Keycard puzzles, limited inventory, scarce ammo. The survival horror formula may be nothing new, but the sheer tension of Signalis shows once again that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — just move it to an eerily abandoned mining colony on the edge of a Nazi-like galactic empire.
Even more impressive is just how beautiful it is. Two-person German newcomers rose-engine — no capital letters here — use a combination of anime-like cutscenes, low-poly Metal Gear Solid-esque environments and point-'n'-click-style vignettes to create a sense of style and claustrophobia as you uncover the truth of what went wrong on this faraway world. Deep reds and metallic blues dominate, helped along by a stunning soundtrack.
It’s hard to discuss much of what happens in Signalis without spoilers, apart from the fact that you play as Elster, a dream-afflicted clone crash-landed on a mysterious mining planet. Pretty soon things are trying to kill you, while others’ motives are a little less straightforward.
It’s a masterclass in tension. Elster only has six inventory spaces and ammunition is rare, so plenty of encounters become desperate dashes for doors. Even more unnerving is that enemies can come back to life at any time, provided you haven’t burned them with even more scarce thermite charges. All of this means finding “friendlies” — in other words, those who don’t immediately attack you — is both a relief and laced with heavy doses of mistrust.
With combat costly, puzzles become the meat of Signalis. Luckily there’s plenty to them thanks to rose-engine’s use of a radio as both a plot device and an integral part of gameplay. With all kinds of details littered in files strewn across the facility, it pays to pay attention, even if some sections can get a little lore-heavy. As with many dystopian stories, Signalis has a lot to say — and when a game is designed this tightly, it’s well worth listening.
All in all, this is an astoundingly stylish effort from such a small studio. Signalis is riveting in both the construction of its world and the tense survival horror gameplay it executes so well. Don’t overlook it because of its very late last-gen release: rose-engine’s effort has its feet firmly planted in the future.