The Signifier Review
I am just going to start this review by saying that I am not a huge fan of horror games and when I picked up The Signifier I was actually a bit of afraid of what I would find in a game tagged as “psychological horror.” That is because most of the games I’ve recently seen on Steam with that tag were basically just games with a lot of jumpscares and nothing much when it comes to the story within them.
The Signifier was a pleasant surprise though and it delivered quite well. Let’s talk about a story of memories.
You can find this review in video format as well.
In The Signifier we take the role of Frederick Russell, an expert in AI and psychology who is also the main researcher behind an experimental deep brain scanner called the Dreamwalker. Just from this one sentence, you probably already have a vague idea of what this game is all about and you most probably also guessed it right. It is about going into people’s memories and extracting information that would otherwise be impossible to get anywhere.
I am a huge fan of sci-fi fiction and being a writer myself I have been following a lot of people that talk about the use of sci-fi elements in narrative. A lot of good writers say that sci-fi tools in storytelling need to make sense in every way possible for everyone involved and that would include the impact that those tools have for the rest of the world. In the case of The Signifier this is something that the developers made sure is explored thoroughly and with a lot of information all around the player so that it makes complete sense as to what this means for the current political and science developments in the time that the game takes place.
I am of course talking about the Dreamwalker and how its existence as well as its use affect the politics in the world of The Signifier. The player is free to explore the surroundings of Russell and can find all sorts of information about what’s happening in the world through reading the newspaper or through the subtle hints that are sometimes left in the conversations he has with people throughout the game. The title most definitely has an interesting setting in a somewhat realistic future of our own world.
But what about the game itself? How does the Dreamwalker play into all of this and what do we get to do as players? Well, the game is actually way simpler than I initially thought it would be. It honestly felt more as a walking simulator with a great story more than anything and that is both a compliment and sort of a criticism for it. It is a compliment because it manages to capture the feeling of a psychological horror story really well but it is a criticism because the flow of the game unfortunately becomes a bit slow and dull halfway through.
For the most part of the game, we are busy investigating what seems to be a case of murder. We are responsible for finding whatever information we can through the victim’s saved brain record and we can do that only by using the Dreamwalker to walk through the victim’s last memories. There are three different places we can visit, the real world, the subjective memory state and the objective memory state. Each one presents its own puzzles and it is up to the player to reconstruct the state to their best ability in order to find more clues that will help with solving the murder.
The atmosphere of the memory states is quite well crafted and it gives off an eerie feeling that at first makes you feel unsafe. Later, after you have already explored a bit of the memory state, you actually get more into the role of the researcher and the memory state feels much easier to traverse and understand. The progress of the investigation of course does not only take place in the Dreamwalker but also takes us outside looking for clues in new places. Throughout the game, much of the real world is explored in terms of Russell reacting to all sorts of things that happen, such a call from his daughter or other intriguing calls.
The Signifier is a psychological horror game that will have you asking questions all the time about what is the real truth behind everything. Both the murder mystery as well as the overall narrative behind the real world are interesting to follow and the player is free to explore both at their own pace. I would suggest The Signifier to anyone that enjoys walking simulators since the game felt more like that than anything else. It has a bit of detective work thrown in and it manages to set the atmosphere quite well. Definitely a game worth picking up for fans of the genre.
You can find The Signifier on Steam.
You can watch the game’s trailer here.
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~Constantine “Kelfecil” Christakis
We would like to thank the developers/publishers for providing us with a copy of this game for coverage purposes. As a non-commercial press team, it is our honor and our delight to be able to provide our opinion on it.