At first nothing makes sense in Signalis. It’s an inscrutable collection of strange places, people and ideas—a puzzle box nested inside a bigger puzzle box, heavily seasoned with robots, space colonisation, skinned nightmare creatures and complex geopolitics. It could so easily be a confusing mess. A dozen big ideas competing for space, enough to fill multiple video games. But it always returns to one simple, existentially worrying thought to tie everything together. Signalis wants you to explore the horror of things found slightly out of place. That tickle at the back of your mind telling you reality is broken, even when everything seems fine.

Horror stories frequently play with the feeling that something isn’t quite right about a situation, or that items or characters aren’t where they once were. Films insert a character who tries to tell everyone the terrible truth before it’s too late, only to be seen as mad. Signalis takes that one step further, weaving the unreliable nature of reality and memory in as the key narrative theme.

You can see shades of it everywhere on the Sierpinski-23 mining facility, seeding the thoughts in our head. The main character, a Replika (essentially a robot) named Elster, searches desperately for her lost human pilot; the administrator of the facility, Adler, battles the feeling that something unnamed is not where it should be, until it drives him completely mad; the remaining Replikas roam the doomed hallways as they would have on any normal day, but now stripped of purpose and their outer shell. Everything is almost as it was, which is somehow unfathomably worse than brand new horrors.

(Image credit: rose-engine)

Even the puzzles represent a yearning for some unachievable order, that things may be put back in their place after the horror jumbled them. One of the first large-scale goals Elster has in the mining facility is to get through an ominous door locked with six keys. Why the door is locked, why it looks so strange and ritualistic, or why the keys are eventually located in such improbable places isn’t especially important. What’s important is the drive that Elster and the player have to find them. I never doubted for a second that I needed to get through this door and progress deeper into the facility. Those keys belonged to the door, and they had to be returned. Perhaps then, with the keys in place, I’d figure out what was going on.

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By nmybx

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