Signal Decay – Co-Op Adventure in a Dystopic Cyber-punk Future – PAX West Hands-On

In The IndieMegaBooth, there was a game making quite the buzz, as the thousands of attendees rounded the corner. The game was quite the surprise, which is befitting of the game’s nature. The name of this game was Signal Decay from Nela Systems and developer Zack Zhang.

Signal Decay is a stealth-action co-op adventure taking place in a Cyberpunk Future. In this bleak future, a mind-controlling cyber virus has spread throughout the world, with many humans become infected with nanites. This virus has spread through radio waves, turning humans into cybernetic sentries under complete control. As the player, you wake up to realize that you are not under any control, but you and your partner could very well be the only hope of finding the source of the radio waves and ending this threat.

I sat down with Mr. Zhang, one of the chief developers, and went through several missions in the game. The game is procedurally generated and rogue-lite, where cooperation with the other player is essential, but not restricted. Their philosophy in making the game is to create a co-op experience that is fun, fluid, and does not hold the player back in any way. After a brief introduction, we were thrust right into a training operation.

Immediately, I set my sights on a guard but quickly learned that this game highlighted stealth above all else. I used a sidearm to open fire on the enemies, but it was a slow-shooting handgun. Serviceable, but not the best thing to wield in a bad situation. I began to notice changes in the lighting and textures. The way light manipulated as I moved about yielded a tactical importance, and the over-the-head view made me more aware of various surrounding enemies.  As a stealth-action game, players will need to pay close attention to the views on the map. Mr. Zhang and I went through a few more motions, such as performing assassination attacks and hiding behind structure for better stealth abilities.  After the tutorial, we were onto our first mission.

Signal Decay features X-COM-like elements as well, with the ability to develop weapons, equipment, and choose which mission to deploy from your mother ship. Mr. Zhang and I chose a standard mission deep into enemy territory. Our mission was to destroy a mind control device to help liberate the city from occupational control. Once we dropped into the level, Mr. Zhnag and I had to work together to locate the device. There would be many doors to open and special bonuses to uncover. The trouble was, there is no map. The good news is that uncovered areas stay uncovered and the levels are just the right size so that players won’t get hopelessly lost.

Signal Decay

Mr. Zhnag and I split up, attempting to locate the device. Along the way, we came across special modules to activate. One module actually deactivated firewalls, bringing down trip-lasers and another, shut down the camera. As we moved, we could see the dark areas, indicate movement of nearby enemies. Mr. Zhnag and I snuck around them by hiding under tables and other items, allowing us to slip by. We discovered a special plan to develop rifles as well.

As we moved about, Mr. Zhang and I used our assassination skills to sneak on by, patrols.  We still encountered some challenges, including walking through laser-tripped alarms and being spotted by sentries. However, we still managed to make our way through and soon, we made our way to the mind-control machine. Having successfully disabled it, the level-wide alarm tripped, and we were ambushed.

Mr. Zhang and I fought desperately to escape. Using the stealth mechanics, well-placed shots, and some luck, we managed to survive an ambush from the vicious enemies. We did die several times, but fortunately, we were able to resuscitate each other under fire. We made a  bee line for the extraction zone, where our ship picked us up. With that, Mr. Zhang and I were victorious and the demo ended.

Out of all the games I have played with co-op, I really enjoyed the free, liberating flow of Signal Decay.  Mr. Zhang and I knew each other for a few moments, but we were able to work together in a form of synergy. We split up, conquered enemies, hacked firewalls, and retrieved intel at our own discretion.  We made quick verbal commands to each other and responded quickly. This essentially reminded me of something free and unrestricted, such as Borderlands. It’s hard to believe that this was one level.

Signal Decay proved to be an incredibly solid co-op experience with tight controls, great stealth-action gameplay, and a very good presentation that featured an anime-inspired visual design and a John Wick-inspired rock soundtrack.

Signal Decay launches later this year on Steam and early next year on consoles.

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