Signalis Review


What do you get when you cross Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Alien Isolation? Well, Signalis as it turns out. It may not seem like the obvious outcome, but this survival horror game is certainly impactful. In fact, it’s nothing short of horrific.

I love proper survival horror games. That claustrophobic, vulnerable feeling provides a thrill like no other, and really gets the heart pumping. It’s not easy to get right either, requiring a careful combination of every tool at the developer’s disposal to put the player right on the edge. 

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Signalis, however, absolutely nails this vibe right from the title screen. An eerie, mechanical soundtrack accompanies the glitchy, cinematic sci-fi visual style. This is broken up by anime cutscenes that you may not expect to see, but actually work really well. The dark and dingy colour scheme combined with the dynamic use of lighting, broken up by striking uses of the colour red create an environment that screams danger at every turn.

So that’s the look and feel, but what about the context? Well, Signalis is set in a dystopian future where a brutal regime rules with an iron fist. Order is maintained through surveillance and propaganda and androids known as Replikas, who live amongst the population serving in all sorts of roles. 

You play as Elster, a technician who awakes from cryostasis aboard a wrecked vessel, who is looking for her lost partner. Unfortunately, she has landed on an inhospitably cold planet and to make things worse, a strange virus seems to be turning other Replikas homicidal. It’s safe to say that the situation is rather bleak.

And to complete the theme? Why it’s that classic constrictive survival horror gameplay of course. Most of Signalis plays out from a third person perspective, but sometimes the action switches to first person. This is often during puzzle segments, as Elster searches for key items to unlock more of the creepy facility. There are also numerous documents to find that hold subtle clues to aid the puzzle solving, as well as gradually revealing more about this unsettling futuristic world.

There are some pretty complicated puzzles designed to test out the old grey matter too. Whether it’s moving water between tanks to hit the right levels, or getting the mix of components just right to power down an incinerator, Signalis continually puts you to work rather than simply revealing its secrets. 

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I’m a strong advocate of a detailed map in pretty much any game, especially one which aids the player as much as possible. Signalis gets this right too, by marking key items and doors for which keycards will work on, as the game doesn’t progress in a wholly linear fashion. It may seem like a small detail, but it makes a big difference and cuts down on aimless wandering and struggling to remember where to go next.

As you explore and discover more labyrinth-like corridors, you will also become acquainted with the other residents too. These shambling Replikas will attempt to hack away at you and can often be avoided or taken out if you choose. 

Proceed with caution too, because stepping over seemingly lifeless bodies always carries a certain risk. And be prepared for some genuinely chilling scares as enemies can creep up on you at any time…

It’s not too difficult to get overwhelmed, as Elster desperately tries to bat away enemies. Once you’re at a distance you can open fire and hope for the best. In a rush it can be a little difficult to get through doors and up and down ladders, but it’s a minor annoyance.

As you may well expect things aren’t all that straightforward. This is because ammo is scarce, and you can only hold so many items on your person at a time. It’s a classic mechanic, but the inventory management system fits the genre so very well.

Thankfully, there are “safe rooms” dotted around which offer some respite from the relentless threat. It’s here where you can store items and save your progress. It’s key that you do so because if you die, you’ll be zapped back to your last save. There’s no autosaving here. So if you’re about to drop through a hole in the floor and something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably best to follow your instincts and save your progress before you do.

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Every now and then you will need to use the familiar options of combining or inspecting items too, depending on your situation. You’ll discover numerous firearms with which to defend yourself, alongside secondary items that can get you out of a tight squeeze, such as thermite flares. Just don’t forget to equip them, and frantically bash LB whilst wondering why nothing is happening.

Signalis does chuck in some other, less familiar elements too. Elster will happen across a radio in the game, and will be able to decode frequencies to solve several riddles. It’s just one of the ways that variety is added to the puzzle element of the game, eradicating the feeling of repetition almost completely. 

Despite everything, I keep coming back to how atmospheric Signalis is. Despite not having cutting edge graphics, or a huge AAA team behind it, this is one of the best survival horror games I have played in a long while. I found myself utterly gripped by its presentation, narrative and how it plays. Not many games manage to frighten and impress me in equal measure.

Signalis punches above its weight in almost every aspect. Don’t miss out on this riveting, polished journey into a brutalist, nightmarish world.

Signalis is on the Xbox Store

Darren Edwards
Darren Edwards
I have been playing games since a very early age, thanks to my Dad's encouragement. I've been an Xbox gamer since the very beginning, the Master Chief is to thank for that. I'm also a big Nintendo geek, and my other half is a PlayStation nut. I'll play pretty much anything in any genre (although FIFA and COD maybe pushing it).
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