Publisher: Humble Games
Developer: Rose Engine
Release Date: 10/27/2022
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What would happen if you combined Resident Evil with Silent Hill? Probably a game with crazy enemies, creepy music, inventory management, and tank controls. Well, that’s exactly what Signalis is. It combines the best of PS1 horror and shoves it into a nice retro package with great controls and animations. Developer Rose Engine might be a bit on the nose with its inspirations, but it does do a good job of making it feel more modern with a retro flair.
The weakest part of the game is its story. I will get that right out of the gate. While most PS1-era horror titles had convoluted and messy stories that usually made no sense or were open for player interpretation, Signalis is very cryptic, but the overall journey has a twist ending that is pretty eyebrow-raising. It will leave you stunned a bit and is a great payoff outside of almost no world-building or lore to get into. You get the occasional note similar to Resident Evil that tells a little snippet of what happened just before the current event. See, you’re some sort of AI controller robot in some dystopian German world. That’s all I really got out of the story and the few cut-scenes peppered throughout the game.
Just like the horror games that inspired Signalis you have limited inventory space, very little ammo for your weapons, fewer healing items, and lots of backtracking. I will praise Rose Engine for making backtracking in Signalis less painful than games of the PS1 era. There is a good map system that even marks puzzles that require items. The final area of the game has no map, but you will learn to remember landmarks. The level design in Signalis is fantastic. A game with a lot of backtracking needs good landmarks so you remember where every room is. If you are familiar with the 32-bit era of horror games this style of progression won’t bother you. There were some puzzles that had me write stuff down (math puzzles) or take photos of diagrams. You get a radio about halfway through the game and you can use the frequencies to help solve puzzles. I will admit that inventory management is a little too tight here. You only get 6 inventory slots and there are no upgrades in this game. I wish I had at least eight. I constantly had to leave healing items and ammo behind to dump puzzle items and backtrack a couple of times. At least in my first playthrough, I was able to preserve quite a bit of ammo. I didn’t even end up using two of the weapons. You can easily run from most enemies which I recommend later on when you enter rooms with four or more enemies.
You can only shoot enemies while standing still. There is an aim button that auto-locks and you can fire. Enemies will fall down and you have to stomp on them to temporarily kill them. Yes, after the first area, you get thermite which will permanently burn enemies and keep them from rising. This is why I recommend only killing enemies in main corridors that require you to frequent them often. Most rooms are a one-time entrance. You run in, grab everything, and leave. Rooms with puzzles and save rooms don’t have enemies so this helps. Just like games of this genre, you will eventually unlock shortcut doors to get back to the main puzzle areas or save rooms which help cut down on a little bit of the backtracking.
Enemies themselves are very Silent Hill-like. Almost exact copies. There are EULR enemies which look exactly like the Bubble Head Nurses from Silent Hill 2. The STCR enemies look like the Closer enemies from Silent Hill 3 or the Siam from Homecoming. Everything aesthetic and atmosphere-wise is very close to Silent Hill. Even the music is similar. The entire game looks similar to the Otherworld from Silent Hill as well. I have to say I like it a lot. We need more Silent Hill and this is the closest you will get. There’s a little cyberpunk infusion with the AI robots and dystopian world. It’s a great fusion and I couldn’t get enough of it.
I didn’t find much of the game frustrating. Puzzles are fairly straightforward. You may have to look up one or two, but the solutions were mostly right in front of me and I just didn’t see it. There are only two boss fights in the game and they are pretty fun, but not very challenging. The challenge in the game’s combat arises from getting swarmed. As long as you run you will always be safe. Enemies usually have to stop to swing and unless you’re backed into a corner you won’t get hit. The variety of weapons helps and you can store everything in your save room chests and go back to get what you need. I did finish the game with plenty of healing items and ammo. I can’t express enough how much running helps in this game. There were occasional rooms that needed my flashlight too.
Overall, Signalis nails the feeling and atmosphere of Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The monster designs are great, the music is haunting, and the level design is done in such a way that memorizing the layout of an area isn’t that hard which is key for games that need a lot of backtracking. Puzzles aren’t insanely vague or obtuse, and it’s obvious what items go where once you find both. I just wish there were more than six inventory slots. It just adds artificial fluff to the play time by constantly having to go back to your storage chest and dump off items. I also wish the overall story and world-building were better. The game is only about 6 hours long so there isn’t much time or room for character or world-building anyways. Thankfully the atmosphere, enemy design, tight controls, and well-designed areas are all nailed down tight. This is easily the best retro horror game to be released in the last couple of decades.