Signalis turns a divisive survival horror trope into its best feature

Signalis protagonist Elster during a cutscene
(Image credit: Humble Games)

Dashing through the blood-drenched corridors of Signalis’ school-like facility, inhabited exclusively by horrifically mutated androids, is a thrilling rush, but one that’s nonetheless left me mentally drained. Elster, our biomechanical protagonist, is one meat cleaver slice away from the scrap heap. Left limping and bleeding heavily from an open wound, her situation’s looking dire.

Still several doors away from the safety of a save room – with no shortage of enemies to wade past – I ponder if it’s worth ducking into rooms in the immediate vicinity, on the off-chance I stumble upon even the smallest health item. I can do that, or commit to trekking to the save room where I can pop open the item storage box to heal in safety. Both options present considerable risk. Combat isn’t impossible, but my current state and dwindling ammo count mean it’ll be a strict war of attrition; one that Elster will likely lose.

My mind racing, I pause and hang on the inventory screen for a few minutes. Its soft glow and gentle humming nostalgically emulate a CRT display – a cold comfort in Signalis’ dread-soaked halls. It’s then that I realize picking up stray health isn’t an option: my meager inventory space is maxed out at six items, meaning I couldn’t pick up more even if I wanted to. It was go big or go home, then. Elster will make the run to the save room or die trying. And, at that moment, I knew Signalis was turning out to be something very special.

Tight corridors, tighter pockets

Protagonist Elster during one of Signalis' cutscenes

(Image credit: Humble Games)

Due to strict facility guidelines, Replikas (named so for their humanoid appearance) like Elster are never allowed to carry more than six items on their person at any one time. No ifs, ands or buts. That’s hard-wired into their programming and so you, as the player, are bound by this rule, too. It's something that’s set up rather ingeniously with Signalis’ first item that Elster has in her inventory by default: a photograph.

It’s a picture of Elster’s human partner; the reason she’s traveled to such a hellish facility in the first place. If her partner’s alive, then the danger of Signalis’ hellish world is secondary. The problem is that the photograph takes up a precious inventory slot. To ensure she can survive to the best of her ability, Elster needs to discard her one reminder of the hope she wishes to regain.

The limited inventory Signalis presents you with is nothing new; we’ve seen the divisive feature used in survival horror series like Resident Evil countless times before. But unlike these games, Signalis never eases up on this rule. From start to finish, you have six slots to equip weapons, ammo, healing aids, keys, and plot crucial items that’ll help you progress. There are no upgrades available. Instead, Signalis trusts you to make mental notes of where you’ve left items on the ground around the facility for procurement later. As a result, you’ll be making liberal use of the item storage box that’s consistent across every save room.

Signalis inventory screen

(Image credit: Humble Games)

That hard six-item cap will probably be the deciding factor in how much you enjoy Signalis, though I want to stress that while strict, it never once felt like a chore to manage my inventory. It’s partly why I love Signalis so much; like a holiday suitcase, you’ll spend a lot of time packing your inventory to be as efficient as possible.

For me, that usually meant carrying my workhorse pistol, some ammo, a key, a puzzle item or two, and – hopefully – leaving a free slot to pick up any ammo or support items I come across on my next round of exploration. I did my best to save more powerful weapons, like the shotgun and rifle, for Signalis’ pulse-pounding boss encounters, or for particularly enemy-infested hallways.

But sometimes it’s not that simple, as Signalis is more than happy to throw a few spanners in the works. Like in the Resident Evil remake, dispatched enemies won’t stay that way forever. To keep a foe down permanently, you’ll need to burn the corpse with a stick of thermite, or shoot them with a flare round. Both resources are incredibly rare, making choosing which enemies to rid yourself of forever another crucial decision.

Wake up

Elster meets Isa in Signalis

(Image credit: Humble Games)

Signalis is a survival horror experience I won’t soon forget. Its grimy, low-poly aesthetic is wonderfully unique, mixing Metal Gear Solid-esque character models with detailed pre-rendered backgrounds. There’s even a smattering of first-person sections that excel at dialing the tension up to eleven.

And as much as I adore its approach to resource management, it’s far from the only fascinating aspect of Signalis’ waking nightmare. The game truly excels at laying just enough breadcrumbs to guide you through its deliberately unreliable narrative.

Elster never intentionally lies, but memories of her lost love – or why she’s searching for her in the first place – are open to interpretation for much of Signalis’ plot. It keeps you guessing in the best way possible.

The King in Yellow book, as found on a desk in Signalis

(Image credit: Humble Games)

Similar to Silent Hill 2, the conclusion to Elster’s journey will change based on your playstyle. Going guns blazing, and destroying as many enemies as you can, may lead to one ending, while taking your time through the areas and avoiding conflict will result in another. This means Signalis offers a lot of replay value for those who want to witness just how multi-layered its events really are.

Signalis is far more than my game of the year. It’s a rare case of a game expertly nailing every aspect of itself. It’s one of the most fun, fascinating survival horror games I’ve ever played; handily taking its very clear inspirations and twisting them into something completely its own. 

For a game largely developed by the two-person Rose Engine team, it’s an astonishingly impressive feat. And given its availability on Xbox Game Pass, Signalis is extremely easy for me to recommend to anyone even remotely interested in playing through a masterclass of survival horror.

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.