Admittedly, I’m not one for retro-styled games, being usually in the camp of “we’ve got fancy powerful hardware, why not make use of it?“. However, once in a while a title comes along that piques my interest and helps me look past the ridiculous notion that games have to be high density pixel counts and fancy raytraced effects. SIGNALIS is one of those, and mainly because I was sold on it being a sci-fi slanted cross between Silent Hill and Resident Evil. There’s also curiosity value in that the developer, Rose-Engine Games, is only a two person outfit based in Hamburg. How could such a small dev team come up with a PlayStation One era style survival horror game? So I’ve dropped my usual reservations and strapped in for a chilling romp through a nightmarish vision of an android populated future.
In SIGNALIS you play the part of Elster, a Replika (read android) that awakes after their shuttle crashes on a distant mining world, Leng. It’s a handy coincidence as she’s looking for her missing partner, a Gestalt unit called Ariane, and Leng happens to be where she was last seen. All is not good on the world though as Elster soon finds out that the Replika and Gestalt workers have been infected with some sort of code virus that’s turned them into psychopathic monstrosities. With no other option but to search the facility to try and find Ariane and a way off the planet, Elster heads deeper into the bowels of the complex, discovering weirder and more twisted secrets, and hopefully managing to keep her sanity as she goes.
Most of SIGNALIS’ gameplay is a semi-top down view with Elster running between rooms, finding items, solving puzzles, and basically working out where to go next. If you’ve played a classic Resident Evil game then you’ll know pretty much how it all works – the devs wear the homage on their sleeves; but the overall feeling is more akin to Silent Hill with the harrowing enemies, sounds and visual distress that creeps in over the course of the story. Every now and again though the game switches things up and drops you in first person. Typically happening for flashbacks, dream sequences, or the odd puzzle, it brings a refreshing perspective and makes you feel more immersed in what’s going on. Controlling Elster feels quite remote, so that close up viewpoint really helps to cement the atmosphere, as well as leaves you a little unsettled, which the random text flickers, incomprehensible symbols and disturbing imagery then begin to ram home. It oozes a vibe that really does make it feel uncomfortable to play, in a good way.
On the action side you can expect the survival elements to be at the fore, and ammo and supplies are really scarce. With multiple ways to put down the infected Replika’s and Gestalt’s, you can start to vary things and figure out strategies for the different types, though you have to be careful as they’re not put down forever, and there’s plenty of chance during the amount of backtracking that you’ll have them resurrect and hunt you again. Fire seems to put them out of action for good, though that particular resource is one of the hardest to come across. SIGNALIS’ inventory system is well streamlined, almost to the point where it’s too stingy. You only have 6 slots for carrying everything, and it’s sometimes quite a long way from storage boxes that hold everything you’ve picked up, so expect multiple trips around as well as making sacrifices on what to pick up. Just don’t go unarmed whatever you do…
Whilst the run and gun gameplay is very reminiscent of the survival horror genre, SIGNALIS doubles down on the puzzle side of things and really does have a few gems up its sleeve. They might be mostly fetch based with multiple items needing tracking down, yet there’s a great mechanic that’s part of the base setup that elevates them nicely. You’re carrying a device that lets you tune into various frequencies anywhere where in the complex, and the broadcasts that are picked up work as either clues to open safes and unlock doors, or act as a way of flushing out enemies that are trying to mask their location. Set within the inventory screen a quick tap up and some deft d-pad work will have you whipping through frequencies faster than Snake trying to save his game, and it’s very well integrated into the overall experience. With little tuition available, there’s a some great signposting work been put in to make sure that it’s intuitive to use. Expect to have your brain taxed though as a few of the puzzles that use it (and some that don’t) are designed to have you scour every area for clues to their solutions.
Visually, SIGNALIS holds up well with it’s chunky style graphics and high level camera angle, and the dank and grotesque elements work to have your mind fill in the gaps of what it can’t really display in detail. Layer on the screeching soundtrack and ominous noises and it creates a foreboding atmosphere at nearly every turn. It’s not the longest game you’ll come across this year, and there are a few rough edges in the aiming and constant running around to manage the inventory, but given the size of the team pulling it together it’s a solid title. Those yearning for some old skool thrills will find enough to pass the time here, as well as seeing a foray into an almost arthouse cinematic style that doesn’t at any stage attempt to hold your hand through the murk. Soak in the environments and the disassociating story, and try not to let our obviously robotic-based future worry you too much.
A PS4 review copy of Signalis was provided by Rose-Engine Games, and it’s available now on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch and PC for around £20.