New Resident Evil games are great, but there’s still something about the slow, dirty, and mysterious older entries in the series. There’s a certain vibe that comes from the steady pace, raw graphics, and intricate puzzles that still make the PlayStation-era horror stand out. And while developer Rose-Engine’s signalis is a modern release, it channels some of the best parts of series like Silent Hill, resident evil, and Dino Crisis for classical fears.
signalis puts you in the role of Elster, a sort of synthetic worker who finds herself waking up at the start of the game on an empty, wrecked spaceship. Her memories are mostly gone, but she manages to make her way to an underground facility and doesn’t know much more than that she’s looking for someone. The rest of the game is a dozen hours of puzzling who Elster is and the truth behind the horrors of the facility she is exploring.
If you have played any of the above horror games, signalis feels instantly familiar, evoking long-lost days of holding a gray PlayStation controller firmly as you run from zombies. The third person horror game has a steady pace; Fortunately, Elster does not have the infamous Resident Evil tank controls, moves with more fluidity, but she still explores slowly, and aiming can be a struggle.
This, of course, makes it all the more terrifying when bloodthirsty synthetic machines are after you. signalis isn’t technically a zombie game, but many of its enemies – the extinct remains of an underground worker colony – can feel like the shuffling undead. Like a survival horror game, signalis also has other genre staples such as small inventory (you can only keep six items at a time), limited resources (I always need more shotgun shells), and oh so many doors that require cryptic keycards before you can proceed. That said, there are a few more modern touches, like less punishing save points and, my personal favorite, a map that’s packed with just the right amount of useful information.
The game also looks. While signalis is not a 32-bit game, it often looks like this, with grainy, blocky graphics and frequent glitches that make you feel like a synthetic creature slowly losing its synthetic mind. The rooms are small and cramped in a cramped, brutalist building, adding to the tension, and the enemy designs are simple but menacing. The game also has a real analog feel, with puzzles with lots of big switches and dials, and the ability to get a closer look at the polygonal items in your inventory, as if they were real objects.
signalis does an incredible job of steadily increasing anxiety. When it starts, it’s usually just lonely. You are alone in a dark facility, most of which are tightly sealed. But as you open doors and dive further underground, the terror increases exponentially. You go from searching drab, dark offices to stalking through medical facilities and, ultimately, extremely gross horrors that I won’t spoil. The same goes for the cryptic stories, mostly told through old notes and diaries, which start out as a few simple descriptions of the facility before taking a dark descent into madness. It’s the kind of game where you open a note that says “leave this place” and nothing else.
That said, as much as I loved the old-fashioned feel of signalis, there are some places where it can feel frustratingly dated. Some of the puzzles are way too complicated and forced me to trial and error, temporarily destroying the momentum of the game. (Most of the puzzles are great though, and I even pulled out a pen and notebook to solve a few.) And while I appreciate the small inventory and how making tough choices about weapons and healing items can make things scarier make, it’s still tedious; I spent a lot of time withdrawn because I had to keep my keycards or other items in a safe until I needed them.
These moments can add a bit of boredom to the experience, but they don’t detract from what signalis is. It’s refreshing to be reminded of why this horror style is so effective. signalis isn’t shy about its influences, but it’s so well made. By the time it’s all done, the game will definitely have its own identity – and plenty of gritty horrors to haunt your dreams.
signalis is available now on PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.