Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Microreview [video game]: The Signal From Tölva by Big Robot Ltd (developer)

Dark and Foreboding

An hour into The Signal from Tölva, I was not impressed. I was wandering around a lot of wide open, empty yet somehow linear valleys with a couple simple gameplay tools and objectives. It seemed like there wasn't much to it. And there isn't. But it comes together in surprising ways. 

Those sparse landscapes are littered with wreckage. As I progressed through the game, it was quickly obvious that this was a place that used to be important. There are wrecked space ships, wrecked factories, even derelict giant robots, rusting and half-buried in the dirt. The character you play as is working for a mysterious information broker and doesn't actually set foot on the planet. You possess the chassis of surveyor robots, who are the mortal enemies of bandit robots and zealot robots. None of them particularly look or behave differently, which adds a real nihilistic angle to the conflict. Surveyors, bandits, and zealots are all fighting for control over this scrap heap planet to no particular purpose. 

You do have to fight for control though. Progress in the game is largely measured by how many bunkers you control, which are where you can change your weaponry and items, read the story tidbits that fall out of items you collect, and where friendly surveyors spawn. To take control of a bunker, you have to eliminate all of the bandit and/or zealot robots in the immediate vicinity. To aid you, you can fill one of your two weapon slots with a command item which lets you enlist surveyors. They'll follow you around and attack enemies. But draw off too many surveyors to help you take one bunker can result in a previously captured bunker being overrun by enemies and lost. It's a tricky, and somewhat annoying balance. Some of those bunkers are not easy to capture and having to recapture them more than once can be frustrating.

Calling it Far Cry with robots is both reductive and giving it too much credit, because Far Cry makes a better first impression and has a lot more to do, but I really enjoyed this game for reasons that are more difficult to quantify than most games. Tölva has a mystery to it and it's got a melancholy atmosphere. The landscapes are littered with dead machinery, and it took this article by Lewis Gordon to really recognize why they seemed so familiar. I drive past the abandoned, dormant remnants of industry every single day. Its former and current purpose gives me the same feeling of wonder at what it was like when they were in use as I do wandering the planet Tölva. This is not something everyone is going to connect with, but it absolutely increased my appreciation for this game. 

I recognize that it's difficult to recommend a game based on my personal experience with the environment it's portraying, especially when the game parts are mechanically unremarkable. But reviews are not impartial, and I more-or-less played The Signal From Tölva to death because it's got a unique feeling to it and I wanted to experience that as much as I could. A free expansion is in the works, and, for a game that sincerely underwhelmed me at first impressions, I'm very much looking forward to it. I may even read the 48-page lore PDF that the game comes with.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 4/10

Bonuses: +5 evokes feelings of curiosity and wonder over the remains of what may have happened on this alien planet

Penalties: -1 the game parts are very unremarkable

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 (well worth your time and attention)


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Reference: Big Robot Ltd(developer). The Signal From Tölva [Big Robot Ltd, 2017]