The Sig­nal from Tölva

DE­VEL­OPER Big Robot / PUB­LISHER Big Robot / WEB­SITE www.thes­ig­nal­


De­vel­oped by four-man stu­dio Big Robot, The Sig­nal from Tölva is a remarkably am­bi­tious open-world shooter, which aims to pro­duce emer­gent com­bat sit­u­a­tions in­spired by Stalker: Shadow of Ch­er­nobyl, but on a beau­ti­fully painted alien planet.

The premise is in­trigu­ing, if a touch con­vo­luted. You play a client of an in­ter­stel­lar in­for­ma­tion bro­ker, seek­ing the source of a mys­te­ri­ous sig­nal on the planet Tölva, which is also the site of a ground war be­tween three fac­tions of ro­bots. The bro­ker ar­ranges for you to hack into one of these drone armies, known as the Sur­vey­ors, so you can seek out the sig­nal for your­self. How­ever, the sig­nal is gar­bled by noise emit­ting from many other strange ob­jects on the planet, which you must in­ves­ti­gate one by one, while deal­ing with am­bushes and skir­mishes from the op­pos­ing ro­botic forces.

The for­mat is a stan­dard open-world af­fair, with you un­der­tak­ing mis­sions on the game map, which see you in­ves­ti­gat­ing the epony­mous sig­nals, con­quer­ing en­emy fortresses and clear­ing out dan­ger­ous am­bush sites. The struc­ture isn’t ex­tra­or­di­nary, but it’s made in­ter­est­ing by the stun­ning, of­ten eerie en­vi­ron­ment de­sign. Tölva is a planet of azure skies, pas­tel-coloured mead­ows and an­gu­lar rock for­ma­tions. How­ever, it’s also a tech­no­log­i­cal grave­yard, where giant ro­botic skele­tons and shat­tered star­ships are as much part of the land­scape as its grasp­ing stone fingers.

Ex­plor­ing this land­scape is the game’s great­est joy, re­ward­ing you with oth­er­worldly ex­pe­ri­ences. There are TARDIS-like build­ings where the in­ter­nal struc­ture de­fies Eu­clid­ian ge­om­e­try, and haz­ardous zones where ra­di­a­tion or chem­i­cal con­tam­i­na­tion have bent the en­vi­ron­ment out of shape. Un­for­tu­nately, you can only in­ter­act with this game world by scan­ning var­i­ous ob­jects, giv­ing you text logs that shed patches of light on the story. These logs are well-writ­ten, but they’re a touch an­ti­cli­mac­tic as re­wards.

As a shooter, Tölva is solid and oc­ca­sion­ally spec­tac­u­lar. Its laser guns sat­is­fy­ingly flash and rat­tle, and en­emy ro­bots ex­plode dra­mat­i­cally. As a space for emer­gent play, how­ever, Tölva is se­verely un­der­cooked. Its three-way war doesn’t evolve in a mean­ing­ful fash­ion, with only a hand­ful of en­emy types in the en­tire game.

You can re­cruit al­lies, but only give them ba­sic or­ders, and you can’t sum­mon re­in­force­ments or de­ploy squads to cap­ture en­emy fortresses. In short, Tölva lacks a strate­gic layer to make its three-way-war suf­fi­ciently dy­namic, and doesn’t sup­port enough tac­ti­cal op­tions to in­fuse va­ri­ety into in­di­vid­ual bat­tles.

The Sig­nal from Tölva is a flawed gem. It has a stun­ning world and in­trigu­ing mys­ter­ies, but its sys­tems don’t pos­sess the nec­es­sary depth to make its con­cept work. As a de­vel­oper, Big Robot has po­ten­tial in spades, but The Sig­nal from Tölva fails to fully cap­i­talise on it.

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