I’d say the horror genre has been fiddling around in recent memory. Not horror as a whole, but more as in horror in video games. If it were the first option then expect me to ramble on and on about how Hollywood is running out of original materials to work with. Games mainly focused on horror haven’t been all too great and fail to miss the mark they set up for themselves. You may end up with a horror game that fails to be scary, fails to convey feelings of fear, or is scary for the first few hours but falls off near the end. Take Resident Evil: Village for example, and if you haven’t read my review on it you should know I wasn’t a huge fan of this game. It starts off interesting as ordinary man Ethan Winters is taken to what a land full of make believe monsters. The game has an incredible setting and atmosphere, but over time those feelings of fear and thrills are lost as the game keeps dumping weaponry into your hands and set pieces that give the player a power fantasy rather than a struggle to survive. This was one of few times a survival horror game failed to work for me, and it felt like a step back from how masterful the seventh game and Resident Evil 2 Remake was. You may have a game like Outlast where it’s all about running away or hiding, but once you know exactly what to do and where to go those dangerous encounters become less threatening especially on future playthroughs. Killing replay value.
In fact, all the horror games I’ve played, even the ones I love, suffer from issues. Soma is dark and depressing, but those monster encounters become annoying to deal with. Little Nightmares 2 has wonderful art direction and presentation, but just like any runaway horror title replay value is killed once you know exactly what to do. The only two games I can think of that handle horror perfectly are Bloodborne and Gloomwood, which is still in early access. These two aren’t exactly horror games as one of them is an intense action RPG while the other is an immersive-sim, but the way they use them is interesting. You don’t fully understand what you are facing or what may come next. The world is mysterious and it’s up to you to piece together what is going on. There are beings beyond your comprehension and what’s scary is that you don’t know what they are capable of. Bloodborne explores the great beyond, and Gloomwood as I’ve seen so far is trying to survive a town of regular people gone mad. That and their gameplay is all about conserving resources and trying to survive. Once those resources are gone things become much harder for the player. Personally I believe both Bloodborne and Gloomwood are better survival horror titles than half of the genre's entries. Give me a survival horror title that has both an interesting setting, story, mystery, and gameplay that forces me to be careful. Thankfully we have one today.
Signalis, a traditional survival horror game developed by German indie studio rose-engine. The name of the studio was lowercase on purpose, trust me. The game began development way back in 2014 and was made by two individuals, Yuri Stern and Barbara Whittman. From what I can tell both of them are avid horror fans. Influenced by horrifying works such as Shores of Oblivion, Isle of The Dead, H.P Lovecraft, and games from the fifth generation of consoles like the first Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Both of them wanted to make a love letter to a genre they grew up with, and so they began work on what was a dream project. Spending countless hours on the drafting, realizing what would work, and putting their plans into action. Creating Signalis, which was revealed midway through 2018. The game’s development got pushed back further as their hopes grew more ambitious, and it wasn’t until last year out of nowhere that Signalis was finally complete. Signalis was finally out and the horror fans who stumbled upon it instantly fell in love. Either from being disappointed by genre contemporaries, or being surprised by how ridiculously good the game was. Signalis was one of many gems to come out in 2022. Remember this was the year that Elden Ring and God of War: Ragnarok came out, and if you haven’t heard of either or then you must have been sleeping under a rock. Signalis did not blow up, which is expected from indie games at this point, but it was genuinely well received and considered a Game of The Year contended by almost everyone who played it. Signalis is mysteriously great and everyone around me has been singing its praises. I’ve been meaning to check out the game for quite awhile now. The physical version came out last month and I thought it was about time I stepped back into the world of horror. Did Signalis live up to the high hopes set up for me. Yes, but it did take me time to realize it. I almost fell off the game at first for how it played and to be honest I don’t love the game as much as everyone else. However, it is special, and I want to talk about why it is just so. Today we’ll be talking about why I fell in love with Signalis and why it deserves your attention.
The game takes place in the far distant future. Mankind has figured out how to travel across the stars within a short period of time and have begun colonizing other planets so that humans can have more living space and resources to harvest for their pleasures. They’ve also developed tech that can enhance the human body and life conditions, and if not develop machines that look and function exactly like human beings. They’ve developed androids, and using said androids they send them out into the far reaches of space so that they can discover other planets that are livable and mine resources from them. Androids have been created for basic labor work and that’s what they’ll do till the day they die. You are one of many androids, or in this case Replikas. You are an LSTR model, nicknamed Elster, and you are one of many members aboard a vessel named the Penrose-512. Your ship has crash landed on an icy planet and your Gestalt partner, Arianne, has gone missing. With no way of repairing the ship or contacting for help, Elster suits up and begins traversing the cold planet surface. She continues venturing through the blizzard until stumbling upon a weird rectangular structure. Walking through she then finds a hole and circular staircase descending into the earth. Once she walks down the staircase she sees another hole leading to an unknown location, and Elster crawls through thinking that is where her Arianne lies.
Once Elster reaches the other side of the hole she ends up in what appears to be a broadcasting room, and the hole she just crawled through has now sealed up. She picks up a physical copy of The King in Yellow lying on the table, and the monitors next to her light up. Listing off a set of numbers and giving Elster weird visions. Messages of who she is, how she’s a machine, and how she shouldn’t break her promise to her partner. The screen fills with red until Elster finds herself staring into a cracked mirror. She ended up in the abandoned mining facility of Sierpinski-29, and everyone there has gone missing or quiet. Upon exploring further she discovers that more than half the staff, who are all Replikas like her, have mutated and gone insane. Mutilating each other, emitting a red bloody substance, and losing all control of their body. Elster encounters a few surviving Replikas along her journey, and they all want to either die peacefully or journey further into the facility to find answers. Elster, wanting to know what is truly going on and where Arianne could be, dives deeper. Prepared to face the horrors below.
Signalis is true survival horror, and if you don’t know how these types of games work then let me explain very quickly. You are jumped into what are practically mazes. Some passageways will be closed and some of them will be open. There are puzzles scattered about, monsters to fight, and supplies to loot. Try to ration any supplies you can as wasting them on meaningless foes will hurt you in the long run. Puzzles will have complex solutions or require items found later on, and you can’t progress unless key puzzles are solved. There are save rooms to save your game and usually they contain chests to store your gear and take out any other previously stored items. Dying while exploring will resort to lost progress, usually anything after the last time you saved. Save often, traverse carefully, know where you are going, and you can survive the harsh conditions you are stuck in. Things only get more confusing with time as the levels become more confusing, and stronger enemies show up. It’s everything you come to expect from traditional survival horror titles, but with a set camera view.
Rather than have a free roam camera, Signalis has a set view point. Giving you a view of almost everything around you and your character. You cannot change the angle of the camera and where it points to. The only way you can see what is up ahead is if you move further, and the only way you can see what is behind that door is if you walk through it. At times, you have to be confident to walk through a new doorway because there may be a group of enemies that rush down on you. Meaning you have to be absolutely ready. How do you fight back in Signalis? You can pick up a good amount of guns during your travels, and each one has their own quirks. Pistol has a high ammo capacity and does reasonable enough damage. Magnum has a lower ammo capacity and longer reload time, but does way more damage if you aim just right. The shotgun will do a ton of damage up close, and there’s much more I won’t spoil. You also have a couple side arms and tools you can whip out. A stun rod to attack enemies getting too close to you, or even Thermite which is extremely rare but can burn enemy corpses. You have two methods of aiming when it comes to using firearms. Free aim which gives you easy control but requires you to be extremely accurate, or a targeting system which lines up the shot depending on who you are aiming at. You have to wait for this little square to grow smaller on your target, because if you fire when it is huge then you have a chance of missing. Wasting the scarce resources you have. Shoot an enemy enough and they will fall to the ground. Try to kick them while they are down or else they will get back up. You don’t want to waste more ammo than you should. You can also use Thermite as I mentioned, because there’s a chance they will come back to life.
You will occasionally take damage while exploring and there are a couple items you can use to patch up those injuries. Repair Patches, Repair Sprays, Injectors, Repair Spray Pluses, and all of which will restore a varying amount of health within a varying amount of time. Save the stronger stuff up for later areas or when you are incredibly low on health. Certain doorways will be shut tight unless you make it to the other side of them or uncover keys made to open them. It’s that or you will have to solve one of the many complex puzzles Signalis throws your way. The puzzles in this game are really complex. You have this one puzzle in the second area that requires you to balance water among three pipes, and when you move water from one pipe to another it fills up the pipe completely unless there is no more space or water. There’s a puzzle that requires you to tune into different radio frequencies, and the different frequencies give you one of several codes you can use. I won’t spoil all of them, but Signalis eventually becomes a thinking game. Deciphering each clue and figuring out where the hell you are supposed to do. Besides that there’s nothing else to say. Hopefully you can escape this hellhole.
Signalis is beautifully flawed. Underneath everything the game does right are a few rough edges, but I will say right now that I strongly recommend this game. I think Signalis is worth your time and still better than a lot of horror games out there. It’s great, but I’ll refrain myself from talking about anything story related as much of what makes Signalis special is done through its story and the presentation. To sum it up, Signalis is a mystery with unanswered questions. Not everything will be solved or make sense by the end of the game, but that is all up to interpretation. That may satisfy a couple players who were expecting a bombastic conclusion where everything connects, but not every game needs to be fully explained. The lack of explanation is what makes Signalis such a good horror game. Wondering what we just went through, what we witnessed, and trying to process the information. Only to then get more confused and then terrified of what it may be. Signalis dives into themes of existentialism, transhumanism, alternate realities, and forgetting who you once were and having to live with it. The game is dark to think about and that’s why the horror works for me. Signalis is masterful when it comes to sci-fi horror, world building, and letting the pieces sorta fall into place. It’s the number one reason as to why you should play it.
I really love the art direction for Signalis. They tried replicating the look of a PS1 game, but they have some really interesting looking set pieces and locales. Signalis has this sense of immersion with it despite playing jerkily, which we’ll talk about shortly. The use of lighting, atmosphere, setting the mood, and usage of sound. Music and sound is incredibly important in video games as terrible use of it will actually disrupt the intended feelings you have for a scene. Let’s say you are trying to hide from this huge disgusting monster who can rip your jaw off in an instant, but you have this thrilling music playing out loud. It doesn’t feel scary, and unless you’re Bloodborne and you’re trying to hype up a boss fight it doesn’t fit the genre of game you are aiming for. What I like about Signalis is that there is no music, and the only time there is music is during important story scenes. In fact, Signalis doesn’t use any jumpscares during any of it’s gameplay sections and that’s what makes it more intense. What will scare you is not jumpscares, but being thrown into a dangerous moment. Will you stay calm or will you panic and get cut down easily? Everything is shot and put together easily, and there were times Signalis took me by surprise. With all that said, is Signalis a good survival horror video game? It’s alright, and this is where my criticism starts to come into play.
The introduction is a good start of what horror awaits you, but after that it’s a slow burn. Waltz around and wait for the next interesting beat to come into play. Gameplay is good on paper, but not actually good to play. Signalis uses tank controls similar to older Resident Evil titles and the Silent Hill series, and depending on who you are you either love or hate tank controls. I know there’s a certain crowd who defends tank controls, mainly because they grew up with those older horror games, and they claim anyone who hates them are horror zoomers who have never gone and played any old games. I’m mainly a modern gamer and I find this defense of tank controls… to be completely reasonable. Listening to modern game defenses gets annoying after a while, and it’s nice to hear an opinion from those who are more experienced with the genre. Tank controls worked because they were less about skill and more about thinking. Positioning yourself, lining your shots right, and learning when you weren’t ready for a fight. When to run past an enemy or outmaneuver them. Tank controls are smart, but that doesn’t mean I like them. They take time to get used to and they can be frustrating to work with during stressful moments. It doesn’t help that the aiming system isn’t smooth and trying to use free aim is worse, because the red line that signals where you are aiming doesn’t always give a good clue on what they'll hit. You may think you are targeting the enemy only to then see your bullets pass by them. Movement doesn’t also feel that great , and there were times I was right next to a door and wasn’t able to interact with it until after a few button presses. Eventually I turned the difficulty down. Not because Signalis was hard, but because combat got annoying.
The puzzles are smartly designed and I had fun with most of them. Seeing what their solutions are and working towards them. They felt satisfying once solved and were some of my favorite parts about the gameplay. Sure, getting the items to actually do them felt like they dragged them out longer than they should have, but it was still nice. However, I don't know if a majority of people will understand the puzzles. The way some of them work is confusing and may be one of few reasons why people will drop this game. If not that then it’s the biggest flaw with Signalis. The inventory system is a pain to deal with. You have six slots and any item you pick up will take one up. Whether that’s a gun, tool, ammo, and even keys. There’s an in-universe rule that explains why there are only six inventory slots which are fair. However, the space you have does not increase as you move further into the game. No upgrades to help you carry more ammo or store those important keycards. This sucks, because in a genre where everything you stumble upon is important to survival and progression you have to make several trips to the storage box or at times leave resources behind. The developers stated themselves that this was a huge mistake and are trying to work around this problem as soon as possible. Maybe they’ll add in Silent Hill styled difficulty settings where you can change inventory space, difficulty of combat, and even the difficulty of puzzles. Decide how hard the game is for you. Signalis sounds mediocre from what I’ve been describing so far, but certain factors outweigh the negatives. The story, universe, art direction, amazing use of horror, and satisfying progression make it excellent enough to give it a strong recommendation. It may not be fun to play, but maybe that was the point I don’t fully understand. In the end I am going to give Signalis a 9/10 for excellence at best.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!