Survival horror isn't normally a genre I get super excited about. However when done well, it can deliver some of the most immersive and exciting experiences in gaming. Signalis is one of those games that does just that, and its even more impressive when you consider the fact that its the debut game from a two person studio.
Simpler, Spookier Times
At its core Signalis is a love letter to the survival horror games that helped define the genre such as the original Resident Evil or the first three Silent Hill games. There's a lot of fondness for these old games and its clear there's still a market for them, with the Resident Evil remakes and supposed new Silent Hill games in the works. Signalis certainly doesn't shy away from these inspirations, and fans of those games will feel right at home from the get go here. From the PlayStation One style graphics to the limited inventory slots and puzzle mini games Signalis almost feels like it could have come out around the same time as Resident Evil back in 1996. That being said, its also learned a lot from the flaws those games possess, and has some modern quality of life features like you would find in Resident Evil 2 Remake
Do Androids Dream Of Playstaion One Graphics?
You play as an android searching for her missing co-pilot through an off world mining facility where things have gone pretty horribly wrong. You'll wander through a labyrinth of tight rooms and corridors slowly piecing together what's going on, whilst fighting your way through a variety of creepy enemies and solving the odd puzzle here and there to keep you moving on. Signalis tells its story in an extremely fragmented way, and what's revealed to the player initially is purposely vague and you pick up little bits and pieces as you progress through the game. Its beautifully done and also works so well because the story is extremely compelling.
For a sci-fi story about Androids, there's some very grounded and human stories being told here. There's also some fantastic world building which just adds the icing on the cake of this game's story. I'm often guilty of reading the first couple of text logs in a game and very quickly tiring of them and never touching one again. In Signails I read everything i could get my hands on. Every text log, diary entry, internal memo, even the posters hanging on the walls do an incredible job of making this world feel rich and lived in. Its a dark dystopian hard sci-fi setting that ticks a lot of boxes for me, and I'm sure will for a lot of other people too.
Old But New
Signalis handles much like the PlayStation One era games it takes its cues from, there's even an option for tank controls if you are that kind of maniac. It makes it this odd combination of nostalgic and fresh all at the same time. The puzzles for the most part are intuitive and there's a good variety of them so they never end up feeling stale or reused. The limited inventory keeps things tense, bullets can be scarce and enemies can surprise you by getting back up for another round when you are backtracking through corridors. The game also has a good handful of dream-like first person scenes which help by giving you some little story simpits and break up the regular game play quite well. Overall Signalis plays exactly how you would want this kind of game to feel. Your movement is purposely slow to help add to the tension when fighting enemies, interacting with objects and puzzles in the world is snappy and its in these areas that Signalis feels very much like a modern game whilst looking like an older one.
And what a look it has. Signalis has some of my favorite pixel art ive maybe ever seen. Its such a crisp take on that older style that works so well. The 3d animated characters fit perfectly in the world and everything has this drap industrial colour palette to it with occasional flashes of bright colour which is just perfect for the setting they are going for. A bit more splash of colour in some of the first person dream sequences is almost jarring at times, but in a good way as it helps convey that you are experiencing something outside the normal play location. There's some great sound work going on too.
Signalis has a serious retro-tech vibe going on, with its cassette tapes and key cards, and the sound track fits beautifully into style with a broad range of somber creepy tracks too frantic piercing ones for fight sequences. Everything in the world clunks and whirls with satisfying sounds familiar to anyone who's pushed a VHS tape into a player. Signalis menus are a work of art too, with the occasional flicker of a well used machine, they complement the world design so well. In here you will also find the radio, which is used in some interesting ways. You’ll tune it by hand to find spooky numbers stations which can help you unlock safes and doors, and occasionally use it to aid you in combat. Video game maps have come a long way in recent years, and Signalis keeps this tradition going. It is incredibly easy to read, and also marks locked doors, places you've been to help you navigate what can often be very similar looking rooms and corridors.
Give Me Some Space
To be honest I only have one real fault with Signalis, and it's the limited inventory slots. Although sometimes in games this can make things interesting and force you to experiment with the weapons and items available, here it just feels a bit too restricted. You can store items in safe rooms and keep a small handful on your person. This leads to more backtracking than I would personally like to do in this game. Countless times while playing Signalis i would find a keycard, a puzzle piece, a new weapon ect, only to realize i have no space to pick it up and therefore have to begrudgingly march back to the closest safe room to unload items and free up space and then trudge back. There's a lot of dark areas in the game that require a flashlight which means I pretty much always had to carry one with me, clogging up one of my very limited slots for almost my whole playthrough. The enemies getting back up again can get tedious in areas where you are coming and going a fair bit. The game does give you an item to deal with this in the flare but again, if you have an inventory slot free to carry some.
But I was able to forgive Signalis for this pretty easily as its one of the best experiences ive had in games in a long time. Its one of those games where all the aspects compliment each so well it becomes extremely hard not to get engrossed in its world and story. The drip feed of exploration, new weapons, characters, and story information are perfectly paced to make it a game thats very hard to put down once you get going. Even if this isn't a genre that usually interests you, its worth checking this game out. Signalis nails what it sets out to do and delivers an extremely memorable experience which has just left me excited to see what this studio does next.