tend to pay homage to a title that influenced them. Encased wanted to be the new Fallout; Astalon: Tears of the Earth is an NES-flavoured metroidvania; Ion Fury is Duke Nukem 3D with a lady at the driving wheel, while relatively unknown gems like Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass emulate widely known gems such as Earthbound. SIGNALIS, the sci-fi, psychological horror game by rose-engine, manages to masterfully blend an assortment of different titles. At its core a mix of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, parts of its DNA include strands from Metal Gear Solid, Metroid, and even movies like Alien, Blade Runner, and Ghost in the Shell. The end result might be one of the best games of the year, and one of the best survival horror games ever.

In many ways a Resident Evil clone, this revolves around exploring a maze full of locked doors, with key items scattered around, and puzzles that need to be solved in order for said key items to be given to Elster. The creepy, distorted/mutated Replikas that shriek the moment they discover her presence and start hunting her down are basically zombies, and as is customary with the genre, the challenge isn’t bringing them down, but deciding if you need to waste precious resources, or running away. Add to that a very limited inventory space, and you are done: you have time-travelled back to the distant ‘90s. PlayStation gamepad on your hands, pizza and beer right beside you.

Handling these six slots really is like half of the gameplay here. SIGNALIS won’t change the minds of those who hate this concept. Thankfully for those who find joy in all that, it has been pulled off exceptionally. The constant challenge of trying to decide whether leaving the save room with a few items is worth the risk is part of the fun here, forcing you to constantly think ahead, and plan your route carefully so that Elster won’t have to spend more items that she needs to by partaking in unnecessary fighting with the Replikas. The system isn’t perfect. It can be annoying, as some tools, such as the shoulder-mounded flashlight, shouldn’t take a whole darn inventory slot. For the most part, however, it’s done the way it should.

Screenshot for SIGNALIS on PC

In many ways a Resident Evil clone, this revolves around exploring a maze full of locked doors, with key items scattered around, and puzzles that need to be solved in order for said key items to be given to Elster. The creepy, Distorted/mutated Replikas that occasionally shriek the moment they discover her presence and start hunting her down are basically zombies, and as is customary with the genre, the challenge isn't bringing them down, but deciding if you need to waste precious resources, or running away. Add to that a very limited inventory space, and you are done: you have time-travelled back to the distant '90s. PlayStation gamepad on your hands, pizza and beer right beside you.

Handling these six slots really is like half of the gameplay here. SIGNALIS won't change the minds of those who hate this concept. Thankfully for those who find joy in all that, it has been pulled off exceptionally. The constant challenge of trying to decide whether leaving the save room with few items is worth the risk is part of the fun here, forcing you to constantly think ahead, and plan your route carefully so that Elster won't have to spend more items that she needs to by partaking in unnecessary fighting with the Replikas. The system isn't perfect. It can be annoying, as some tools, such as the shoulder-mounded flashlight, shouldn't take whole darn inventory slot. For the most part, however, it's done the way it should.

Screenshot for SIGNALIS on PC

Fighting enemies is nothing special. Point a gun, pull the trigger, and then kick them while they are down to finish them off. Simplistic, but combat was never meant to be what makes confrontations fun here. This is all about approaching the whole think in a tactical fashion. Elster will soon find more weapons to use, but that’s not all. There’s an assortment of tools besides those that behave differently, like a one-use stun baton that electrifies multiple Replikas if they are close to each other. Foes occasionally respawn when one walks close to them, which means that Elster should also make use of flares that torch their bodies - it’s up to you however to decide which ones to burn and which ones to leave intact. What’s great is that, while resources are limited, players can go through the whole thing without spending a single one of these items, or, alternatively, focus primarily on tools and running away, and rarely firing their guns.

Screenshot for SIGNALIS on PC

Everything is a puzzle here. Exploration, resource management, even the story is a puzzle… but more on that later on. Apart from all that, there are some actual, traditional puzzles here too, and they also follow the tried and tested Resident Evil/Silent Hill formula. Elster will have to figure out how to make certain machines work, with the necessary clues found in notes, or even the environment itself. Although not always, most puzzles require pressing the correct buttons on a keypad, like the panel of a safe. However, none of these feel samey, as the game is quite creative when it comes to finding the solution to a puzzle, making use of a variety of different systems. Make no mistake, though, the biggest puzzle on offer is the plot.

Surreal visions pop up out of nowhere, it’s easy to mistake a character for another one, and those who want to make sense of it all need to re-read the many pieces of lore that are scattered around, or even try out a second or third play-through. The whole thing is exceptionally hard to follow, but it’s actually more mysterious and intriguing than irritating. As for what’s going on here, without spoiling much, it kind of explores the nature of consciousness (among other subjects), and how it has managed to emerge inside the artificial people that are the Replikas, which are shown to be tortured by their emotions, as well as strange hallucinations that are hard to tell whether they are memories from past lives, or glitches in their system.

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In terms of scares, this borrows lots of things from Silent Hill, like how it hides details in the dark, how it effectively uses silence and solitude, how the world gets… fleshier the closer one gets to end, and how it frequently asks from you to jump into a creepy dark hole on the ground. It never ever comes to close to being as terrifying as Konami’s classic, but it still succeeds in creating an unsettling, slow-burning feeling of dread. Cameras follow your every movement; the maze is bleak, and full of scenes of violence; texts speak of the Replikas’ slow decent into madness, pain, and suffering, and the backdrop to it all is that of a grimdark, dystopian future, where a totalitarian state controls everything, and punishes any sort of transgression. There’s horror to be found here, alright, but it’s not about monsters that come crashing through the walls. This is more like a blend of Lovecraft and Sci-fi. A weird, techno-organic kind of cosmic horror that never really shocks but undoubtedly stays with you for a long time.

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Before this review comes to an end, it must be said that, as far as visuals are concerned, SIGNALIS is nothing short of a masterpiece. Making use of a murky, pixely, PS1-era aesthetic, this looks as if Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid had a baby - optional CRT monitor setting included for max nostalgia effect. The high-tech facility that will be explored is full of retro-futuristic, analogue machinery that adds a sort of “tangibility” to it all. The various menus, like the inventory or your map feel real as well as, rather than a squeaky clean, soulless user interface, these are filled with static, and nice, meaty, click sounds. Oh, and the various Replika models (including Elster) have a distinct, memorable, and awesome design, and those that don’t try to kill you are super-cute. Top stuff, really.

This frequently plays with other styles. While the bulk of the experience is in the standard top-down view, in some occasions Elster will zoom in on an area in first-person, something that, for some strange reason, adds to the unsettling vibe of it all. Glitches appear on screen. Obscure images flash before your eyes, and as for the cut-scenes, they flips between low-poly models, and detailed, anime-inspired images, with almost every single second being worthy of taking a snapshot and using it as a wallpaper. SIGNALIS deserves an award for its visuals alone. Thankfully, there’s also an exceptional game underneath all those beautiful red, grey, and black pixels.

Screenshot for SIGNALIS on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

SIGNALIS is a title heavily inspired by survival horror classics, and a survival horror classic itself. It's a fantastic experience that goes back to the '90s, and at the same time feels like a fresh, modern take on the basic Resident Evil/Silent Hill formula. Visually stunning, highly immersive and atmospheric, and an absolute joy to play (and re-play) this sinister and eerie sci-fi tale is a no brainer for fans of dark, psychological horror video games.

Developer

rose-engine

Publisher

Humble Games

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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