Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC (tested)
The first time I played Resident Evil was at my mate’s house in his older brother’s bedroom. The brother hands me the controller and I take it tentatively from his sweaty hands. I quickly encounter my first Zombie, unloading all my ammo into its chest as it hits the deck. I feel good. Confident even. That is until the infamous dog smashes through the window and my empty gun clicks furiously in judgement. SIGNALIS is a love letter to those classic PS1 era survival horror games, with more than a nod to the likes of Silent Hill and, in particular, Resident Evil. But rather than taking place on terra firma, SIGNALIS is set in a dystopian future in which the solar system has been colonised by a Soviet style totalitarian regime.
As you awake from cryosleep, players must guide Replika, (read: replicant) Elster, through the dimly lit corridors of an abandoned spaceship. Upon reaching the ship’s cockpit, however, the Captain is missing. Setting out onto the icy planet surface, Elster goes off in search of them, arriving at an unusual bunker built deep into the ice.
As comforting as it might be, there’s no hand to hold as you make your descent underground. In fact, there’s not even a whiff of a tutorial – SIGNALIS throws you right it in at the deep end. It leaves me feeling unprepared, perhaps even a little uneasy but that’s exactly what I want from a survival horror.
Gameplay is a balance of combat, survival and puzzle solving. Shooting feels responsive enough, even if the aim is a little off (it really is an homage to Resident Evil eh?) but your weapon is a survival tool that you must use sparingly. Ammo (and other resources) are sparse and with only six spaces in your inventory, you’ll need to think strategically about what you take and what you leave behind. Enemies are frightening at first; emerging from under floorboards brandishing big meat cleavers. But after a while, their slow movement and long attack telegraphs means you can easily dodge between them.
The puzzles in SIGNALIS are largely well designed and add texture and intrigue to the story. For example, I come across a radio tuning implant that allows Elster to scan radio frequencies. In the same room, there’s a wall safe that I can’t seem to open. After scratching my head for some time, I realise there’s a small symbol of a tree etched into the metal door. I flick back through my inventory to a note I picked up earlier, full of random symbols and numbers. I tune the radio to the number on the note next to a tree-like drawing. Then, an eerie voice broadcasts a Cold War style secret code that my implant decodes into the safe combination. As thrilling as the puzzle is to crack, I can’t shake off the feeling that I’ve stumbled on a dangerous conspiracy.
With the ability to inspect and combine items, safe rooms for storage and saving progress, and a limited inventory, it’s clear that SIGNALIS takes much inspiration from Resident Evil. But it also weaves its own unique story. Through diary pages and memos, the game drip feeds you just the right amount of detail to get its hooks in you. The bunker itself is reminiscent of a secret Cold War complex; propaganda posters litter the walls in a socialist realism style, hinting at a Soviet-esque federation in space. More so than the odd jump scare, this creates a looming sense of oppression that’ll run a chill up your spine.
Compounding this feeling of dread is the wonderfully evocative pixel art with its flickering neon lights casting foreboding shadows around each corner. A CRT effect overlays your screen, hitting you with a pang of nostalgia for the 5th gen console era. But it’s the use of sound in SIGNALIS that really shines through. For the most part, you’re trapped in an uncomfortable silence, with only the swish of airlock doors and the hiss of steam pipes to punctuate the solitude.
SIGNALIS is an impressive homage to classic survival horror games with its own unique twist. Clever puzzles are finely balanced with a hair-raising fight for survival, set against the backdrop of a distinct, gripping world. Despite the story becoming convoluted in the latter levels, SIGNALIS is a beautiful, haunting nightmare that I’m not sure I want to wake up from.