Signalis Review

Nostalgia has become an empowering force in the survival horror genre in modern times. Between the growing number of remakes spurting out of the ether like Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3 and forthcoming Dead Space and Resident Evil 4 remakes, as well as original titles like 2021’s Tormented Souls taking inspiration from classic survival horror games, appears to be a growing resurgence of the genre predicated on reminding us of grander survival horror games, but tweaking them enough for contemporary audiences so they remain fresh and forward-thinking.

Enter Signalis, an intriguing addition to the growing line-up of impressionable survival horror efforts. Rose Engine, in conjunction with prolific indie publishers Humble Games and Playism, have produced a promising ode to Resident Evil here, combining a lavish anime stylization with a suite of brainteasing puzzles, an emphasis on inventory management and taut shooting mechanics. Clocking in at around five hours, does Signalis do enough to provide a tasty indie slice of survival horror-or should this one be scraped off the space station floor in a drooping bloody husk?

After a state of prolonged incubation, an android going by the name of Elster awakens aboard a space station known as the Penrose 512, where she immediately begins searching for an ally. After some minor exploration including some light reading and fiddling with tape, Elster ventures out of her confines and into a frosty wasteland known as Leng. What Elster discovers, is that most of her comrades have turned into mindless zombie-like monstrosities, who will lunge for and devour her if they get even the slightest whiff of her musk. Elster’s task is to track down further insights into what has befallen her old crew and locate the whereabouts of her close associate.

Exuding the sense of isolation and uncertainty that encompasses the hallmarks of the best survival horror games, Signalis drenches players in a sense of the unknown, surfacing its story in a layer of desperation, compelling you to dig deeper to unearth the mysteriousness surrounding the madness that befell your fellow Replika teammates, while leading you forward with pinching bleats of suspense.

Environmental storytelling is where you will internalize the most intriguing aspects of Signalis. You will need to scout the environment for logs and manuals to reveal morsels of context, delivering you pieces of exposition on the fly that’ll help you make sense of the context of the story. You aren’t given much to go on, which is a delightful approach to making a gripping horror experience-and Signalis successfully applies its sense of foreboding by making the narrative provided just as sparing as your limited inventory.  

Elster has six slots in her inventory, which means you will be faced with carrying only the most essential items you need. This is frustratingly limiting, but the strategy involved in contending with the bare minimum, helps the feeling of dread and desperation along appropriately. Scarcity is survival horror’s best friend and Signalis encourages you to wield your threadbare arsenal wisely.

The in-game map will be your reliable companion, as navigation can come across like a labyrinthian nightmare if you choose to do without it. There are plenty of corridors with rooms and neighbouring areas with more corridors and rooms. Some of these are inaccessible, and some of these require keys to enter, but without a doubt, you will be whipping out a map every time you’re dumbfounded about where to go, or otherwise tracking your route towards the facility you want to enter. Navigation nags aside, the old-school “Do It Yourself” sensibilities do successfully harken back to a time where you needed to use your grey matter to get around.

Regarding grey matter, puzzles are sprinkled liberally throughout Signalis that are pleasantly balanced and a pleasure to decipher. You will find yourself fiddling around with dials and switches to align mechanisms, which sounds befuddling, but twiddling knobs until you reach a desired frequency certainly feels rewarding. Toying around with ultrasound sensors, an incinerator and a fuse box may sound like dangerous mechanisms to mess with, but you aren’t pressured by time constraints or tested harshly, so you can take your time with these head-scratchers, and you will succeed in getting passed them eventually.

Gunplay is subtle and not usually a prominent means of proceeding through Signalis. Most of the time, sneaking is the preferred way to operate, as you will not feel too endangered as you skulk around environments.

 You will encounter a few bosses that don’t mesh well with the style of point and shoot mechanics Signalis adopts. It’s admirable that Signalis attempts to be more ambitious by dolling out larger fiends to fight, but they clearly don’t add to the game’s biggest strengths, rather coming across as minor but apparent blemishes.   

The subtlety Signalis evokes through its visuals and soundtrack is admirable. The environments are unwelcoming, concrete, foreboding and menacing, mixed with the convenient shades of black and red depicted in Signalis’ artful presentation. Sound design evokes classic Resident Evil with the dial-like text bleeping when opening menus, and certain sounds like descending barriers and doors echo in the quietness, imbuing you with a sense of isolation and dread.

Conclusion

If you’re in the mood for classic Resident Evil-style thrills, Signalis is the best example of its kind in modern videogames. Don’t expect Signalis to evolve survival horror formulae or give you a horror experience that’s resoundingly new, but provided that you crave a faithful and sumptuous classic horror game experience, Signalis will be a nice and welcoming surprise that you will be sure to savour.     

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This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.

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Good
  • Classic survival horror done right
  • Good puzzles that feel rewarding
  • A subtle but effective presentation
Bad
  • Boss fights are unnecessary
  • Too much like Resident Evil
  • Maybe a bit too brief
8.4
Great
Written by
Although the genesis of my videogame addiction began with a PS1 and an N64 in the mid-late 90s as a widdle boy, Xbox has managed to hook me in and consume most of my videogame time thanks to its hardcore multiplayer fanaticism and consistency. I tend to play anything from shooters and action adventures to genres I'm not so good at like sports, RTS and puzzle games.

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