Somehow, we’ve managed to make it to the end of 2022, so with that in mind, we’re celebrating some of the best games to have launched in the past 12 months. Today, we’re getting our spooky on with one of the 2022’s best horror titles: Signalis.
One of the most fruitless endeavors of the last few years has been the attempts to recapture the spirit of classic survival horror. That’s not to say there haven’t been good survival horror games, just that they don’t quite scratch that primordial itch only the cream of the crop did in the 90s.
Then came Signalis, and it was like yesterday was invaded by tomorrow. A sci-fi horror fusion of past and future that does that most magical of things any survival horror should do: It gets under your skin and burrows into your brain. It’s the work of two people and perhaps that’s why it’s so focused on finding the root of survival horror.
Signalis is not about plucky rookies mired in the muddiest of pies, nor is it about space engineers going doolally (well, maybe a bit). Signalis isn’t a story about humans, it’s about androids, wrestling with their own mortality and sanity in a spin on the zombie formula that enthralls. This, much like NieR: Automata, finds the vulnerability of humanity in machines, and makes them suffer for it.
You are Elster, a Replika that’s found herself on an icy planet where she investigates a seemingly abandoned facility in search of someone. Unfortunately, Elster’s memory is a bit fuzzy, and the facility isn’t abandoned. Something has massacred the Replikas here, and it seems you can’t keep a good android down, because they’re reanimating as a mess of synthetic flesh and metal.
It’s genuinely fascinating how Signalis sifts through the junkpile of survival horror tropes and augments them to suit its own profile. There’s a typical search for a lost love and lost memories, but poured through a tech-noir filter. Resident Evil Remake’s ‘burn the corspe!’ rule is applied alongside the last ditch knife save (here it’s a taser), there’s save points, an inventory chest, weirdo puzzles, scarce ammo, and the other tentpoles of classic survival horror. Rarely do they get used in a stock standard replication of the source. Instead, everything is tailored to fit the world Signalis inhabits, with a cheeky meta tease here and there in the form of warnings for not saving and in-game posters that hint at how you should play.
There’s no fixed camera, yet Rose-Engine evokes the uncertainty and suspense of it with its near-top-down viewpoint. The dark often obscures corners of your view, and there’s always something you just cannot see without moving forward, but you absolutely know something bad is going to be there. The ancient methods of hesitation and avoidance rarely get used hand in hand in modern survival horror, and yet here it’s a winning strategy that is made necessary thanks to backtracking and the constant threat of reanimated Replikas popping up to say hello from whatever hole they were previously hidden in.
Those Replika zombies may not be heavily detailed, but they more than make up for it with their jagged, uncomfortable-looking movement. The more we learn about the why of their cursed nature, the more tragic and horrifying their plight becomes. There’s not a lot of variety in Signalis’ roster of foes, but they begin to feel less like fodder the further you delve. Avoidance often works best for all involved.
While Signalis is heavy on the Resident Evil in terms of its play structure, the narrative is far deeper in the camp of a Silent Hill. Yes there’s spooky bits and a whiff of cheese here and there, but the driving force of Signalis’ horror is unease, psychological terror, cosmic madness, and existential dread. It’s a marriage that unites the best of what survival was, and places it into the body of something new. It’s the blueprint for any future survival horror game worth its salt.
READ MORE: 10 Best Horror Games of 2022
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