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    The Signifier: the yellow of the future is the human mind

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    Philippe Gloaguen
    @philippegloaguen

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    Many like me will have grown up on bread and CSI Las Vegas (Criminal Minds lovers don't want it), a series with an unshakable faith in science where a murder is solved by finding blood traces, fingerprints and fibers that connect the killer to the crime scene, all in the time of a coffee break. Imagine now taking Gil Grissom's scientific method and projecting it into futuristic tech noir The Signifier where the investigations take place directly in the victim's brain, bringing us closer to an In Treatment session than to a good detective story.



    In an era on the brink of the artificial intelligence revolution The Signifier stands as a kind of Minority Report that does not foresee the murders through the use of Precogs but investigates the last memories of the victim's mind, as long as the brain has not been reduced to pulp. The traditional analysis of the crime scene is accompanied by reliving the last, terrible, experience lived by the subject before dying, an operation useful to bring to the surface traumas that are particularly significant in the victim's past that have conditioned fears and remorse for a lifetime. .

    The investigations conducted by Frederick Russell they are not the usual hunt for the culprit made up of gathering evidence and joining the dots but digging deeply into the victim's psyche to extrapolate the truth, or rather the reality. You will quickly learn how smoky these concepts are in The Signifier, a title that loves to overturn paradigms such as objectivity and subjectivity trying to refresh the fixed formula of first-person investigative several stumbles. For such a delicate task as that of probing a troubled soul, the usual rude and alcoholic detective was not in the case of Playmestudio, a Chilean house at the debut, which preferred to characterize its protagonist with a blackboard full of equations and a library of writings psychoanalytic rather than the usual yellow raincoat.



    Halfway between psychoanalyst and detective

    Being an engineer expert in artificial intelligence and psychology has allowed Russell to develop a futuristic and controversial scanner of deep brain activity called "Dreamwalker“, The explorer of dreams, a machine that processes and reconstructs through hundreds of thousands of simulations per second the memories left imprinted in the cerebral cortex in search of the most significant emotions experienced in the last hours of the victim's life.

    THIS IS NOT A PIPE

    To understand the essence of The Signifier you need to visualize the two (plus two) authors who act as the cornerstone of the game world: Ray Kurzweil whose The Singularity is Near is scattered throughout most of the game's libraries, and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan who postulated the so-called "mirror phase", according to which the child develops the idea of ​​himself because it is different from that of others. The first is known for predicting the imminence of technological singularity, that is, the point where technological progress (AI) is close to exceeding the point of understanding and prediction by humans.

    Lacan is responsible for the notion of signifier (signifier precisely), an abstract entity that symbolizes the concrete concept and takes on meaning only if placed in relation to other signifiers, taking up the terminology of the linguist de Saussure who spoke of langue (concept in itself, like the idea of ​​a tree for example) and words (the association of letters "tree" that we connect to that specific entity made of leaves, bark and so on). The emphasis on the concept of signifier is made clear by the giant poster that triumphs over the protagonist's workshop, a print of the famous painting by Rene Magritte which portrays a pipe and the caption "this is not a pipe", an apparent contradiction that is explained by the fact that that is the representation of the object, not the thing itself.



    Inevitable, when it comes to technological advancement and corporations, it is George Orwell, which is cited with 1984 and Animal Farm, dystopian works (to which we dedicated an episode of the Mental Travel column) whose seeds are perceivable within the world of The Signifier through newspaper articles, gossip and personal relationships more and more reduced to individuality.

    THE STRANGE DEATH OF J ****** K ***

    At the center of it all is the discovery of the body of the vice president of the computer giant Go-AT, the most important company in the world in the technological field. Russell is called to investigate what on the surface it would seem like a suicide under the mandate of the TSB, a super government agency that encompasses the three major US agencies: CIA, FBI and NSA. Taking the first steps in Russell's laboratory we become familiar with the game that throws suggestions at us through newspaper articles, Magritte's painting and the dossier on the victim and with The Signifier's society is extremely dominated by social media while the boundary between AI and man becomes more and more unstable.

    In an increasingly interconnected and smart world to survive it is vital to be one step ahead of literally ruthless competition, and in this play of force between Go-AT and TSB we will have in our hands the power to choose where to tip the scales. of the technological revolution based on what our choices will be during the investigation.

    After familiarizing yourself with our hovel and reading the Johanna Kast, the time has come to insert what remains of the woman's brain activity into the Dreamwalker's scanner, a sort of Animus controlled by the reassuring voice of the AI EVEE which governs the machinery and is responsible for rationalizing its data. But before delving into the psyche of one of the most influential personalities of the contemporary world of The Signifier, our contact at TSB reminds us that there is still room for an old-fashioned investigation, advising us to pop into Kast's apartment while we leave EVEE to process terabytes upon terabytes of raw data.



    LOSE YOURSELF IN THOUGHTS

    The trip to the victim's apartment is useful above all to get a real picture of the house and of the things inside it, a way to orient oneself in the opaque and metaphysical reconstructions of the subject's memories. It is important to clarify how The Signifier acts on three parallel planes: the real world, lo objective state and that subjective. Both mental states are an expression of the victim's memories and feelings accessible through the Dreamwalker who for each scene elaborates both an objective state, for how the victim has seen and remembers it, and a subjective one, in which emotions play a role. primary with manifestations such as anger, shame and remorse that become concrete elements that distort the scenario.

    Pressing the button Q it is possible to switch from one state to another by solving some environmental puzzles that will help Russell interpret raw data escaped EVEE's control or disable emotions and feelings so strong that they block progress towards the end of the memory, thus adding another piece to our mosaic that we can exploit in the real world or another. I remember.

    At first glance The Signifier does not fascinate with its landscapes or texture qualities, far from it, being rather woody in the movements and sufficient in the animations of the (few) characters, but the music changes when we enter the memories. The graphic artifices that mix, deconstruct and blend memories are incredibly suggestive and surreal, upsetting what would otherwise be common settings such as a kitchen or a living room and transforming them into dreamlike places in which to get lost and be amazed.

    The artistic direction is therefore excellent, able to distort and involve the player using many different styles that superbly characterize Johanna's mental state according to the occasion. An example is the violent pixellizations of the environments in the objective state while in the subjective one the figures become clearer but also distorted and provocative, as well as being more easily misunderstood by EVEE thus generating glitches (desired), but unfortunately also many (ssimi) unwanted.

    Solving environmental puzzles by manipulating perspective, using avatars, raw objects and timelines to discover a new plot node is very satisfying because of the many twists and turns and the extreme uniqueness of the journey.

    STORY OF A SIGNIFICANT

    The intersection of the stories of Russell and Johanna is indeed suggestive and certainly not trivial, but it has a deficiency at the base: the investigative component. This is because the game promises three final macros to be unlocked exclusively based on the choices in the dialogues, totally ignoring any autonomous investigative component, which on balance hardly ever emerges, because there is simply no room for path errors. The Signifier is the story of a track investigation, whose only element on which the player is not held by the hand is the finding and possible communication of a specific numerical code.

    Don't trust it therefore some far-fetched parallels that you find around with Sherlock Holmes to name one, since here we are much closer to a What Remains of Edith Finch or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Despite the almost total linearity of the plot, Playmestudio have still been able to set up a story that convinces most of the time, leaving more than a few perplexities at the end, going in part to ruin the good feeling created with the characters - who sin in models and animations that are too clumsy - but who still remain on average interesting, although often inconclusive.

    Despite the final closure of the story which gives the impression of being done in a hurry, The Signifier gives a really interesting atmosphere that not all exponents of the genre are able to return by keeping the player on their toes for almost the entire experience by exploiting the charm and mystery that the human mind manages to arouse (with even a little jumpscare at the end, a nice note). To complete the five chapters it will not take more than 8 hours for the first run, while if you are a completist and want to unlock all three endings you will have to count another 4 or 5 per run if you do not want to go through the manual selection of the chapters already played.

    BETTER THAN A SITTING FROM THE BRAIN WRINGER?

    In conclusion The Signifier has several strengths but just as many defects. The story despite that aura of incompleteness given by the ending entertains well and is genuinely interesting and unpredictable, despite the fact that the investigative component is reduced to the bone and the choices available to the user do not seem to have weight, if not in a couple of occasions that affect the final. The alternation between objective and subjective state is a very successful touch which represents the real strength of the title given that you will hardly find something so immersive and introspective in other productions.

    And it is precisely on the technical side that Playmestudio's first work gives the feeling of being immature given the presence of several bugs which considerably weigh down its playability. Before updating my eight gigabyte VRAM RX580 I had a couple of crashes and several interpenetrations with the walls and also sinking into the floor (almost all in a certain game area by the way), problems that have significantly diminished after the 'latest update of Radeon Adrenalin on October XNUMXth, but in any case, comparing myself with the developers, they have already announced a substantial patch Day1 to correct numerous problems. Don't be frightened by this aspect because it could be problems related to my hardware, or badly you have the refund option on Steam.

    This inexperience also affects the imperfect use of the game engine, especially as regards the animations of the NPCs and the movements of the protagonist, unfinished aspects that can turn up one's nose but are passable, while in the graphic sector The Signifier is saved thanks to the extraordinary ability to return psychedelic and distorted environments that perfectly convey the idea of ​​a journey in the mind.

    Il sonoro it is of a very good level both in the music (very apt) and in the dubbing, notwithstanding Italian is not present neither for the dialogues nor for the texts, so you will have to brush up on your English and while you're at it, brush up on the basic computer and psychology manuals.

    USEFUL INFO

    The investigation was possible thanks to a free code using my trusted Ryzen 1600 and an RX580 8Gb instead of the usual investigator kit made of magnifying glass and notebook

    Duration
    • The game consists of five chapters that can be finished in a period of time ranging from 6-9 hours. There are three endings in total which add additional hours of gameplay
    Structure
    • The Signifier is a first-person investigative thriller that mixes the detective genre with psychology and artificial intelligence theories
    Game Card
    • Game Name: The Signifier
    • Release date: October 15, 2020
    • Platforms: PC
    • Dubbing language: English
    • Texts language: English

    Who is The Signifier recommended for? To everyone and nobody, first of all because at the time of the review the price was not announced on the Steam page - I assume the classic twenty euros -, secondly for the amount of bugs that can discourage but which will be fixed shortly, according to the developers. The picture that emerges from this review is of an interesting game, which touches relatively new themes for the medium with very unusual and particular mechanics (can a person's life be reduced to a computer simulation?), But in doing so he gets lost in a glass of water stumbling close to the finish.

    Don't expect the delicate impetuosity with which Ninja Theory has told the mind of Senua (which we have covered far and wide) but rest assured that if you are passionate about psychology you will hardly be disappointed from having played The Signifier, even if only for the ethical questions it poses. But if you're a hardcore detective story fan, you might want to move on.

    Videogamingallday.com review
    Graphics

    The Signifier does not have the horsepower of a custom-built car to invest in the naked and raw graphics sector (textures with a very high level of detail or hyper expressive faces), at all. The independent vocation of the Chilean production can be seen above all in these details that denote the extreme rigidity of the animations or the irreproachable resolution of some backdrops, but given the dreamlike nature of the game, Playmestudio have invented some psychedelic effects with a strong suggestive impact that well they characterize the experience and give faith to the mental processes of the victim. Once the compromise is accepted, the game manages to give very disturbing and evocative glances

    70
    SOUNDTRACK AND DOUBLE ROOM

    Absent the Italian dubbing, the Anglo-Saxon one is of very good quality and manages to give a feeling of reality that helps to immerse yourself in history by causing some unfulfilled thrills during the moments in which EVEE will not be able to process clear memories and we will have to deal with images and sounds corrupt. The soundtrack that manages to return the right mood depending on whether it is a sad or happy memory, but is not lacking in some sporadic bugs.

    75
    GAMEPLAY

    The Signifier is little more than a walking simulator that tests the player with more or less immediate puzzles useful for completing a memory and bringing out new evidence to light. The game is less linear than one might think but the endings remain not excessively dissimilar from each other and justify at most another replay

    65
    Total Rating scale
    66
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