Survival horror games are hard to get right. Even giants of the genre like Resident Evil Over time, seeing themselves work harder into the action or simple jumps scares them, but when at their best, it’s more stressful than scary. Signalis is one of the best survival horror games we’ve played, and the perfect title for Switch owners to learn.
We mentioned Resident Evil because it’s easy to see how much influence the series has had on Signalis. The player controls Elster, a Replika cyborg who wakes up in a crashed spaceship with fragmented memories and a quest to find her lost friend. All she knows is that she is somewhere in an abandoned mining facility that has been overrun with broken androids.
The androids seen moving around the facility are a good stand for classic zombies, complete with slow motion and rotting flesh. Enemies aren’t the only thing the developer has upgraded from classic survival horror, however. This mining facility is full of inexplicably locked doors and puzzles that must be solved to progress further. There is a locked box that requires two halves of the key to be reassembled, and a door that requires five different keys to open. Elster even moves in the stuttering shuffle style of the first Resident Evil games. All the traps of this genre are here and have been refined to perfection by a team that understands how and when to deploy them.
Ammo and health are both scarce, so avoiding fights is important, especially in the early game. Most enemies are slow moving and easy to dodge, though that doesn’t make them any less intimidating. The way the music changes when they come across Elster is neurotic in the best possible way. The fact that they will come back to life after a certain amount of time means that nowhere is really safe, even if you are visiting the previous floor. You could totally find yourself trapped with no health and no way to defend yourself if you’re not careful, so it’s wise to have a few save files on the go, just in case.
The looming threat of failure is only part of what adds to the tension in Signalis. The way Elster crouched when she was injured is your only ‘health bar’ unless you pause the game and look at her vital stats. Subtle music, sometimes falling to a whisper only to roar to life as the enemy approaches. The sound is equally effective, making every movement feel like you’re gliding through the hull of a ship with deadly potential at every angle. Signalis plays well in both handheld and docked modes, although sitting in a dark bedroom corner with the lights off is clearly the optimal way to experience the game.
The story of Signalis feels like someone booked Alien franchise into a blender with Double top and Ghost in the shell and take the best that comes out. The scene takes all forms of a dystopian future, with corporate greed dominating lives and war propaganda on every wall. Retro style pixel art helps sell it and it all comes together better than you could imagine. The plot is non-linear, with flashbacks to Elster’s past between chapters and we can’t always keep track of what’s going on, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying every moment we have with this game.
Signalis has something to say but is smart enough not to say it outright. Questions about what makes us human, a staple of the sci-fi genre, are now true, but there are enough elements of cosmic horror to make it not look like a breakdown of the universe. other stories. It is subtle, new and familiar at the same time, a balance that is difficult to achieve.
The surreal storytelling is enhanced by its short playtime. You can finish Signalis in about 10 hours, depending on how you play and how fast you solve some puzzles. None of them are extremely difficult, nor are they too easy. Many require you to recall earlier images in the game, so you’ll want to have pen and paper on hand or use the Switch’s screenshot function. Signalis does have a way to take pictures in the game, but it takes an inventory period to better serve by carrying more health packs.
The most challenging part of the game is realizing when you need to go back to find a passage you missed and when you just need to think your way through the puzzle. Even as the challenge soars in the hours that follow, it always feels manageable. The balance here is exceptional, making this a great ride for survival horror veterans and a good entry point for those new to the genre.
The only part of Signalis that didn’t come to us were the boss battles. The combat mechanism is very simple but does not allow me to engage in a direct fight. Holding down one button to aim and another to shoot is good for hit-and-run tactics, but it doesn’t mix well with large battles. Fortunately, these encounters are few even if they can be brutal.
Everything from the sharp pixelated visuals and sound design to the accessible puzzles make Signalis a game absolutely worth a try. Every second is stressful but not because of what’s on the screen. It is the fear of the unknown and the knowledge that something scary is lurking only out of sight made us stay up all night to play it.
Signalis is an almost perfect love letter to the survival horror genre. Its atmosphere and tension feel natural and obtained, with callbacks to sci-fi classics scattered throughout. It’s best when you rush into the midst of enemies, use stealth and be patient rather than brute force. While some of the combat encounters feel a bit forced, the puzzles are the right mix of challenge and outreach. The surreal visuals and unique narrative structure add to the overall polish of a game to the perfect length for what it is. Highly recommended.