This review contains spoilers
I went into this with pretty high hopes and I really enjoyed the front 60% or so, but I think it fell off pretty hard at the end. The game stopped being remotely unnerving once I realized that, if you don't already have the map layouts memorized, the only thing the microscopic inventory does is turn huge chunks of the game into busywork as you run pickups back and forth from saferooms to make room for key items. That being said, I liked the first two chapters or so quite a lot from a gameplay perspective, I think it just wore out its welcome. Also, I liked the puzzle design quite a bit, stuff like the pareidolia puzzle were the mechanical highlights of the game for me.
I thought the story was interesting and I like the way it's told; I appreciated the literary references and once I googled the secret ending and read some discussion I found the narrative sort of touching in its own way. However, I think that trying to do a confusing nonlinear narrative, one heavily reliant on symbolic interpretation, is a mistake if you are going to make 90% of the characters in the game anime girls with identical faces, because I had no clue who the hell anyone was until the last hour of the game.
I don't say this often about horror, but I think the game needed to spend more time explaining what the monster is actually like; maybe I'm just jaded, but I think a pulsating mass of flesh isn't actually that scary by itself, and I would have liked some sort of direction as to what it's actually doing and why it's apparently causing a time loop/reality warp/etc, when the much clearer motif connected to it is one of hive-minded conformity and the blurring of the line between self and other. I think the eye motif was a lot more evocative and the game could have stood to lean into it more. Also--I think that structurally, this didn't need to be a story about a time loop, and I think it would have been stronger without that aspect.
Beyond the character design I liked the game's visual direction a lot. It looks sort of like a Nintendo DS game in a lot of respects--the clean and minutely detailed environmental art, the extremely low-detail models displayed at sizes so small they resemble sprites--but it's clearly doing its own thing, and the environmental design is really excellent and another clear highlight of the game for me. As much as I have a deep and abiding love for the low-poly renaissance among indie games, seeing something where the chief visual inspiration is not PSX games is a breath of fresh air, and I liked that immensely.
Overall I think Signalis is an enjoyable game but a flawed one. Maybe it's just not for me! I dunno. I respect the artistry regardless.
Reviewed on Dec 30, 2022