The Signal State (PC) Review

The Signal State invites you to experience a more grounded version of the post-apocalypse, tasking you with bringing a farm to life by way of rewiring and hacking. Are the logic puzzles good enough to offset the minimalist aesthetics and limited narrative?
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The Signal State – developed by Reckoner Industries and published by The Iterative Collective – feels distinctly minimalist in design. That said, it offers up no shortage of challenging logic- and optimization-based puzzles, all wrapped in a light narrative. Unfortunately, it’s also a game in which it’s easy to hit a roadblock and bring your progress grinding to a halt. When that happens, it serves to break any narrative pacing and highlight other shortcomings.

Story

The premise, like the presentation, is simple but also novel and intriguing. In The Signal State’s alternate future, equipment and machinery that utilised circuit boards simultaneously stopped working in some sort of tech apocalypse. With so much of the world dependent on automated and mechanized systems, civilisation plunges into a technological dark age, leaving people scrambling to rewire and restore old systems. Your unnamed and unvoiced protagonist – who was born after this event – has joined an expedition out of the cities to restore an old farm and claim more agricultural land.

When it comes to simple dialogue trees, you’re offered some control and can choose between a confident or uncertain response. If you’re uninterested in the narrative, you can just choose the confident responses and get right into the action. Those interested in the background narrative layer, or those looking for some hints upfront, can choose the uncertain response to learn more details about the task at hand and the tools at their disposal. Every few levels, you’ll also get the opportunity to push characters for details on the state of the world before, during, and after the collapse, providing a bit of simple world-building.

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The premise is simple but novel for a post-apocalyptic setting – restore an old farm to life to expand agricultural activity.

Gameplay

The primary tool you’ll use is the “Modular Rewiring System”, a tool board for mounting modules and wiring. This allows you to use simple wiring components, switches, and logic boards to replicate the signal-modulating function of more complex circuits. As you might imagine, this requires the creative use of a simple toolset, compounded by a limited workspace as the requirements increase in complexity.  

Things start easy enough, with a single source that needs to be modulated in some way before reaching a single output. However, you’ll soon have to account for multiple sources and outputs, each requiring a different degree or type of modulation. Splitting and summing signals, adding a voltage offset, amplifying or inverting the signal – the opening dozen levels (of 40-ish) are the easy part, with several of them functioning as straightforward tutorials.

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Things start easy enough – and typically with a dedicated tutorial level – though you’ll soon learn to pair modules to achieve what you’d think would be a simple function.

Next up are components that modulate a signal based on another input, or function as a gate for a binary signal (0 or 100 volts). After that comes the logic modules – AND, OR, and NOT – which allow you to control the signal under specific conditions. Later still, you’ll have to incorporate timers and sequential switches. However, even with all these modules, you’ll soon discover they’re not enough to solve the myriad of challenges presented. As a result, you’ll need to get creative by pairing modules – in sequence or parallel – to provide more functionality.

When dealing with multiple sources and outputs, it’s challenging to find the right sequence, but you can often break it down and solve each objective individually. However, it’s not long before you’ll receive 3-4 conditions, with 3-4 sources, yet require only one resultant output that needs to fluctuate based on multiple conditions. At this point, you’ll begin wracking your brain to find the right sequence of interdependent modules. Once you’re past the halfway, there are typically multiple solutions, but you’ll want to find the most optimal one if you want to post a score high up on the leaderboards.

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Things get messy as soon as multiple sources must be used to generate a single output. You have to break down each condition, and then integrate them to match the final waveform. Thankfully, there are several tools to “debug” your configuration and work through each signal step.

There are many tools and configurations to consider as the game progresses, but the user interface is up to the task – so long as you are thoughtful and methodical about module and wire placement. The simple visuals ensure clarity, there are wire organizing tools, you can type your own notes, and the visual waveform feedback at the bottom of your “MRS” is a simple way to assess the output. There’s also a hint system in place that’ll eventually spell out the modules you need for each step, but it never provides the solution outright.

If The Signal State has one major downside, it’s the ability to become completely stuck, incapable of finding an ideal solution as your board slowly grows into an incomprehensible mess of crisscross wires and tightly packed modules. Given the slowly unravelling background narrative, I felt there should be a “skip puzzle” option to allow players to progress. On the other hand, the iterative learning experience means any subsequent level would probably be tougher still.

At launch, The Signal State can feel a little lightweight in comparison to other logic- and optimisation-based puzzlers but the upcoming Steam Workshop integration will allow you to create your own puzzles or attempt to solve those created by others.

hints
With a narrative thread, it would be useful to allow you to skip puzzles if the hints haven’t set you on the right track. However, the puzzle complexity increases iteratively, so failing to solve one is likely to leave you stumped on the next as well.

Presentation

The presentation is simple but effective. Weighing in at under 300 MB, the visual experience consists of static backdrops, scrolling text logs, and one incredibly detailed wiring board. It looks and feels great once you start placing modules and dragging wires around, but there’s little visual flourish outside of watching a correct waveform trace across the display.

The sound effects and chilled music do most of the heavy lifting. The limited but excellent soundtrack can put you into a zen-like state while studying the board and planning your next setup. Generating a successful signal trace also rewards you with a ramping succession of jingles, as it plays out across the display. Unfortunately, spend enough time stuck on one puzzle, and the limited number of music tracks and lack of audio feedback quickly become apparent.

narrative
The dialogue interface is equally simple but the writing – covering your tasks, equipment, and the state of the world – is well written, if a little dense at times.

Conclusions

Overall, The Signal State is a minimalist but compelling puzzle game that wraps a sequence of increasingly tough logic puzzles in an intriguing narrative layer, with snippets of world-building to keep you going. It’s a great way to add some context to the puzzling, though the pacing goes to hell whenever you hit a roadblock. At this point, the fluidity of assembling, disassembling, and optimising your wiring – all to a fantastic soundtrack – should keep you coming back for another dozen or so attempts before turning to the internet for a solution!

The Signal State (PC) Review

The Signal State (PC) Review
7 10 0 1
The Signal State is a minimalist but compelling puzzle game that wraps a sequence of increasingly tough logic puzzles in an intriguing narrative layer. It is, however, possible to hit lengthy roadblocks that disrupt the pacing and highlight the limited audio-visual elements. Thankfully, the fluidity of assembling, disassembling, and optimising your wiring – all to a fantastic soundtrack – should keep you coming back for several dozen attempts before turning to the internet for a solution.
The Signal State is a minimalist but compelling puzzle game that wraps a sequence of increasingly tough logic puzzles in an intriguing narrative layer. It is, however, possible to hit lengthy roadblocks that disrupt the pacing and highlight the limited audio-visual elements. Thankfully, the fluidity of assembling, disassembling, and optimising your wiring – all to a fantastic soundtrack – should keep you coming back for several dozen attempts before turning to the internet for a solution.
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    It's minimal, but the narrative layer and novel premise give your puzzling some context.
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    The fluidity of assembling, disassembling, and optimising your wiring should keep you coming back again and again. That said, it's possible to hit roadblocks with little way to progress beyond waiting for an internet solution (the hint system will only take you so far).
  • Visuals
    7/10 Good
    Simple but the Modular Rewiring System board looks great, conveys all the information you need, and animates smoothly.
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good
    There's not a lot of music tracks or audio feedback, but it perfectly fits the experience and will keep you in the mood for more puzzling.

The Good

  • Intriguing narrative layer
  • Slick, intuitive interface
  • Dozens of increasingly tough logic puzzles to solve
  • Great soundtrack and audio-visual feedback

The Bad

  • The limited hint system and no ability to skip puzzles can lead to frustrating roadblocks
  • The minimalist style might turn off some
Total
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