Alexa, I’m Depressed
HIGH Exploring a murder victim’s childhood memories.
LOW Losing track of the necessary data to complete the sequence.
WTF Getting stuck on random textures while trying to replay the ending.
The Signifier is the first game by Playmestudio, an independent Chilean team. It’s a surreal mystery adventure based around memories, artificial intelligence and politics. Unfortunately, it sets its sights a bit too high and ends up missing the mark.
Beginning a bit like a Philip K. Dick novel, Professor Russel, a scientist, is assigned to discover what hides behind the death of a mega corporation’s vice president. Russel will have to wade through the memories of the deceased and find clues from a first-person perspective by using a specially-built machine.
To help the player with this memory reconstruction and retrieval, there’s an AI named Evee who collects and analyzes fragments of memory. Looking for “raw data” to piece together is the core of gameplay, and these bits of data are essentially like items in Adventure games — the player collects them and tries to find the right place to use them in order to solve a puzzle.
Playmestudio’s art design represents memories like a heavily-glitched reality with some inspired texture work. Some of the memories are mundane, like going through a house where the deceased lived as a child, while others have the player explore a surreal city that seems right out of a Dali painting.
The Signifier‘s real world is a bit less impressive, and the human models look like dolls with limited facial expressions. Luckily there’s not much human interaction, as the player mostly deals with Evee.
Unfortunately, despite the fantastical premise, The Signifier doesn’t innovate or surprise compared to other first-person puzzlers. It’s even a tad boring at times — find the item, use it, and that’s it. For example, find a piece of raw data that looks like a clock? The Professor will have to place it on the wall, right where there’s a suspicious ticking being heard.
Puzzles aside, the plot (no spoilers here) seems to be picking up momentum when the player visits diverse locations like a big tech company’s HQ and an S&M club, but it suddenly ends and leaves many questions hanging in the balance, especially regarding the identity of the killer. While there are multiple endings, none of them seemed to answer much of anything.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually like it when I have to make up my mind about what happens at the end of an ambiguous story, but The Signifier leaves too many things up to the player’s interpretation. The writers added plenty of ingredients to the soup — a mega corporation, an evil government, artificial intelligence, Russel’s relationship with his daughter and more — but forgot to cook it?
The last hour of the adventure dumps everything on the player and expects it to make an impact, but it doesn’t land nearly as well as the first two hours do, which were more tightly written.
Those looking for an intriguing sci-fi tech thriller could do worse than The Signifier – it’s competent and intriguing until the second half. That said, with a more fleshed–out plot, more interesting puzzles and a stronger finish, Playmestudio could have had something special on their hands.
— Damiano Gerli
Disclosures: This game is developed by Playmestudio and published by Raw Fury. 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 completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB but in my opinion, contains Nudity, Sexual Content, Violence, References to Sexual Violence, Strong Language, Blood, Fear and Scary Content.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is subtitled but the subtitles are not resizable. The game is playable even with no audio, since there are no essential audio clues, and all information is given through dialogue. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable. It can be controlled via mouse and keyboard or a controller, walking and looking around is accomplished via the L and R stick, A confirms actions or dialogue choices, while X is used to interact with the “raw data” and Y to open up the menu and travel to a different memory.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).