Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
October 27, 2022
Playism, Humble Games
Survival horror thrives on forcing you to work with limited resources and enemies that are lurking around every corner. But when your weapons don’t keep enemies down and running is your only option, the stakes rise considerably. SIGNALIS blends that creepy atmosphere with horrific enemies that don’t stay down, making you fear every dark corner.
You take the role of Elster, a being known as a Replika, who is searching for one of her lost friends. She has traced the friend’s last known location to a facility, but it quickly becomes apparent that something has gone horribly wrong. As Elster explores the facility, she must deal with crazed enemies who want her dead, and a growing mystery that has cosmic implications.
The story of SIGNALIS can be confusing, and it jumps around a lot while trying to tell the story. Elster’s motivations aren’t too clear other than wanting to find her friend. Other characters with a starring role don’t have clear motivations or actions that make much sense. It’s certainly weird and creepy, which fits with the atmosphere, but the narrative never comes together. It would have been nice to focus more on Elster as a character dealing with the horror situation at hand because the story never fully draws you in or makes you want to know more about what happened.
“It hurts the immersion when you don’t understand why you are there, or who these new people are.”
There are also several unclear parts that don’t seem to tie together properly, such as Elster gaining access to a radio in her past, but not having it in the present until she has a flashback. While it’s not unusual for a story to reveal its twists and buildups later, the lack of early narrative clarity confuses you as you try to make sense of what is happening. It hurts the immersion when you don’t understand why you are there, or who these new people are.
Making sense of the story takes a backseat to the puzzle-solving and survival tactics that are inherent with the survival horror genre. SIGNALIS properly informs you of everything you need to know about the game early on. It helps avoid surprises but also lets the player know what kind of experience they are in for.
Enemies don’t stay down permanently, they react to sound, and there’s a limited supply of ammo. If you disregard SIGNALIS’ early advice, the game makes you pay by having enemies wait by doors or catch you by surprise. Enemies love playing dead or hiding in the shadows, taking advantage of SIGNALIS’ low lighting to get the jump on you. There’s nothing like running into an enemy because they blended in with the furniture to give you a jump scare that you won’t soon forget.
A big part of SIGNALIS’ fear factor is knowing that you have to use your bullets to neutralise enemies, but it won’t keep them down permanently. It instills a sense of dread that immerses you in the gameplay. You don’t want to get hurt, but you know your actions don’t have a lasting effect. Every bullet is a precious resource, healing needs careful consideration, and stealth becomes an important tool. You are never getting it down 100% because the enemies can and will surprise you, forcing you to change your tactics on the fly. The sense of panic and the adrenaline rush really forces you to think carefully about your next move, while feeling grateful whenever you get out of a tricky situation.
SIGNALIS is filled with broken technology and ruined machinery, which is perfect for puzzles. There are many puzzles to solve in this game, but they never feel like additional padding. It fits with the theme of an outpost that ran into severe problems, and you have no choice but to fix everything to find your friend. The solutions can require some outside-the-box thinking, but none of them have ridiculous answers. You will need to pay attention to the clues you find, take a gamble on some information, and experiment to find the solutions.
The difficulty is spot-on with the puzzles. There is a good mix of easy solutions and puzzles where you wrack your brain looking for answers. You feel a sense of achievement for solving any puzzle because it’s never easy enough that you can just walk on through. That challenge keeps you entertained and motivated to solve more puzzles. It’s even better when the solutions come together and you know just what to do. Saying goodbye to a group of enemies forever because you know what you need to do is a great feeling, especially because you never want to see them again.
Solving puzzles requires good item management because Elster can only hold six items. You will find ammo, medicine, and tools for solving puzzles strewn about areas. It’s tempting to take them all, but you quickly find yourself in positions where your inventory is full. You stumble upon a much-needed healing solution or the item that solves a puzzle, and you have to consider what is more important.
The good news is that items are always easy to see. They have a distinct colouring that stands out in dark environments, and you never have to search every inch of a shelf. If you can’t see an item, it’s not there. That helps cut down on the time spent searching and helps players focus on puzzle-solving and hiding from enemies.
With enemies breathing down your neck, deciding whether to grab an item is often a split-second decision. You might believe that it’s better to grab a puzzle solution, only for enemies to emerge, forcing you to now need ammo. The reverse situation hurts even more, as you find ammo but you know you’re going to run into a puzzle solution soon. Item management has never been more challenging, and it tests your decision-making just as much as your reflexes.
SIGNALIS’ greatest strength has to be its atmosphere and environment. Enemies may take advantage of it, but even when no one is around, it’s sufficiently scary on its own. You don’t know why doors are locked, what leads to the trail of blood, or when enemies will surprise you. The lighting is dim and the sounds are quiet, which emphasizes Elster’s footsteps and movement. When you hear a loud screech, it reverberates throughout your audio system because it’s jarring to hear the contrast in a silent area. You dread walking into new areas because you’re afraid of what’s coming next, and that feeling of fear is hard to replicate.
The environment’s seeming normality also adds to the fear. You can walk into a nice-looking area that seems peaceful and quiet, only to have an enemy crawl out of a tile behind you. It’s unexpected since it looked like a normal tile, but now you have a problem on your hands and you’re panicking. You can’t trust the environment and how it looks, because an enemy might be waiting in the wings. Not being able to trust what you see adds to that fear, because that feeling of safety disappears often and you don’t stop being scared.
SIGNALIS shines when it introduces horror into the gameplay. There’s a real sense of dread as you walk around, trying not to alert enemies and hoping no one’s on the other side. Solving puzzles actually feels urgent and there’s a genuine feeling of accomplishment when you get it right. While the story could have been tied together better with a stronger focus, you’re going to remember the terror of walking through a normal hallway and the urgency of puzzle-solving. It might take a while before you stop jumping at loud noises after a long period of silence as well.
- Atmosphere is well-lit and sufficiently creepy
- Genuine horror experiences with enemies blending in with the environment
- Puzzles have the right amount of difficulty to challenge you
- Items are never hard to spot despite dark environment
- Story is confusing and leaves you with a lot of questions
- Lack of strong character motivations
SIGNALIS never stops feeding you a truly terrifying experience. Something could scare you around every corner, and there’s nothing you can do to push that feeling away permanently. Enemies are constantly on the prowl for you and will show up when you least expect it. Loud sounds are rare but pierce through the normally quiet setting. There’s a non-stop source of terror and it creates a fantastic horror experience. SIGNALIS’ story isn’t the strongest, and it could have benefited from investigating characters more often. Although despite the narrative shortcomings, SIGNALIS presents a horror experience you won’t soon forget.