General game information
Game name: The Signal From Tölva
Release date: April 10, 2017
Price: US$ 19.99
Genre: First person shooter
Developer: Big Robot
Publisher: Big Robot
The Signal From Tölva is hard to describe without comparing it to other games. Developers Big Robot seem to be huge fans of the Far Cry and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, since their open world science fiction first person shooter takes a lot of cues from these titles. Set in a remote world named Tölva, Big Robot‘s new game lets players hijack robot bodies as they search for the source of a mysterious signal that has attracted three different machine factions to the surface of the planet, where they coexist in a permanent state of war, fighting for control of ruined bunkers and communication beacons.
The game’s controls will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever played a first person shooter on PC (W,A,S,D keys to move, space to jump, shift to run, F to interact, mouse to aim and shoot), and the core gameplay loop is also standard FPS fare, as we will shoot our way through color coded enemy factions, capturing bunkers and radio beacons held by the enemy, and looking for objects that may give us a clue about the mysterious signal that attracted us to this forsaken planet. Luckily, shooting robots is actually quite entertaining, since the weapons feel and sound like powerful death dealers and the graphical effects of laser beams crossing the air and hitting their targets are very well done. Watching enemy factions fight each other during the night is a beautiful spectacle, and a tool that we may obtain after completing a few missions gives us command of a few droids at a time, so we can even engineer AI battles at will (sadly, it replaces a primary weapon and not the weak pistol, forcing us to surrender either our sniper rifle or our close range automatic weaponry in order to equip it). Before attacking enemy outposts we can also whip out our long range optics and mark every unit in sight, so we can track their movements during the fight.
Entering new areas will reveal points of interest in our map, marking resource caches, targets that should be scanned in order to advance the storyline and bunkers/communication beacons to be liberated (a mechanic that will make Far Cry veterans feel right at home). Once we’ve unlocked a bunker or a beacon, we can open the map and hijack a bot in that location, something that can be used as a sort of lore friendly fast travel system. Scanning objectives (accomplished through the use of an alternate vision mode that shows the world in a strange new way) and delivering the data to friendly bunkers will upgrade our faction rank, letting us buy new weapons, or equip more powerful protection suits, which will in turn let us access new areas of the map. After uploading objective data to our outposts, we can also read notes that will slowly reveal the plot of the game.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. comparisons come from the way the AI works, as the different factions fight amongst themselves even when the player isn’t looking. This won’t be immediately obvious, because even though the AI robots battle each other in the ruined plains of Tölva, they don’t seem to be very good at capturing enemy held bunkers without the player’s help (an issue similar to the one present in Monolith‘s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, where the AI Uruks can get promoted and become the player’s Nemesis if they manage to kill them, but the game’s low difficulty almost ensures that this will never happen unless the player dies purposefully). Another thing that’s also very S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-ish is that the game is mostly free from scripted events, with only three exceptions: the intro sequence, the end cutscene and an event which I won’t spoil.
I had a particularly memorable experience while trying to capture a bunker held by the bandit faction, where the last enemy combatant decided to give me and my robot buddies the middle finger just before dying, calling support from orbit and dropping an automated laser turret right in front of the bunker that I’d just wrestled away from the bandits’ control. The turret mowed down my allied ‘bots, and I had to take pot shots at it with my sniper weapons in order to destroy it and complete the bunker’s liberation. Moments like that one aren’t exactly common during a single playthrough, but they greatly enhance the sense of immersion. Supply ships will also fly over contested zones, pumping more robots into the fray (and occasionally transporting the player, if we fast travel to a communications beacon).
Exploring the surface of Tölva can be a peaceful and beautiful experience, with ruins of gigantic machines littering the landscape and making us wonder what kind of cataclysmic event could have destroyed them. Little bird-like creatures may fly over us from time to time, and luminous insects will vacate the green plains as we advance. At some points, I felt like an archaeologist learning about a forgotten civilization through the ruins of their works. Sadly, we are limited to only two speeds, walking or running. Our robotic body can’t fly or move at great speeds, and we can’t commandeer any vehicles, so moving from one mission target to another may end up getting a bit frustrating, as the landscape doesn’t hold that many surprises. The fast travel system can alleviate a bit of the frustration from having to walk/run from one side of the map to the other, but we still have to traverse huge stretches of mostly empty terrain on our own, leading to long periods of downtime.
The game’s audiovisual design is excellent, letting us feel every clank of our mechanical body’s footsteps as we stomp our way through the green pastures of Tölva or experience the cracking sounds and light show of the robots’ beam weaponry as they fight in the distance. A dynamic soundtrack accompanies the player while they explore the world, always there but never on the way.
To summarize, The Signal From Tölva is a thinking man’s shooter, letting players piece together an interesting story as they fight their way through a sci-fi playground controlled by autonomous AI factions. It doesn’t always succeed at what it sets out to do, but at its peak, it’s an excellent mix of the best bits of the Far Cry and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series.
8/10 – Very good.