The Signal from Tölva
DEVELOPER Big Robot / PUBLISHER Big Robot / WEBSITE www.thesignalfrom.com
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.