Signalis Is A Sapphic Survival Horror About What It Means To Be Alive
Signalis fucking rules. And like all the games I enjoy because I have amazing taste in things, hardly anybody seems to be talking about it. This unnerving gem is both a clear homage to survival horror greats and a sapphic love story lined with human tragedy. Tight mechanics, immaculate puzzle design, and stellar world building combine to create a heartbreaking tale that plays out only briefly, but has a deep and lasting impact. I was left speechless by its conclusion, praying I could find even a sliver of hope within its bleak expression of finding meaning in our existence.
Developed by rose-engine, a two-person indie studio from Germany, Signalis doesn’t explain itself much at all, leaving our interpretation of its world and characters up to scattered documents and pixelated environments that tell more than enough stories to flesh out a much larger experience. Much like the original Resident Evil, there is a mounting aura of anxiety that permeates every step you take. In a world of advanced technology and small colonies spread across the solar system, subservient androids have been created to keep these installations running in the absence of flesh and blood. Even though these beings are designed with objective purpose, they begin to develop feelings and relationships, and a clear dependence on vices that pull from the very purposes they were birthed for.
You play as Elster, a Replika unit who has been separated from Anne, a Gestalt android she cannot live without, both from a romantic and practical perspective. The game starts with you awakening on the snowy planet of Leng, with your once homely scout shuttle now little more than torn wires and embering flames as you hope to find an escape. Elster’s only goal is to find the woman who completes her, a driving force that has her tearing through corrupt corpses of former allies and uncovering a wider conspiracy linking to her creation that left me dumbfounded. It’s almost akin to Elfen Lied or Devotion, the edges lined with a crust of tragic horror that never once subsides, yet within the morbid centre sits a loving embrace that you can’t help but accept. I gave into it each and every time, and kept pushing through darkness.
Many of the Replika units who once kept the planet’s mining facility running have long gone rogue, transformed into hostile creatures coated in blood that attack all who cross their path. What exactly brought this fate upon them is revealed as you progress, and how our attempt to suppress their humanity has doomed these poor living beings to eternal purgatory. It is so damn sad to witness, only made worse as you start to read individual dossiers that label each one as tools to be discarded. Specific models have their own quirks, and must be kept occupied with habitual behaviours or fetish objects that prevent their true personalities from bleeding forth. Some may need music, human interaction, or hobbies that suppress their instincts, while others form relationships that were never intended to materialise. This is precisely how Elster and Anne found love, and what has caused them to find one another at the end of the world no matter the sacrifice.
A few fellow androids cling onto life, often hidden inside abandoned offices as a final few breaths leave them. Many more have already given up, passing on lingering thoughts before surrendering to silence. I’d love to cheer them up or even take them along with me, but often there is no choice but to leave them behind and continue with my mission. Many are already critically injured, scared to leave whatever brief sanctuary they’ve created in fear of losing their minds like those they used to call friends. No humans are around, everything they put in place to give these androids a satisfying existence while employing permanent authority has fallen apart, so they’ve been left alone to rot before it starts all over again. It isn’t fair, and the people I met along the way knew this, but there’s nothing they can do.
You are constantly bombarded by loss, convinced that there is no way Anne still lives as the journey takes us further underground. Either through internal programming or genuine love, Elster keeps on moving and never looks back. Even those she does help on the way – such as a side character searching for her lost sister – are discarded once their usefulness has been depleted. There is a mechanical macabre to it all, a base understanding of human connection that all these androids find on the periphery of their artificial consciousness. But that doesn’t make it any less real. If anything, the fact Elster and Anne seek each other out in spite of their inception only makes it more poignant, like the impossible has been achieved and suddenly the humans who once sought to hold them down are no longer interested.
A flashback sequence has the scout shuttle repaired. Elster performs routine checks before checking up on her partner. The two engage in a dance, embracing in the darkness of their personal quarters in a small yet beautiful moment of tranquillity. There is no blood, no loss, and nothing to do except live in the now and watch these two women fall even further in love. Signalis might be a survival horror experience tinged with blood and gut on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a sapphic tale defined by bitter perseverance, a love so strong that it dares to question what it means to be human once your once strict creators have suddenly left you behind. There is always hope to be found, even when all seems lost.
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