As the survival horror genre evolves, we see more and more developers finding ways to take the classic mechanics and present them in ways that fit into modern gaming. Developer rose-engine is trying to keep your heart racing in their sci-fi survival horror title Signalis. Each moment of gameplay tends to create more questions for the player as they push forward. Strangely, Signalis is one nightmare that I couldn’t turn away from.
Signalis wastes little time getting players prepared for what’s ahead. The opening moments act as a tutorial that teaches basic puzzle-solving and movement mechanics. The instructions seem part of the world’s lore as you awake as an android Replika named Elster. Her current goal is to find a mysterious woman to whom she made a promise to. The reasoning for Elster’s awakening and the cause of a deadly virus that took over a once respectable facility is realized through a series of cutscenes and notes found throughout the levels.
The cinematics for this game is straight out of a Kubrick film. The framing of the shot and the disturbingly awkward characters you’ll interact with come together to tell a rather engrossing narrative. It exudes a sense of loneliness as the camera switches to first person, and you navigate unknown environments hoping to find some answers. As Elster unraveled the truth of what happened to this facility, I felt immersed in the world and easily understood the sci-fi lore the developers set out to create. It’s digestible but has depth for those who wish to understand everything. Still, some scenes are left for interpretation, but that comes with the indie movie-esque structure.
By exploring various floors within the facility, players will unlock new ways to navigate puzzles and take on enemies. There’s a steady stream of new ways to approach gameplay, but there are a handful of re-used puzzle ideas. Most of the time, progress will be stopped by a locked door that requires a key card. These cards can be found lying around on a desk, but the more important ones are always behind wall safes. Sure, they mix it up with puzzling ways to find the code, but I found the wall-safe puzzle to be used a bit too many times.
Regardless, puzzle-solving becomes challenging in the later levels, which is the total opposite of the almost hand-holdy nature of the opening chapter. I found myself pushed to a few moments of “What the f**k do I do?” but then the solution came to me. There’s a great balance of hints provided that point you in the right direction, but there are some genuinely clever puzzles on every floor.
To progress, players must combine items, use a radio that broadcasts helpful codes, or do out-of-pocket events like finding a key card using an x-ray or completing a circuit board. I was never brought to a halt while attempting to figure out how to unlock a door. Still, exploration can be challenging as it becomes tougher to see what you can and can’t interact with in the environments. There’s often something that may look like ammo or a particular item, only to find out it’s nothing.
Combat is a battle of ammo conservation and patience. The enemies in the game are scary and sometimes way too fast, which only makes them more intimidating. I’ll say right now, if you can run past them, do it because ammo isn’t dropped too often. Other equipable items can also ward off enemies, such as a stun baton or flare, but I’d say to try still to run. Inventory management is crucial as you only have room for six items. Just know this before rushing into an enemy-filled room for an item only to realize you don’t have space for it.
Storage containers are bundled with the save points across the level, which leads me to talk about the menu design. I really like the Map layout and found the item organization easy to navigate. The limited space is annoying, but I enjoyed the extra layer of tense frustration. You’re constantly questioning your loadout before taking on challenging areas, and thankfully the developers were nice enough to have a save point before a major boss battle.
If you have to shoot down an enemy, you must first aim and wait for a good shot. This creates even more tension, but it can also be frustrating when you’re pinned against the wall trying to escape. Elster will do a sort of melee push if the enemy is close, but I had to get used to this action and suffered a few hits before understanding it.
The pixel graphics are what initially grabbed my attention in Signalis. After that, I was easily immersed in this gloomy world. I poured over each note and did my best to understand the cause of this deadly event. I never expected to feel this connected to an experience, but I enjoyed every moment of gameplay, even through the challenges and scary encounters.
Sound design is essential to this genre, and while the soundtrack takes a backseat, for the most part, the developers use it to induce a bit of terror during enemy encounters. Further, it’s used for some of the lo-fi cinematics, giving it a Blade Runner vibe. If this score was to make me feel lonely, then it worked.
Signalis will be the weekend horror adventure you’ll want to discuss with your friends. It’s challenging, engaging, and nightmarishly fun. I couldn’t seem to step away as something always allows you to inch forward to some answers. There’s so much to love and to fear about this experience that I can easily recommend it to any fans of the genre.
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