Feb 28 2023


Published by at 12:12 am under Games,Software

I finished SIGNALIS on Xbox Series X today and since it’s an Xbox Play Anywhere title, I also spent a few hours playing it on my Windows notebook. I got the “promise” ending, and I played the game via my Game Pass subscription.

The fact that I played the game through to one of the four possible endings means that it must have been interesting enough for me to sink something between 12 and 14 hours into it in total. Yes, I’m one of those slow players who like to spend time in a game world. But thanks to the horrible inventory system of Signalis, the player is forced to go constantly go back to a storage crate and save point to manage the items that you need to carry around. I guess one can easily reduce the game time by one third if Signalis wouldn’t have such a horrible, out-dated inventory system.

Combat in Signalis isn’t great either: The controls are poor and the combat itself is, well, boring, truth be told. But Signalis isn’t a shooter and most combat situations are actually avoidable or you can just run away from them (which most of the time you will).

The world building in Signalis is quite well done – but it’s probably so much easier to understand this world when you were born and raised in Germany and know the country’s history a bit (especially parts and pieces that are related to the German Democratic Republic, which is more commonly known as East Germany). Signalis takes you into a future world where East German socialism has made it to the stars.

Being a native speaker of the German certainly also helps understanding the game; even if you set the game to English (or any other available language), a lot of the texts displayed on the screen are in German and the game doesn’t bother to translate them for you. Truth be told, though: It doesn’t need to; I believe the message reaches you even if you don’t understand a single word of what’s being displayed.

While the game world is intruiging and interesting and also very atmospheric, the game doesn’t quite manage to unleash its full potential.

On a 55″ 4K display, after a short while the heavily pixelated graphics are a disservice to the game and become a strain to the eyes. But it’s not as bad as it might sound – the game is still enjoyable, you just wish to see something that’s easier on the eyes.

The problem is that the game atmosphere is quickly lacking due to the underdeveloped audio, music – and completely lack of voice acting.

This is supposed to be a sci-fi-horror game. Gory, dark pixelated graphics alone don’t cut it. John Carpenter saved most of his low budget – and also very dark and minimalistic – horror movies with their soundtracks.

Signalis never creates a single moment of dread, horror or tension – and that is solely because of its underwhelming environmental audio and rather uninteresting soundtrack. You never feel like you’re actually –in– the game world, even when playing under a Dolby Atmos headset. There is no music that pushes your nerves on edge, there is no creepy, atmospheric sound backdrop that makes you feel as uncomfortable as the game actually would like you to be. You just don’t get immersed into the world because of that. If you want to experience a master class in sound design for a game – and by that I do not mean the music, just the environmental sounds – play Doom 3 for reference. If playing Doom 3 in a dark room underneath a headset doesn’t give you a panic attack, nothing ever will.

The last big problem of Signalis is it’s story – it barely has one, and what little story it has neither really explains the weird things that have happened in and to the game world. The story does not even shed sufficient light on the relationship of the character that you play and her search for her lost lover. While that is not necessarily a bad thing in any horror story – and most horror stories are actually better off when they don’t even try to explain anything – it does the game another disservice by leaving the player with a shallow style over substance impression. Again: All John Carpenter movies completely get away with it simply because they completely nail the atmosphere, the tension and the immersion – the viewer just doesn’t have the time to pay enough attention to the story, and the viewer doesn’t even care. Signalis, however, is designed to let players explore the game world at their own leisure, giving them plenty of time to read, think and ask questions and wonder.

Is Signalis a bad game? No, absolutely not. It’s just not as good as it could or should have been, and that is a bit sad since there is so much potential and talent at play here. From a pure technical perspective, the game worked flawless, performed extremely well and as far as I can tell was also completely bug-free. I deeply respect the fact that the original team was just made up by two persons who invested eight years of their lives into making this game – and actually finishing and shipping it!

I hope it won’t take them another eight years to produce their next title – if they’re even willing to go on another journey of that kind. I certainly am interested to see more of their work.

If you have Game Pass, it’s not even a discussion: Download the game and play it.

For everybody else: Signalis is not a triple-A title and only costs 20 Euros. Despite my criticism above, it’s well worth every single cent of the asking price.

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