One Year Later, Signalis Remains an Unforgettable Masterclass in Horror
Have you played Signalis yet? NO!? Why are you reading this article? Go play Signalis right now!
As 2023 comes to a close, the year continues to solidify itself as an exceptional year for game releases (though maybe not for the industry as a whole). In a field of incredible releases, a handful are unified by the horror genre — with Dead Space, Resident Evil 4, and Alan Wake 2 all leading the charge for amazing experiences of the spooky variety.
Despite the bountiful state of horror in 2023, I find myself constantly pulled back to one of last year’s standout titles — Signalis. The debut game from indie developer Rose-Engine just turned one, and its retro-inspired but utterly unique approach to the horror genre refuses to leave me.
Over the past week, the memories feature on Google Photos has been full of screenshots taken a year ago on my computer during my review process for Signalis. They comprise dialogue I wanted to remember, in-game notes I wanted a record of, and puzzles I labored over. It paints a picture of a game that I deeply connected with. This is something I continuously expressed in the remaining months of 2022 after Signalis released via two pieces I wrote totaling nearly three thousand words. What else could I have to say about the game?
Well, I bet I can figure something out.
The style of horror on display in 2023’s biggest genre titles is a fairly homogenized experience. The Resident Evil 4 remake cleans up the rough edges of the game that paved the way for the modern third-person action game and survival horror. The Dead Space remake updates a game that itself was conceived of as Resident Evil 4 but in space. Finally, Alan Wake 2 delves fully into survival horror and emulates (to great effect, and for a narrative purpose) the modern expectation of the genre set by the Resident Evil 2 remake.
On paper, Signalis is no more original than the offerings of 2023. Quite openly, the game is inspired by the horror titans of the PlayStation 1 era. Namely, the influences of the original Silent Hill and Resident Evil can be felt in spades, down to the classic tank controls. Though, in practice, Signalis fulfills the promise of the best retro-inspired games. It goes beyond simple recreation.
Graphically, Signalis takes the low-poly aesthetic of the PS1 and investigates how the hardware limitations of the era were themselves integral to how horror worked. The world, and especially the characters, have an inhuman nature to them. The fuzziness of every texture evokes the impression of exploring a dream you can only remember half the details of.
This only serves the game’s narrative, which is itself a twisting affair that constantly dives in and out of reality in a confusing string of events centered around protagonist Elster’s attempts to reunite with her partner Ariane. The theme of connection is the string that runs through all of Signalis’ characters and the overarching plot. Everybody, including the zombie-like enemies in your way, is motivated by the innate need for connection.
Hidden just beneath the surface of Signalis’ Spencer Mansion-like puzzles, manual save rooms, and ammo scarcity is a game that uses horror as commentary on larger themes in the same way the greatest pieces of the horror genre do, no matter the medium. Signalis is, mechanically, a perfectly executed iteration of classic horror, but narratively, it is an unexpectedly emotional love story.