A world littered with the imposing corpses of long forgotten robots, strange ancient artefacts, and a mysterious signal just has to be explored. The signal coming from Tölva's surface is responsible for luring three robot factions to it's surface who are all there to discover it's many secrets.
Thanks to information received from 'The Broker' you're able to hijack 'Surveyors' - one of the robot factions exploring the planet - giving you the ability to explore the planet remotely in a robot shell. This is cleverly used as a respawning mechanism and also makes sense of a typical fast-travel system. Get killed out in the field, hijack a different robot at a base of your choosing. Need to quickly get to the other side of the map, hijack a different robot at a base of your choosing. The bases that you're allowed to respawn at are ones which you've already been to, discovered, and liberated.
These are the types of well used gameplay mechanisms that the entire game is built around. The Signal from Tölva doesn't break new ground but what it does, it does well. The hand-crafted open world environment which you must explore has a set of objectives - wipe out the faction at this base, scan an ancient artefact, explore a mysterious ruin - which provide a solid set of tasks for you to complete. Areas of the map are off limits to you early on due to environmental dangers such as pockets of radiation, forcing you to complete a handful of tasks in the currently available area. A smart way then, to force you to level up before heading out in to more dangerous areas. To get through those off limits grounds, you must level up and upgrade your robot shell. Many of the objectives are optional, you must complete a certain amount to level up but if so desired, you may skip the rest. In more sprawling open world games, you can't complete everything and if you attempt to, you'll most likely be bored rotten attempting to do so. Tölva however, balances map size and objectives exceptionally well - I was compelled to do everything in a way that other games often fail at.
Your upgrade path is made possible by terminals at the various bases dotted around the map - you collect currency as you destroy other robots and find objects and items. At these terminals, you can purchase new weapons, gadgets, and suit protection which allow you to venture to new parts of the map, absorb more damage, or - crucially - do more damage. Not one of those upgrades feels out of reach and if anything, are actually too easy to get. Only on one occasion did I have to go out and grind to afford a vital upgrade.
The core game play of Tölva is based around simply being a solid, fairly slow-paced shooter. It's one which I can't in good conscience put it up their with the likes of Wolfenstein but it's a good, if not exceptional FPS. I was left underwhelmed by the long-range tactical game play however which I thought I may favour early on. The long range weapons didn't seem particularly useful, I found myself heading out with two machine guns most of the time (you get two weapon slots and a third 'sidearm' weapon). It's possible that I made that judgement too early in the game but I felt forced to play a certain way - which isn't necessarily a terrible thing but when given the choice of tactical game play by your loadout, it feels like it should be a little more accessible. Indeed, you're given a set of 'binoculars' which allow you to scan the landscape and 'tag' your enemies to keep track of their movements. It is however seemingly impossible to pick them off - or pick even one of them off - long-range. A personal disappointment but one which I got over quickly enough due to the otherwise enjoyable battles.
There is a lack of variation from the enemies that you face. For the most part, you'll be facing the same units as yourself, with just a different colour shell to distinguish which faction you belong to. Those enemies will use different weapons but largely fight the same way, some later enemies will put up a shield in the same way that you yourself can. The battles are shaken up by turrets which are dropped down into your path, they provide heavy fire power but are easily defeated by taking cover, something which you'll find yourself doing a lot of. In fact, most of the fights are the same in this way, take cover, shoot, take cover, reload, shoot. It doesn't matter which enemy you face, this will be how you win the majority of your battles. The Signal from Tölva is short enough that this doesn't become too repetitive but some variation in the AI may have provided an extra fun-factor, a little more dynamism.
The Signal from Tölva is as much about exploration as it is gun play. Big Robot have crafted a great-looking and - more importantly - interesting world which compels you to explore. The many shells of robot corpses or ancient structures are interesting enough but the surface of Tölva also features alien mazes which were easily my favourite part of the game. They are fantastic. As you stumble upon them, they'll be a huge mystery, they'll drag you in and either piss you off or delight you. As you walk through the mazes, you'll find yourself retracing your own steps - parts of the mazes sort of teleport you around themselves. To 'solve' them you must find the right path, it takes some trial and error and you'll sometimes leave wondering if you've seen everything they have to offer, if you've discovered all of it's secrets. They leave you a little confused, leave you feeling like you don't quite understand their purpose and considering that we're on an alien world, I loved leaving with that feeling. Many games feel a need to spell everything out to you but these mazes would have felt worse-off and definitely far less interesting had they'd have spilled the beans. I can't think of a game which has perfected that feeling quite like The Signal from Tölva.
The game features a simple plot which acts as nothing more than a vehicle to help you explore the world. It ticks along as you venture further out, not stealing the scene but providing enough reason for you to move on. Primarily told through messages delivered to you via terminal, it takes a twist at the end which provides you with a choice to make, each choice making a difference to which of the two endings you see. Coming right at the end of the game, the choice doesn't provide any real replay value. To see both, I simply loaded up a save before I made my choice. Neither ending provided a satisfying conclusion and if I'm honest felt a little 'tacked on' - the disadvantages of such a small team working on an open world game, perhaps?
A solid shooter which does exploration on an alien world exceptionally well. Re-using well-worn gameplay mechanics, The Signal from Tölva doesn't break new ground but everything it does do, it does well. A fun if unspectacular 10 hours.
- Exploration and discovery on an alien world, exceptionally well done
- Solid, if unspectacular, gunplay
- A perfectly sized world that overcomes potentially boring repetition
- An unsatisfying ending
- A lack of variety in enemy encounters