Signalis on Game Pass makes excellent use of a simple security code puzzle
For all their top-secret military bases and heavily guarded castles, the video game world is still woefully reckless when it comes to security. Look no further than the likes of Dying Light 2, The last of us part 1or Deathloopwhere computer passwords and safe combinations are scrawled on scraps of paper hidden just a few feet away.
The same cannot be said about Signal ice, the throwback survival-horror game that was released a couple of weeks ago on Game Pass. It takes place in the outer reaches of a fictional star system, on a wintry planet not unlike the Antarctic research base of John Carpenter’s The thing. Something has gone wrong in an underground facility, and when an android recently awoke from hibernation, it’s your job to descend into the complex, fend off wild zombies, and solve a bunch of environmental puzzles from a top-down perspective.
[Ed. note: Light puzzle spoilers follow for Signalis.]
One of the game’s earliest obstacles is a locked safe in a classroom on the east side of the map. When I first encountered the safe, I breathed heavily and, disappointed that an otherwise classy game would resort to such a tired video game trope, began searching the classroom and the rooms next to it for the code’s revealing note. I fell short.
Instead, I found a service request form. It read: “The wall safe in classroom 4B continues to reset to the default combination. What’s the point of the whole radio code broadcasting system if our safe can only be opened with the code in the manual?” Naturally, this triggered a search for said manual. But first I found an aperture card—a largely defunct technology that, among other functions, allows viewing an embedded piece of microfilm. I took it to a microfilm viewer I had previously stumbled upon and voila: It was the standard security code, in ghostly, enlarged print.
Not only did this puzzle strike the ever-elusive balance between challenging and intuitive, but it also made sense in the context of Signal ice‘ world: This is a facility built on a class system that works to keep important information away from the prying eyes of miners, janitors, and bodyguards. It is natural that the bureaucratic elite would not leave important safe combinations lying on a table or in an open cupboard. It took an agitated written complaint (which, judging by the file number, had gone through several layers of red tape) to send me, a lowly android, on the right track.
In certain cases, I don’t mind finding a keyboard code written on a nameplate. There’s a certain self-awareness at play — something that says, “Look, this is a video game, and sometimes characters have to be stupid for you to have fun.” (Exchange is still my favorite game from Arkane Studios, and it’s one of the top offenders of this trope.)
But there’s something exciting about existing in a game world where NPCs are actually careful, thoughtful, and discerning. It adds to the voyeuristic quality by analyzing the character of someone who explicitly did it not want me to do it. Developer rose engine has flooded Signal ice with puzzles that provide that excitement.
I’m not saying I want every game to include two-factor authentication tasks (in fact, it could be pretty fun), but I think the vocabulary of video games is widespread enough that traditional safe-cracking and computer hacking tasks have to go the way of the aperture card. When studios populate the world with intelligent people, they trust their players to respond in turn. We throw around the word “immersive” so often, but it’s a rare game that actually earns the label. Signal ice deserves a place on the list.