Your Signal’s Weak

HIGH An interesting puzzle concept.

LOW There is little on offer except puzzles of a similar nature.

WTF Where is my Korg synthetizer?

When I review games, I always try to imagine a possible audience for anything that I review — even for the more obscure ones, or those titles that I did not particularly appreciate. Sometimes, though, the target audience is so niche that conceptualizing one is especially difficult. This is the case with The Signal State.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the player is tasked with solving logic puzzles built around modular synthetizers — essentially, the player must bring a source signal to an output with a frequency required by the instructions. There is a small narrative built around restoring old machines in a farm and bringing back forgotten technology to improve agriculture, but the vast majority of the experience is solving these puzzles.

On a single screen, the player is shown the modules available and the intended objectives for each puzzle. By clicking around, one selects a modules from the lower racks and inserts them somewhere on the centered main first-person view. Then it will be time to connect the units together with wires, from the initial input to the final output. Modules can be moved around freely here, which is useful if one is looking for a less cluttered aesthetic result, even though that changes little in regards to the objective and final score.

All in all, it does really look and feel like a technical application (like Fruity Loops or Audacity) rather than a game. By interacting with the selected modules, the player must then try to see if they can reach the desired frequencies for the output.

Except for a few screens where one exchanges messages with NPCs, The Signal State‘s action takes place on that single screen, where more modules will become available as one progresses. For example, the player will gain an amplifier that strengthens a signal based on the player’s choice of amplitude, or a splitter that allows connecting a single input to multiple outputs.

With this setup, the biggest problem here is that the player will require lots of explanation and help in order to understand what each module does to the signal and how everything works together — these aren’t simple puzzles of the kind that are found in other games and easily solved by laymen. Unfortunately, The State Signal doesn’t seem to have any interest in helping the player get up to speed if they’re not already a radio expert. Small, unlabeled buttons clutter many of the modules and basic control issues confound — for example, it’s impossible to to adjust the sensitivity of the various knobs. It sometimes requires a full 30 seconds of rotating the mouse wheel to change a dial from -100% to +100%.

I honestly can’t envision The Signal State appealing to anyone besides hardcore fans of “logical puzzles built around modular synthetizers” — and do those people even exist? I found myself wasting too much time just trying to understand what each module does, so the entertainment value for someone like me who’s coming to it with no previous knowledge of the subject will be minimal.

If my description of The Signal State sounds appealing and the thought of having little-to-no hand-holding through the process doesn’t scare one off, then indeed, this might be the right game to spend a few hours with. Otherwise, steer clear — it’s impossible to recommend this title with the developers failing to take any real steps towards opening this experience up to potential players.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Reckoner Industries and published by Indienova. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but it contains no blood nor violence, except for a few scenes towards the end of the game which are relayed only through text. So, if the main topic is of interest, this can be recommended to all ages.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue, but some audio is used to relay the frequency of the modules and to let the player know if they’re delivering what each puzzle requires. The text cannot be altered or resized, and many of the onscreen buttons are small and do not offer a description. In my view, the game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game is controlled via the mouse, with the scroll wheel that can be used to adjust the frequency of some of the modules. There are some limited keyboard shortcuts, it is not possible to remap the controls.

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