SIGNALIS Review – Old School Survival Taken To The Next Level
Publisher: Humble Games, PLAYISM
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
One of my favorite things is to go back and play through the older Resident Evils and Silent Hill. Mainly for the weird puzzling elements that were present in them that we slowly started to lose throughout the series. In Resident Evil, there was a lot of deducing while reading through notes to solve specific puzzles; the same goes for Silent Hill. Resident Evils Fuel gauge puzzle in Code Veronica comes to mind, and the Puzzle box from Louise from Silent Hill 2 is another excellent example. While we still get that itch scratched through the Resident Evil Remakes, Resident Evil Village gave us a peek back into the obscure but rewarding puzzles in House Beneviento. And the escape room puzzle in 7 was definitely testing the waters for really pushing these wild puzzles onto its players. Until then, it mostly felt a lot more like the majority of the later game in both series have it boiled down to just go get this key, and you are good.
The reason I preface this is that SIGNALIS has a lot of strengths but its main strength? It has an incredible puzzle design and really pushes you to the limits of frustration only to have that last piece click. Once it all fits into place, you get hit with this sense of accomplishment that few other survival horror games have rivaled.
I need to pump the brakes and back peddle a little bit. SIGNALIS follows Elster, a Replika who awakens out of cryosleep to find herself trapped on this derelict ship in the middle of nowhere. All she has to her name is a picture of another person and a will to live. Without spoiling anything, SIGNALIS takes us on this wild story that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Seriously, once I started playing, I played for ten hours straight, I had things to do that day, and SIGNALIS ate my day. I couldn’t be happier, though. There are themes of identity that land incredibly well as we learn who Elster is and come across other Replikas who each have their own issues. The journey of self-discovery had me literally gasping, and there were a few turns that left my jaw hanging open. But SIGNALIS does one thing, in particular, I haven’t seen done in a long time, and IT WORKS. Again I won’t ruin it here, but looks can be deceiving. And having just recently read through the Dark Tower series, there are a lot of similar themes that connect the two, and that will be my only hint!
Gameplay-wise, SIGNALIS plays very much like an isometric survival horror game. There is this connecting factor with the enemies here, which are like messed up Replikas with knives and guns, which are actually super creepy and have this screech that sends shivers down my spine. But this connecting tissue is that even though an enemy is down, it might not stay down. That’s not to say it’ll get back up right away, but be sure unless you burn your dead foe either with matches or later on with this excellent flare gun, they will eventually get back up to fight another day.
Resources are also minimal, but not to the point of unfairness. It seemed like I was just always scrapping by but still having some leeway. I died in SIGNALIS a few times, and each time felt like it was my fault for not strategizing enough and thinking I could handle some problems head-on when I maybe should have just run.
Everything is done in this isometric view, which is nice because it makes the space you’ll be adventuring around feel a lot more fleshed out and more immense. There are also these, at first, jarring switches to first person when it comes to some screens and puzzles, but once I did it once or twice, it became second nature whenever they came up.
The look of the game is impressive in SIGNALIS. It’s a lot of this Russian seventies-based Sci-Fi horror that dives deeper into what almost feels like Silent Hill-esque worlds of messed up as you venture further into the planet on which Elster is on. And the cutscenes….Oh my god, they are so gorgeous and fluid that I have no words. It’s perfection in how it displays itself.
The last thing I was to touch on is the puzzles in SIGNALIS. Again everything else is fantastic, but to give a spoiler-free example to try and get across how intuitive and outside the box the puzzles are. There is this point where you find a safe with a symbol. This symbol has appeared in some notes, along with some numbers. If you tune those numbers into your radio, you get the code. And that is basically the tutorial puzzle. The most straightforward base-level puzzle. It trusts its players enough to try and draw the line between some notes and items the players carry. It further places its trust in us as we go deeper into the game, where you are really not told much, but if you take some logical jumps that you were designed to think through earlier in the game, puzzles will never become over complicated. But hot damn, the puzzling in SIGNALIS is something I will not forget. It’s tough to describe the levels of intricacies that SIGNALIS takes with its puzzles without spoiling them, but it is by far the best part of the game.
Overall, SIGNALIS is perfect for fans of survival horror. If you have enjoyed Resident Evil or Silent Hill, pick up SIGNALIS. It feels like a love letter to those games, but it is much more. It stands on its own two feet and feels way more incredible and awe-inspiring than the genre giants. If you’re looking for something weird and, at times, Jacobs Ladder levels of mind fucking, pick SIGNALIS up. I don’t think I could recommend a game enough, and as of right now, SIGNALIS is my favorite game I’ve played this year. I can’t wait for everyone to get their hands on SIGNALIS.
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