The Signal from Tölva Review
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Big Robot
Release: 10th April 2017
Review Key provided by Developer
From the creators that brought us “Sir, You Are Being Hunted” now comes The Signal from Tölva, an open world, exploration Shooter with robots … thingy. Can it transfer the things that made Sir so great or does it collapse at its goals? Well, let´s just say, it got bigger problems than just the name.
Everything starts with a mysterious signal broadcasted by Tölva, attracting the interest of different robot factions. Soon after we find ourselves on the surface of Tölva as one of many robots sent out. By exploring ship wracks, mysterious maze-like structures and capturing more and more bunkers for our faction the truth behind the signal slowly gets unraveled.
Like most indie games The Signal from Tölva tells its story through various log files, you obtain by scanning certain fragments or objects. As hinted, the mission areas you will find them in could be anything, from a wreck to little mazes, offering some nice variation to the Shooter-part. The log files, the interface etc. are also something unique, due to the style that runs through the whole game and its interfaces. Instead of blank normal text, the game presents these in a more robotic DOSBox style.
Additionally the overall artstyle of the open world, the structures and roboters won´t disappoint either. The world itself seems like an interesting mix of nordic highlands, mixed with some sharp edges and sci-fi influences, while the robot and building design resembles a mix of a more classic approach to sci-fi and a dystopian future. A lot I saw in The Signal from Tölva reminded me of things I´ve already seen in films and other games but spiced up with an own vision and style. Subjectively, I preferred Sir, You Are Being Hunted´s style because of its unique setting and design, it could surprise me more often. If you´re a sci-fi fan I´m sure you will like The Signal from Tölva´s world, it´s just a little disappointing in comparison with Big Robot´s previous game.
Yet they failed at one crucial point, which is essential for an open world game, they couldn´t fill it with interesting stuff. Since they created quite a big open world, you will spend most of the time travelling to the different mission areas. The problem is, that you will encounter not much to fill this “standby”-time, except occasional enemy camps, that quickly become repetitive. No interesting ruins, secrets or big optional enemy bases can be found on Tölva. In combination with the mostly free mission design, that throws 10 markers in your face, which you have to explore without much context, your time on Tölva´s surface gets repetitive after a little while. A beautiful world just can´t guarantee an interesting open-world game, if it can´t offer many interesting places, especially if it´s so big like Tölva.
However the main problem of The Signal from Tölva is the Gameplay itself, it´s just not fun for me. On one hand the overall Gunplay doesn´t work, in my eyes, due to the weapon´s accuracy and feedback. All weapons, especially the earlier ones, are amazingly inaccurate, if I aim on an enemy from more than 5 metres away, I most likely won´t hit him, even with a sniper. The fact, that there´s no real hit-feedback doesn´t help either. On the other hand, the created close range combat doesn´t work well in combination with the health and reload system. You dont´have much health and hardly any health regeneration, same for your energy, that powers your weapons. Some weapons deplete said energy in 3-4 shots, requiring you to go in cover and wait for ~5-7 seconds to reload your energy, making you a helpless target in a close combat scenario. I´m sure there are people that can enjoy this slower and different Shooter-Gameplay but for me it didn´t work and I couldn´t really enjoy it honestly, the effects and feeling of the guns are amazing tho.
During your time on Tölva you will shoot a lot of robots and liberate a lot bunkers and camps, leading us to the main feature of The Signal from Tölva: The territory war. Capture enemy bunkers and defend them with your own robots, control allied robots and take back area after area with your own little army, that´s what I thought of, when I read about it. The part that could make it unique, the part that could add a whole new level of depth and let it surpass Sir, You Are Being Hunted … is a tale of massive let-downs and limitations. So, let´s talk about the base capture-mechanic first:
As said before, it´s possible to capture enemy bunkers and camps, if you kill their guards, to let them spawn allied robots. Unfortunately, that´s as far as it gets, your allies won´t attack the enemy bases, they won´t move away much from the bunker or do anything else than guarding the area, they seem gimmicky. The fact, that the game never tells you anything about the status of your bunkers and allied robots underlines this impression. You never know what your allies are doing, if they want to attack the enemy or if the enemy attacks you or captured something. Frankly, it wouldn´t make much sense since they don´t do anything either way. Yet, the fact that this gets praised as the main feature just confuses me, there´s no depth in this system and no way to see if anything is under attack, the bunkers just exist as save points with some cool guards nearby. Why bothering implementing this feature if it doesn´t offer any actual bonuses or possiblities?
The possiblity to control robots leads to a similar conclusion. During the story you will be able to unlock certain command guns, that let you hack allied or hostile robots and give them orders. Sadly, you can only have 4 robots at the same time, denying the possiblity to build an own army and create these base wars yourself. Combined with the very basic order system, that only offers the “attack” and “move” command, it may be cool to command them but is way too limited and basic.
To summarize, the biggest features of the game are mostly just gimmicks or too weak to carry a whole open world game. Honestly, it would have been a lot of work to make this feature as big and complex as it needed to be, to actually make sense, maybe too much for a small indie team.
Last but not least, I need to adress the performance of The Signal from Tölva, which is very mediocre. Its beautiful world, style and robots come with a significant power hunger. My GTX 1070 could barely keep it at stable 60fps at 2560×1440, often dropping in the 40s, on medium settings. Especially the terrain seems to be a massive performance issue, since I often lost 5-10fps, by just looking at the ground. Overall, it´s a demanding game, too demanding in my eyes with some weird issues and problems but mostly bug- and crash-free.
The Signal from Tölva offers a beautiful world and artstyle with colourful landscapes, unique places, a compelling story and a wonderful implementation of its sci-fi theme. Yet it can´t fill its world with enough to keep it interesting for many hours, can´t offer a really fun Shooter experience for me and has not much that let it stand out Gameplay-wise. I´m sure there are people that can enjoy this game, especially if you´re a fan of its Gunplay but overall, I´m disappointed.
To conclude, The Signal from Tölva had the potential to be something big, amazing and unique but instead it´s potential got locked down by too many limitations and problems, leading to a mediocre game, that may only be fun for some people.