Signalis – a gorgeous dystopian creepshow

Not to disparage Uncharted – Legacy of Thieves Collection on the PC (it did get me through the misery of the Christmas and early January period) but I found it far too cheesy and a bit too easy to offer a gaming experience that was memorable or of substance. Certain games direct you, even carry you with them and both Uncharted games were in that vein. They do have a lot of things going for them; lush graphics, exotic locations and beautiful scenery, ostentatious vehicle chase sequences, glib quips, dying a certain way references the final scene in Thelma and Louise, both leant on ludicrous mythologies based extremely loosely on historical fact that were enjoyable for being so unashamedly far-fetched, to surprisingly challenging combat (but only if you pick the crushing setting).

Gameplay and stories filled with fortuitousness was likely a conscious choice by the developers and writers. There’s a subset of gamers out there who don’t want an experience that could potentially irritate or dishearten them. Basically, a Dark Souls type game that builds a sense of dread with grotesque creatures, desolate landscapes, nihilistic narratives and various outcomes, where the immutability of the difficulty (hard, basically) increases the tension, as you know mistakes are not forgiven, there’s no respite from threat, boss fights are perpetual and save points are not abundant. Fuck up and die in Uncharted and you lose no progress.

The best thing I can say about Uncharted is that it acted as palate cleanser (in that I could think about my ASDA shop while playing it) and because it made my mind wander it made me want to be gripped by a Dark Souls 3 or Sekiro again. So, I was faced with a choice, finally get round to letting Elden Ring consume my life but swallow the compromise of having to play it at low to moderate settings on my ancient GTX 980ti to get a good frame rate – because greed in the graphics cards business is threatening to destroy PC gaming – or play something less demanding while I wait forlornly for graphics card prices to drop to a level where I feel I’m not getting mugged off like some cunt.

Being stubbornly patient – Elden Ring will have to wait until the system is upgraded, it deserves as optimal an experience as possible – I was left game hunting. Because I hate shopping around for anything I just pick games that are highly recommended on Steam. Fortunately, with Steam this approach is safe. A community of gamers will always tell you if something is, or isn’t, worth your time or money.

The reviews for Signalis were stellar and richly deserved. It may be a 2D platformer, but there’s so much good going on here, it mixes the beautiful with the macabre, dystopia with fantasy, Nietzsche’s affirmation of the self when set against quasi-religious dogma and nihilism, Japanese and German languages, manga aesthetic with retro 8-bit graphics, dream sequences and esoteric riddles with sudden changes from third person to first person perspective.

You crash land on a planet, your human companion has disappeared, then, searching for her you find what appears to be a facility over a mining operation. Fragments of testimony and lore as to what happened can be collected, but nothing about Signalis is definitive.

All the references are clear and well chosen. You have the feeling of claustrophobia from Alien, Silent Hill’s sinister zombie disease and horror survival schtick, the character’s journey in Signalis is reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and there are parallels with the game’s progress and the movie The Descent, as the further you descend into the facility the more squalid, grotesque, creepier and unhinged things become.

A futuristic setting, with the colonization of far-away planets and neurotic humanoid Replikas (of which your playable character is one, you learn other models require psychological manipulation with groupthink and fetish items), mixed with puzzles that utilize quixotic forms of antiquated technology sounds an odd mix, but trust me, because you’re that engrossed by surviving and discovering “the facility” and just hoping to reach some kind of resolution amid all the existentialism and angst, you never think ‘oh come on, that’s bollocks that’.

How you progress is mostly linear and at most stages can be played at a pace to suit yourself. It makes any changes of tempo more jarring, when the game leaves you no choice but to act and think quickly. The levels are a series of rooms, which you have to explore for clues to solve puzzles that open up the next level or area of the level, or give you necessary weapon upgrades to advance. While not all rooms pose a threat, the quiet ones in concert with an eerie drone soundtrack instills a sense of dread at what’s waiting behind the next door. Will the zombie bastards ambush you from underneath the floor? When doubling back (and there’s quite a bit of this) will one of the zombies you aced earlier reanimate suddenly? Will that room you’ve yet to explore be pitch black and you don’t yet have the flashlight or have it equipped to see what lurks? There also multiple possible endings, and this is decided by a number of variables; how long your playthrough takes, how often you heal, talk to NPCs and how much combat you engage in.

No game is perfect, but my quibbles with Signalis are minor. You can only carry six items at one time, be it weapons, ammo, collectables that open rooms and special ability upgrades. This is good in a sense, as it increases the challenge and forces you to prioritise inventory and plan ahead, but I found it slightly annoying that certain very small items, say a key, or a ring, took up the same carry space as a fuck off shotgun. And one bit of advice, if you select the survival combat setting you have to ration your ammo and you use it diligently. I learned the hard way, while it is enjoyable to blast and burn the zombies, it’s best to leg it past the weaker slower ones where possible, as using too much (or any) ammo on them can easily leave you short when faced with a boss.

Ultimately, it’s this stuff that matters most when judging games, does it test you and therefore hold your attention? I have yet to play a good game that doesn’t. Does it surprise you? Does the art design and gameplay leave a lasting impression? Signalis checks all these boxes, that it also has a sui-generis story filled with enough ambiguity to encourage the Madeleine McCann question will always be preferable to a Tomb Raider knockoff riddled with exposition. Okay, maybe that was disparaging.

My first playthrough on the survival setting of Signalis took roughly eighteen hours, that’s under half the length of time I took to play both Uncharted games. But at £16 compared with £40 for Uncharted, it was Signalis that proved real value for money.

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Song Of The Day – Freddie Freeloader by Miles Davis

From the album ‘Kind Of Blue’ (1959)

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Song Of The Day – On & On by Erykah Badu

From the album ‘Baduizm’ (1997)

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Hey, SNP, do your job

Solitude defined by internet use is a blight on our mental stability.

Having succumbed, I know that only introspection and self-control can recover a stable equilibrium.

Speaking of which, the SNP need an intervention. They have forgotten that their purpose, and why they win elections, is to deliver independence. It is almost nine years since the referendum and the opportunities of Brexit and inept Tory rule have been squandered. Given that context, waiting for them to remember and act now feels increasingly futile. It’s a chore on a par with sitting through any adaptation of Waiting for Godot.

Irritatingly, the only constitutional skirmish the SNP have sought centers around their Gender Recognition Reform bill. In doing so they’ve aligned with social media’s most barmy tribe, mouth frothing trans-rights activists.

Westminster had to veto this bill given how utterly batshit crazy and incoherent elements of this legislation were. I’d love to believe passing a law, most of the public did not want, or were, at best, very unsure about, making it even easier for men to opt into women’s spaces and compete in women’s sports, was all a means to an end. That the bill’s failure was by design, to show that devolution was a half-measure and sham. Enticing the Tories to block the Gender Recognition Reform bill would have been an excellent piece of political strategy if it was followed by the SNP electing to dissolve the Scottish parliament and using the snap election as a defacto referendum on independence.

But the response was predictably tepid, all talk and no action, from Nicola Sturgeon’s tasteless and inaccurate generalizations to its opposition (how can opposing something that erases single sex spaces for women be misogynistic?), to the incoherent justifications for the bill from the SNP and Greens MPs and MSPs. For those of us who crave independence (or just another chance at it) their stupidity in showing more passion for a mis-conceived bill is a double offence. Independence would actually give them genuine power to implement gender reform, among other things.

This is partly our fault for continuing to indulge the SNP with mandates despite their independence inertia. It’s made them so secure that they can behave with a form of Corbynistic decadence. It’s about maintaining their deified celebrity status among a small whiny clique who claim to speak for a “persecuted” minority and making their devotees feel good, that their utopian vision of an independent Scotland is supported by the leadership and results come second to being on the right side of history.

Thankfully the absolutism of silencing dissent against self-ID, the attempts to normalise the esoteric and bizarre fetishes that have infiltrated the trans-rights fringe, and the Orwellian attempts to control language is starting to be resisted.

Try as the trans-rights nutters might to deny the limitations biology imposes on us all, the SNP seem unable to comprehend that support for independence isn’t likely to increase through focusing on a brand of contentious social justice. Sure, on the surface, supporting trans-rights appears to be the right choice, morally, ethically, even politically. But descend down a trans related rabbit hole and you’ll come across something that makes you recoil. For instance, I discovered that a Eunuch, a proposed recognised gender identity, is essentially a nonce who fantasizes about genital mutilation and believes paedophilia should be legal (even Jimmy Saville would call them wrong’uns). There’s Furries, most just get dressed in large cartoonish animal costumes, harmless enough. Some have sex while dressed as their Furry persona (to each their own), others take it further, they want to have sex with dogs or other non-human mammals (it’s unclear, and will remain so, if they Furry up during the act or how the dogs feel about this). And then there’s sissy porn, Jame Gumb was into this sort of stuff – and you thought watching any film by Uwe Boll, the eye socket scene in A Serbian Film or browsing 4Chan and having a quick gander at Hentai porn was edgy.

Such peculiarities can be amusing, from a distance. The pious tone, disingenuous mental gymnastics and linguistic sleights employed by the trans-righters and the social justice enablers, and the cynical denial of scientific and biological reality that’s necessary to support their arguments, isn’t so funny.

For some acknowledging the infinite number of bespoke and esoteric gender identities and pronouns isn’t enough. Emboldened, now they’re on a power trip, pushing for rights simply because they can. How else do you explain advocating allowing eight-year-olds the right to legally change their assigned sex, to suggest that sex isn’t binary, or worse yet, expanding the trans coterie to normalize the sinister sexual proclivities of some very sketchy people. If anything, the latter encourages humiliation of actual trans people, who benefit from gender reassignment surgery and not just indulging in a bit of cosplaying. Where does this lunacy of eroding the rights of women and removing child safe-guarding, to always affirm first, and leave the questions, data, evidence and social and medical consequences to later, end? What’s next? My pet is trans?

After nine years of faffing about and phony statements of intent, my suspicion is that the SNP are what they appear to be. They’re not captured on the trans issue but just drunk on the power of their own popularity and principles, getting paid to do nothing and never being held accountable.

Convincing most Scots of independence is certainly achievable, and those outside of this trans-rights and self-ID debate bubble, which is still the majority, are far more interested in Scotland’s constitutional future, than how to fairly and reasonably to integrate legitimate forms of gender expression alongside the existing sex-based laws we have. That the SNP should be entrusted to form Scotland’s first government is now a harder sell and independence is clearly an existential risk to the cushy status-quo.

If you want things to change, forcing other people to act as you think they should and believe what you want them to is not a viable strategy. It’s just dishonesty. Remember, Godot never does make an appearance.

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Song Of The Day – Tche Belew by Hailu Mergia & The Walias

From the album “Tche Belew” (2014)

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