I’ve been replaying classic horror games a lot lately, and there’s something about their low polygon, low resolution nature that makes them scarier than a lot of modern games. But Signalis isn’t a game that leans on nostalgia in any obvious way. It doesn’t even really bill itself as a retro experience, because while it has those elements, it’s more than a game that’s just banking on nostalgia.
Signalis is a survival horror game mostly played from an isometric perspective. In it, you play as Elster, a synthetic person who is looking for her lost partner who is trapped on a frozen planet, in a facility full of walking nightmares. There’s an extra layer of horror as you uncover that the society in which you live is a fascist, totalitarian regime. Replikas work and live among the normal populace, serving as guardians and workers—not quite human, but resembling them.
In classic survival horror fashion, you have to explore the facility uncovering the truth, while fighting off enemies with a variety of weapons, bypassing locked doors and other obstacles to progress. It’s very Resident Evil-like, but with a retro-glitch veneer and a little bit of anime flavor. There are puzzles to solve, and enemies to avoid or fight—ammo is scarce. And unlike some games that claim ammo scarcity, there were some moments in Signalis that I had to choose to avoid enemy encounters rather than use what precious few bullets I had left.
While Signalis dabbles in both traditional horror and psychological horror, it’s more effective towards the latter. I just didn’t find Signalis to be a very scary game overall. There were parts that were definitely unsettling, but that was mostly despite its setting and environment instead of because of it. Signalis also relies heavily on horror tropes—but mostly uses them well. However, despite its attempts at a scary atmosphere, I was never so much scared while playing Signalis as intrigued. But Signalis does use its environments well, and uses shifting perspectives even better. Occasionally, you will shift into a first person view, usually to interact with a specific object, or to solve a puzzle. Sometimes, usually during flashbacks, there are entire sections played in first person. These parts really helped to amp up the psychological horror aspects of Signalis.
There is an underlying mystery throughout Signalis, and you’ll get glimpses of it as you progress through each area. But at first, you start off with little information on the what, who or why of anything—and you won’t even be sure that if what your character is experiencing is real. Sometimes new clues will unlock new memories, and adventures into these different memories can even yield objects that you can take and use in the waking world, which deepens the mystique.
While you can avoid much of the fighting in Signalis, there are times you will be forced to fight. Combat in Signalis works almost identically to how Resident Evil established third person horror combat way back in the 90s: aim your weapon to ready it, and then fire. There are tools to help you avoid combat, or survive if your HP hits zero. Which is good, because Signalis using a bit of an archaic-made-new-again save system—you can only save at certain checkpoints, in safe rooms, much like Resident Evil.
The equipment that you carry in Signalis can actually be pretty powerful—and I found that the game was pretty generous with how it gives out items. To combat this, Signalis gives you an incredibly limited inventory space of only 6 items. You don’t have to play inventory Tetris to get everything to fit, however. In addition to the simplified inventory, like items stack to a certain number. However, weapons, tools, and consumables all take up inventory slots per item type. Therefore, you will have to pack carefully. If you want to bring extra health, you might not have enough room for extra ammo, too. And since ammo can be genuinely scarce, sometimes inventory management is where the real horror of Signalis comes in.
Despite how familiar Signalis is, it does a few things differently, and the things it apes from other games it does very well. Signalis is an unexpected hit, and my favorite new survival horror game this year. It’s a little light on scares, even despite its limited ammo. But it has an intriguing mystery and excellent sci-fi world building. If you are looking for a survival horror game to play this Halloween, Signalis should be towards at the top of your list.
Signalis will be available 10/27 on PC via Steam and is also available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 as well as Xbox One and Xbox Series S|X through Humble Bundle.
A Steam key was given to us for this review