Like a forgotten Cold War numbers station, Signalis has hummed quietly and ominously in the back of my head for some time now. It's been two years since I first caught it on RPS (opens in new tab), and longer still since developer rose-engine first broadcast its unsettling, anime-tinted teaser (opens in new tab). But this past weekend we got news that Signalis is finally releasing this October (opens in new tab)—with a demo debuting at Steam Next Fest this week.
That demo may be all-too-brief. But in that short runtime, Signalis proves itself a terrifying, beautifully sharp slice of survival horror.
You are Elster, a replika (read: replicant) in a dystopian future, the solar system colonised by an all-consuming totalitarian state. You awaken in a crashed ship on a frozen planet, your human colleague missing, and shimmering, shadowy creatures stalking the cabins and hallways.
So begins a Resident Evil or Silent Hill style survival horror adventure—learning how to solve environmental puzzles, combine items, managing limited ammo to fire clunky handguns at screeching creatures. Hell, if you want full "authenticity", there's even an option to turn on tank controls in the settings.
But while Signalis plays survival horror quite straight, there are a few quirks that come with being a synthetic human. One element that goes underused in the demo is a radio tuner built into Elster, which you can scan for ambient messages in the environment. In this starting ship, one merely repeated an SOS message; another, the ominous "WAKE UP" message fed into your brain at the start of the game.
A third simply registered an intensifying drone, and I'm so, so curious to discover how many of Signalis' secrets will lie buried in the airwaves.
Those are secrets I desperately need to unravel, too. When Signalis opens, it's playing sci-fi horror fairly straight. A derelict ship, all hissing vents and shattered glass and supposedly alien creatures. But by the time you finally leave the ship, the template starts to crack. A perfect blood-red wound in the earth invites us down. A crack in the wall pulls us in tight. A pristine office invites us to sit.
Signalis is a story about androids, which means it'll all but certainly be a story of personhood and identity. The game's store page invokes eclectic comparisons to Twin Peaks, and 2001: A Space Odyssey and Neon Genesis Evangelion, inspirations that show themselves in full force when Signalis takes a turn for the surreal and the allegorical.
Flatly, it's hard to understate how stunning Signalis is to watch. Low-res chambers viewed from fixed angles give way to higher-detailed (if still wonderfully crunchy) 3D models cockpits and airlocks, fake first-person sequences, and character moments that punch with retro-anime drawn closeups. It all works, save for a UI that's maybe too aesthetic for its own good. Vibes are great, but getting a headache reading fuzzy low-res text sure isn't.
Signalis' demo is short, but it punches hard in that lunch break runtime, and it's well worth downloading over on Steam (opens in new tab) ahead of the full game's release on October 27.