With franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill alive and well, alongside hundreds of quality indie developers pushing out very interesting projects, one can say that old school survival horror games are still alive and well. Signalis tries to mix the world of the aforementioned classics with 90’s futurism, even “retro-er” graphics and even some cyberpunk anime inspirations – and it even launches on Game Pass! Can it succeed?
The player awakens after a premonitory message on a futuristic screen tells us to, indeed, wake up. It’s not The Matrix, nor Chop Suey by System Of A Down – it’s the start of this adventure in a dystopian future, as the long slumbering female-looking Replika (a robot, basically) finds themselves on an abandoned spaceship on an icy planet. Getting out of it is a mini-puzzle in itself, and we already start seeing how the game is about the function: fairly close-up top-down views of halls leading to further corridors and doors, each behind an extremely short loading screen, in what feels like an even older school version of horrors of old like Resident Evil or Dino Crisis – just with more of a futuristic vibe.
Our protagonist Elster can interact with doors, find keys, touch panels, grab items and so on, with a handy map, inventory and diary keeping track of every place they visit, every item they find, every audiolog or text they encounter. The inventory presents one of the first roadblocks, however, as the game imposes a strict 6-item limit from the start. This isn’t immediately a problem, as in the first hour or so it’s unlikely for the player to even find themselves with more than said amount, but it becomes a major problem when an important key or item can’t be collected because the inventory is full, with the player having to travel back to the nearest savepoint to deposit things that may or may not be needed very soon. Funnily enough, there’s lore reasoning as to why the player can only carry six items only, but it still feels arbitrary and needlessly limiting.
Here and there
These savepoints are fairly sparse in the labyrinthic bases Elster finds on this snowy planet, so the player often has to walk back a dozen or so interconnected rooms for a savepoint. These trips can result in further drama, as the base has these corrupted Replikas trying to murder the player at every corner. Not only they appear in scripted parts of the story, but they can repopulate previously visited locations as well. The game’s old school combat system comes into play then, with a fairly generous yet very slow and clunky autoaim making combat more of a chore than something to look forward to, and with limited bullets it’s usually preferable to escape altogether. Indeed, like in Resident Evil and such, most enemies will not follow the player to the next area. With even manual reloads of bullets (though this can be turned off in the options) and the necessity to constantly cure oneself – trust me, avoiding combat when possible is just a much better option.
Puzzle-solving and exploration are Signalis’ bread and butter however, but unfortunately my experience with those wasn’t the most pleasant either. Most of them require the player to keep visiting visually similar corridors and interact with dozens of doors to find new places, where a key item or a card necessary to progress could be hidden on the corner of a table or some other, not particularly well noticeable location. Bar from a couple creative enigmas, most puzzles boil down to hunting down keycards, notes with passwords and combining items like in point ‘n’ click adventures of old, but without the improvements the genre and its successors saw in the last decades. Luckily, the map keeps track of every place’s name, the status of every single door and even points out locks, boxes and such that yet have to be unlocked, to allow the player to more easily find them later again.
Girl, you got style
If you got this far into the review you may think Signalis is a bit of a disaster, with a pretty clunky combat and repetitive puzzles that almost delve into the pixel-hunting, but that isn’t the case. From the opening sequence that combines 8-bit pixel art, Japanese anime-style drawings, cool sci-fi tech and even a very 90’s approach to futurism (with Serial Experiments Lain and Ghost In The Shell among its main influences, if I were to guess), all the way to its modernized lights and horroresque cuts – the formula works, in terms of an audiovisual experience, with indeed very good and eerie sounds to boot as well.
One of the most peculiar aspects of this adventure is how the game’s increasingly supernatural story has the player jump into a first person mode too from time to time. While it’s usually just barely more elaborate than a point ‘n’ click interaction, with players being able to move the camera slightly to the left or right in search for items and clues, there’s also a handful of occasions where the player gains 360-degrees freedom in a fully 3D environment that still mantains the old school pixelated look. No intention of spoiling how and why this happens, but it’s certainly one of the more inventive elements of an otherwise fairly straight-forward gameplay loop.
A better world than game
In the end, Signalis is a rather fascinating adventure with gorgeous retro visuals and excellent audio colluding with an exciting story and lore and great story to offer a world absolutely worth exploring. It’s therefore also a huge shame that it’s let down by repetitive and annoying puzzles that have the player run back and forth in identical corridors, a painfully limited inventory and an unimpressive combat model. Fans of old school horror games and space sci-fi should still find Signalis an interesting experience, and those subscribed to Game Pass can try it day one on the service.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One (playable on Xbox Series X|S too), PlayStation 4 (playable on PlayStation 5 too), PC, Nintendo Switch|
|Release Date||October 27th, 2022|
|Publisher||Humble Games, PLAYISM|
|Rated||ESRB M for Mature 17+, PEGI 12|