What is that?: Psychological sci-fi survival horror inspired by Silent Hill.
Expect to pay $20/£16
Developer pink engine
Editor Humble Games
Revised on Windows 11, Nvidia 2080 Ti, 4.9GHz Intel i9-9900k, 32GB RAM
Link Official site (opens in a new tab)
Horror is hard to do right, especially when you don’t rely on reliable, cheap jump-scares. That’s why the original Silent Hill trilogy is considered a classic, while its many sequels and imitators are largely forgotten. Although it’s the first outing from small two-person indie studio Rose-Engine, sci-fi horror adventure Signalis joins this coveted pantheon as one of the genre’s best and a personal favorite of the genre. a busy year.
At a glance, Signalis is familiar and accessible (right down to the PS1-inspired low-fi graphics) to anyone who’s played a classic-style survival horror game. Played from an overhead perspective, there’s a maze of interconnected rooms to explore, plenty of locked doors, a mix of logical and more abstract puzzles, and an assortment of monsters to take down. Inventory space is limited, healing is limited, and the game can only be saved in vaults where you can store unused items in a storage chest.
Aesthetically, it also looks like a refinement of those PlayStation gems. Backgrounds are crisp, clean pixel art, while characters are smoothly animated 3D models that are still clear and readable despite their relatively small size. The UI is equally clean, despite its diegetic retro-tech aesthetic, and the map screen is particularly good, automatically marking any door you’ve approached as locked, barred, or open. Audio-wise, it channels the best in the business, with very Akira Yamaoka-esque industrial drones accompanying quieter moments, chaotic, panicky noises during combat, and an assortment of nostalgic tones, beeps, and chirps accompanying menu actions. .
It’s an old-school survival horror done right. Combat is tense and resource constrained, encouraging evasion and ammo hoarding. The puzzles are cleverly designed, locking in progress just long enough to deliver a Eureka moment. The only really unknown mechanical element is the radio tuner. Found very early, it allows you to listen to and decode radio signals. Sometimes just spooky number stations, other times key clues to objects, and sometimes it’s even used in combat. While it won’t redefine the game, it’s a cohesive enough presence to put a refreshing spin on even the most familiar Signalis systems.
Other elements are borrowed more directly from the Resident Evil 1 remake, including a “panic item” slot for escaping close combat, and a limited number of arsonists to burn corpses and constantly clear frequently walked hallways. While mechanically most similar to Resident Evil, its overall atmosphere harkens much closer to Silent Hill, telling the story of a lone tech android named Elster descending into metaphorical (and potentially literal) hell in search of his co-pilot. faded away.
While Signalis trades in familiar sci-fi horror tropes (including an assortment of biomechanically deformed shootable creatures), this is psychological horror at its core. It’s a character driven and emotionally charged story. An intentionally fragmented, dreamlike downward spiral, following a potentially unreliable narrator – where Elster goes, the player is forcibly dragged away, whether they like it or not.
Going into too much detail risks spoiling some surprises, but Signalis eschews sudden, loud scares in favor of making the player feel constantly insecure, from persistent resource scarcity to harsh narrative curveballs. Enemies can creep up into once open places, the game’s perspective can suddenly shift from a locked ceiling to first-person, and plot twists can have implications heavy enough to demolish any previous understanding of what’s going on. .
Machine women with machine minds
Much of why Signalis works depends on its world build. Although it mainly takes place in a incredibly cursed mining facility on a distant planet, there are dozens of diaries, journals and documents that paint a larger and more tragic picture. The Signalis universe is an alternate, dark timeline where most technology has stagnated around early 90s levels, but strange new science has enabled the creation of sentient androids (known as Replikas) and l interstellar expansion, and a war between a largely invisible empire, and the hideously fascist Eusan nation.
It’s under the banner of Eusan that the actors struggle, and despite the sci-fi setting and many man-made characters, their stories are deeply human. They are ordinary people trying to live normal lives as the cogs of their cruel society threaten to grind them to dust. It would be gruesome enough without dark secrets lurking deep within distant planets and pseudo-undead androids stalking the halls. With them comes a rich, layered dessert of desperation, motivating even the most desperate characters’ actions.
If it wasn’t for that extra depth, I don’t think Signalis would stick the landing narratively. Instant storytelling is intentionally fragmented. The timelines are uncertain, and while Elster’s goal is always to pursue his research deeper into the settlement, some elements are still vague enough to invite interpretation. It’s in these narrative gaps that grounded and grounded world-building takes place, and replaying in search of secrets and alternate endings only becomes more satisfying by revisiting old scenes with added context.
You’re not there
It is difficult to talk about Signalis without mentioning his many inspirations, to which he refers openly and avidly. From nods to classic horror works like The King In Yellow, to heavy anime riffing sequences like Ghost In The Shell and Evangelion, there are familiar touchstones everywhere. Famous paintings and haunting classical music ground the game’s setting in the familiar, while further accentuating its more surreal elements in how they’re used. There’s just enough of the real world here, framed eerily enough to feel like a dream.
Even after completing it twice, the only real complaint I can have with Signalis is that inventory management is a bit too fiddly. While you can store infinite amounts in your stash, Elster can only carry six items. Five, once you carry the frequently used flashlight, and some puzzles require several free spaces. Leaving healing items behind and carrying only one gun can ease frustrations, but there will be times when you’ll be arbitrarily forced to backtrack through hostile hallways to stockpile gear.
Despite this lingering wrinkle, Signalis is one of the best horror games I’ve played in years. Tense, moving and thought-provoking. It takes a hundred familiar elements, inspirations and references and weaves them into something entirely new and utterly worthwhile.