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Signalis: Review

Signalis is an action horror puzzle game by Rose Engine, published by Humble Games, which was released recently on Xbox Game Pass.

It takes clear inspiration from games like the original Resident Evil in terms of gameplay. With a visual style somewhere between Event Horizon and Blade Runner.

Now I’m not usually one for horror games. I’ve played a few for our channel recently, just for the fun value of seeing someone being out of their comfort zone. Yet Signalis drew me in with its dark science fiction setting and what appeared to be more puzzle heavy than jump scare or combat gameplay. It’s a mystery game at its heart, where you are dropped into the protagonist’s story without anything in the way of setup or exposition.

Through your journey, you learn much about the setting through propaganda posters on the walls. And learn about your enemies through communication notes, used as much to solve puzzles as to inform about the world you inhabit.

It’s hard to say exactly what the story is in Signalis without at least a little dedication to searching YouTube for lore vids. However, this doesn’t really matter. I woke up on a spaceship. There is no one around. After leaving the ship I discovered a copy of The King in Yellow, a very old real-world horror book by Robert W. Chambers. (Actually, happy to once see an indie horror game take influence from something other than Lovecraft). At this point, you’re treated to a flash game cutscene of utter confusion and ‘WTFness’.

What in the Junji Ito is this!?

I do not say this in a bad way. But the art style of these scenes very much reminds me of some flash games from New Grounds back in the day. They also seem to be there to confuse you more than inform you of what’s going on. This I believe is entirely on purpose.

After which you find yourself on a mining colony planet. With the wonderfully subtle exposition of what to me felt like a much lived-in universe. There’s a galactic empire of sorts, and you’re on the opposing side to it. Far from being the rebel alliance fighting for personal freedoms against a fascist regime… Let’s just say your side is the one with cloned warrior cyborgs and 1984 vibes. Honestly, I would love to read some books set in this world, because if the rebels are this totalitarian, I have a morbid curiosity as to how bad the empire must be.

Making your way through the many levels of this mining colony and down into the mines itself is a matter of solving various locked box puzzles and locked doors that put even the Spenser Mansion to shame. A low carry capacity for items (as dictated by the government's orders) means heading back to your stash room to move things about. While annoying, it does feel like the right amount. I’m not making excessive trips. If I’d been given an extra slot to carry, I think it would have made it a little too easy not to need to run back through corridors.

And why is running back through corridors a problem you ask? Well, because of the reanimated cyborg corpses of course.

The combat in Signalis isn’t difficult but does require your attention as to when to bother with it at all. As per Resident Evil-style games, you are heavily limited on ammunition for the variety of guns you have. With once-downed cyborgs returning to their feet after a while to give chase again, it’s often easier to just run past and save your ammo for rooms where it’s unavoidable.

Now I played this in story mode. Combat wise. I can’t see that a harder difficulty would have changed much beyond maybe having to use more of the limited ammo per partially disintegrating baddie. So if you’re like me and just down for some sci-fi and puzzles, I highly recommend this. That said, I never died to any robo-zombies. For me, this means I’m not breaking the immersion. But you might prefer to take a few swings at it all

The puzzles themselves were smart, none stumped me for huge amounts of time. Everything is solved mostly one at a time. You find a puzzle that needs solving, you locate the item/info needed to solve it. Once open you get something that helps with the next puzzle. It’s linear. With just a few bits to stick in the stash box for later puzzles. If you get stuck, you can see on the map doors which are yet to be unlocked, or rooms that still have items in and that’s always a good place to start.

One unique feature in Signalis is the radio receiver you pick up, which is used to solve quite a lot throughout the game.

Starting off with nothing and eventually getting a handgun, the weapons follow the standard video game escalation. Handgun, shotgun, magnum, machine gun, and grenade launcher to name a few. There’s a wide variety which I of course did my best to horde without using for as long as possible.

But by the end of the game, I had very little ammo left for anything. So, my frugal use was warranted. Due to the small carry capacity, you can’t carry all your guns at once. And I found myself defeating the final boss with the very last shot I had. Very relieving and incredibly dramatic.

On bosses. There are maybe 4 throughout the game. As mentioned, Signalis is a puzzle game for the most part. You do not need to be a pro at combat to get through this. But the occasional boss fight does give a nice bit of variety to the puzzle loop.

Overall, I had a great time with Signalis. Its atmosphere is creepy and intriguing but never put me off with fear as many horror games would. The world itself demands investigating, the story leaving me honestly quite lost at times but eager to understand it more. It’s a very reasonably priced game, also available as part of Xbox Game Pass, so I’d highly recommend picking it up and solving it yourself.

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