Signalis Review - Loud and Clear
Updated: Jul 7
I said in my Ghost Song review that Humble Games has a remarkably consistent track record of producing games that look like I'll love them, but that ultimately disappoint. Signalis has finally broken that trend. It's a survival horror shooter unashamedly in the vein of PS1 games like Resident Evil, though it ditches both tank controls and limited saves. It's an immediately recognizable tribute that manages to feel modern at the same time.
Like the early RE games, Signalis is not a game that's trying to maximize the amount of screaming tween-focused Youtubers can get out of it. There are no jump scares whatsoever, and while an enemy that happens to be standing right outside a door might startle you every now and then, it mostly gets by on atmosphere. You're exploring ruined sci-fi bunkers that are often very dark, full of hostile zombie-like enemies, and full of little things to make you doubt how safe you are. It's almost always tense even though you know nothing is about to jump in your face.
As you might expect, gameplay consists of exploring small but dense levels in order to find items, solve puzzles, read notes, and mostly avoid shooting enemies. The puzzles are largely very well designed and clever, although a few relied on interaction points that could have been more clearly marked or on gameplay mechanisms that weren't readily apparent. The bigger issue with them is that, for some reason, you are always limited to carrying no more than six items. This often means that solving a puzzle involves a bunch of walking back and forth to place and drop items that won't all fit in your inventory at once, which can get tedious when the item box is far from the puzzle you're working on.
I suspect the item limit is also the reason for the game's very low difficulty, since you can hardly carry any ammo or healing items if you're also leaving room for anything else. I never died or even came particularly close to it in my playthrough and while I personally don't have a problem with the game being easy, I can see that taking away from the tense atmosphere for others. It's also worth calling out that aiming relies on a bizarre lag for your character to bring her gun to where you're pointing. I think this is meant to emulate the sluggishness of tank control shooting, but it's unintuitive at first and can result in a lot of missed shots that look like they should be hits. You have to watch for the X in the crosshairs to go away.
Neither the item limit nor the difficulty bother me too much, though, and for a good chunk of my playthrough I expected Signalis to have a real shot at taking the lead in the Game of the Year race for me. It got close, but the story holds it back from quite reaching those heights. It's not exactly bad, but it leans a little too hard on being surrealist and ends up being mostly incomprehensible by the end. I would've preferred a bit more explanation of what's going on, especially since one telling of the plot I've seen online is actually pretty cool if it really is what the game intended to convey.
All in all, Signalis feels like a lost gem from the golden age of survival horror. It evokes the best moments of games like Resident Evil 2 and Silent Hill and does it while still modernizing systems and gameplay. It looks great, requires clever thinking, and delivers a tense atmosphere. A scattering of minor issues will probably keep it away from 2022's top spot for me, but I expect it will receive a fair few yearly awards from others.
MSRP: $20, but free on Gamepass
Time to beat: 9-10 hours.
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