SIGNALIS Review – A masterful revival of classic survival horror

Gare – Tuesday, October 25, 2022 6:00 PM
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Horror is a difficult genre to get right. Creating something that genuinely scares and disturbs us is no simple endeavor, which is probably why I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated with titles that simply resort to quick and sudden jump scares to try and startle the player. Which, in turn, is also why I’m very pleased to reveal that SIGNALIS is almost everything I had hoped for after watching its initial trailer way back when – it combines the best elements of the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises, packs its surprisingly lengthy campaign full of satisfying puzzles and bone-chilling lore, and maintains an atmosphere of constant mystery and dread that makes the game almost impossible to put down.

In my restless dreams…

Aesthetically, SIGNALIS’ version of the future is anything but vibrant and idealized: its hallways are dark and cloaked in an eerie silence, and there is a constant feeling that something has gone very, very wrong; the game is also genuinely scary, relying purely on its rich atmosphere and tidbits of lore to both disturb and unsettle the player. As you continue to explore, you gradually discover the various rules and customs that govern this part of the world, aided by the game’s excellent utilization of environmental storytelling – German propaganda posters adorning the walls, curious documents strewn about long-forgotten desks, and pieces of clunky, retro sci-fi equipment all paint the picture of a cold, harsh society. SIGNALIS also takes heavy inspiration from the Silent Hill series, particularly from Silent Hill 2, as it weaves its narrative by combining elements of otherworldly, cosmic horror with personal tragedies that need to be pieced together from journal entries and the occasional anime-style cutscene.

That said, while there’s nothing wrong with a game refusing to spoon-feed information to the player, I felt that the story did, at times, get a bit too carried away with its cryptic and sometimes outright confusing presentation, and even now, I’m not 100% sure that I’ve managed to connect all the dots. In any case, revealing more would likely spoil certain late-game surprises, but suffice to say that the way the campaign plays out, particularly how it becomes more intensely nightmarish and depressing the closer you get to the finale, did absolutely remind me of the first three entries in Konami’s storied horror franchise.

Familiar territory

In terms of gameplay, SIGNALIS inherited all the good and even some of the not-so-good from the iconic games that served as its inspiration. The core gameplay loop screams Resident Evil, with the player exploring a massive complex of interconnected rooms and corridors, occasionally encountering strange puzzles, locked doors, journal entries and – of course – the monstrously corrupted, zombie-like remnants of the android Replikas that once served as the cogwheels of the regime. Ammo conservation and inventory management play a key role, as one would expect, and with only six inventory slots available (this includes weapons and ammo, too!), you’ll have to really think about how much you wish to take with you, and which items you’re going to leave behind in magical item boxes very clearly inspired by Resident Evil. The limited inventory space is a bit of a double-edged sword, mind you, as I’ve found myself having to go on exasperatingly frequent backtracking tours in order to unload unnecessary items; indeed, not being able to pick up a plot-relevant key item because the previous room had already dumped a bunch of ammo and healing items on you can get mildly frustrating at times.

Combat is a mixed bag, and probably one of the weaker aspects of the title. Granted, one-on-one encounters with the monstrous inhabitants of the facility generally pose no issues, but the combat system sort of falls apart the moment you’re forced to face several (that is, three or more) foes at the same time, with targeting in particular feeling rather clunky and unreliable. Boss fights fare no better, as they all generally follow the same formula – you and the big bad are locked in a small, cramped arena and you have to struggle with the game’s controls and frustrating aiming system as you try to pump the boss full of bullets. These encounters are in sharp contrast with the slow and methodical nature of the rest of the game, and while they mimic in style and presentation the boss fights of early Silent Hill games, I still didn’t really enjoy them very much. Thankfully, other than its mandatory boss fights, the game isn’t designed with frequent gunfights in mind, and I particularly appreciated having the option to stealthily slip past enemies by keeping my flashlight turned off and making sure that I maintained a safe distance; the aimlessly wandering cyber-ghouls of the facility will certainly react with immediate hostility to bright lights and loud footsteps, but can otherwise be avoided.

I think, therefore I am

SIGNALIS’ puzzles don’t immediately show their true potential, with the game’s earlier brain-teasers being fairly linear in terms of progression – during the opening hours, the moment you find a quest item, it usually becomes pretty obvious where it can be used. Yet like I said, this only characterizes the early segments of an otherwise fairly meaty campaign: as you enter the later chapters of the adventure, you’ll start finding a lot more key items and plenty of different areas of interest where puzzles need to be solved in often clever and unexpected ways. Whether it’s utilizing the in-game radio to tune into specific frequencies or carefully piecing together clues from documents and various visual cues, I really enjoyed the numerous little “a-ha!” moments I had whenever I figured out the logic behind this or that puzzle. On the whole, I feel like developer rose-engine really managed to hit the perfect sweet spot in terms of providing a healthy – but not overly taxing – challenge.

A promise kept

In my eyes, SIGNALIS is undoubtedly a triumph – a game that pays homage to the genre greats that inspired it, all the while adding its own voice to the mix. It feels pleasantly familiar, yet fresh and exciting at the same time, offering players a prolonged peek into a haunting, dystopian world of android-like Replikas, authoritarian regimes and nightmarish visions. It marries the classic survival horror gameplay loop of Resident Evil with the mind-bending narrative beats and unforgettably dark, oppressive atmosphere of the early Silent Hill installments, creating a game that I can only describe as a genuine love letter to the genre.

SIGNALIS will launch on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (including Game Pass) and Nintendo Switch on October 27.

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