Signalis is a creepy and atmospheric homage to days gone by | Hands-on preview

by on October 13, 2022

The futuristic and nightmarish environments found in Signalis reminded me of a variety of different films and games, with Blade Runner, Flashback, and Alien being just a few. There’s no denying the nostalgic and satisfying aesthetic helps with offering an interesting and albeit eerie environment, but capturing that claustrophobic fear when playing hasn’t been felt, in my opinion, since the days of the original Resident Evil’s. Thankfully, rose-engine has managed to blend both the feel of those games and bring it into the present with a fresh spin on a genre I’m rather fond of.

After waking up in a place ravaged by infection, surrounded by retro technology and a labyrinthian maze of rooms and corridors, you must work out what the hell happened, and where your missing partner is. The premise is straightforward enough, but when weird things start happening, including cryptic visions and the stirring of deformed survivors, you start to realise you’re in a very dangerous place. What’s great about Signalis is the way it builds dread throughout the world, through documents you find and dead bodies, old computers and machinery, and freaky sounds that ring out in the distance.

Signalis relies on what everyone loved about Capcom’s zombie series by challenging you to solve layered puzzles, inventory management, and ammo scarcity. With not knowing what is around every corner, it can be tough to know whether you should hold onto a unique item or your shotgun, or whether health supplies should be put in storage in favour of a wrench that could potentially help you out. There are a fair few storage containers and save points scattered around, with a map that highlights their locations quite clearly.

The map is also well designed so that you can see any locked safes or objectives that haven’t been solved yet, as well as doors that have and haven’t been opened. Some of the puzzles have been designed wonderfully. One of which had been trying to locate five key cards to open a door which lead to the next area. Each of the cards were located behind another mini puzzle that required me to pay attention to every new room I found. One of the cards was stuck in a furnace, and to get to it I had to balance the levels of CO2, Oxygen, and gas to reduce the heat so I could get inside.

Another key was blank, but there was a computer that allowed me to input a pattern onto it so that it would activate the associated lock, however, the solution was in a room where the pattern was imprinted on something in the evidence room. I had to move the item around with a computer to see the right pattern, then remember it for when I headed back to input the design. Another was stuck behind a vent where I needed a wrench, and the rest, well, I’ll let you discover when you play. Outside of these bigger puzzles, there’re plenty scattered throughout that give you plenty of opportunities to unravel the complex yet satisfying methods behind each one.

Elster, the character you control, has access to various weapons to aid her against the weird creatures you face. You first find a pistol, but then there’s the shotgun, a cattle prod-type weapon with a single use, and more. Like Resident Evil, you have to manage your inventory, so you might not always have room for more ammunition. It adds that layer of survival in Signalis, and constantly leaves you on the edge, never entirely feeling comfortable or safe. Some of the enemies rush at you, others are former riot guards named ‘Stars’ which is a definite nod to the game’s biggest inspirations.

At one point, I found a boss that reminded me of Big Daddies from Bioshock, who wielded a huge gun and spewed blood which indicated when I was able to shoot it. Whenever aiming your weapon, a red box will appear next to an enemy, and if a red cross appears in it, you won’t be able to do any damage. It’s a neat indicator, but pushes the anxiety when you’re running low on bullets and need only a few shots to kill whatever monstrosity stands in your way. Signalis embodies everything that was great about the genre, especially when it comes to knowing when to fight or run away.

Although this is only the early part of the game I’m talking about, Signalis is fantastic so far. The terrifying nature of its gameplay, the gorgeous retro visuals and superb sound design, and familiar mechanics that have been adapted for modern platforms all comes together to make a brilliant survival horror with its roots in the past. I can’t wait to spend more time with rose-engine’s faithful and refreshing take on those beloved titles that never failed to make us sleep with the lights on.

Signalis is coming to PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S|X on October 27th.