Price: £14.99 Developer: Big Robot Publisher: Big Robot Platform: PC
S.T.A.L.K.E.R in space, with robots. That’s more or less the premise of the Signal From Tölva. The new game from Sir, You Are Being Hunted! developers Big Robot sees players exploring an eerie and desolate planet, seeking out strange artefacts while a dynamic war plays out amongst three factions of mechanical drones. It’s a game that punches far above its weight, as the developers aim to replicate the open-world, emergent FPS action of games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R with only a fraction of the resources.
Remarkably, the Signal From Tölva more or less matches S.T.A.L.K.E.R blow for blow, providing a unique and truly captivating world to explore, peppered with vicious skirmishes between patrols of laser-toting robots. Unfortunately, it also suffers from the same fundamental problem as S.T.A.L.K.E.R, which is that its systems aren’t robust enough to generate the grand emergent experience the developers hope to deliver.
Tölva places you in control of one of its three robotic factions. Well, sort of. You play as a client of an interstellar information broker, who empowers you with the ability to hack into the faction of Surveyor drones exploring the planet Tölva. Your objective is to investigate a strange and powerful signal emitting from somewhere on the surface. But the signal’s location is masked by a bunch of other signals created by crashed starships, ancient relics, and inexplicable anomalies, all singing their frequencies into space like the galaxy’s weirdest choir.
Hence you must establish a foothold on the surface and investigate these signals one by one. At the same time, you must deal with territorial incursions by the other robotic factions – the booty-hunting bandits and the mysterious Zealots – both of which have their own interest in Tölva’s technological graveyard.
By far Tölva’s greatest triumph is its environment design, which is a prime example of how artistry and imagination can outperform raw technical fortitude. Tölva is a world of grassy plains and spiky rock formations scarred with the wreckage of dead civilisations and gargantuan space battles, all painted with bright and gentle pastille hues that recall the picturesque landscapes of Ed Key’s Proteus.
Unlike, Proteus, however, there is nothing abstract or random about Tölva’s art. Every rock and plant, every scrap of debris has been thought about intensely and placed with clear purpose. This commitment to a handcrafted approach pays dividends. Wherever you look on the surface of Tölva, there’s something of interest to draw your eye. The horizon constantly tantalises you with curious silhouettes; hulking starships that hover just above the planet’s surface, crumbling fortresses that spit out enemy patrols, and mysterious monuments and obelisks whose origins are lost to time. Even during Tölva’s weakest moments, I never ceased to be curious about what lay over the next rise of undulating landscape.
As well as being beautiful, Big Robot also succeeded in making the world feel genuinely alien. While traversing Tölva’s surface you’ll stumble across the scattered skeletons of giant automatons, silent forests of basalt plinths, and humble-looking structures whose twisting interiors defy Euclidian geometry. As you delve farther across the map, the planet reveals secrets that are dangerous as well as strange. Pockets of high-radiation interfere with your robot’s visual sensors, while areas contaminated with chemicals have transformed Tölva’s benign vegetation into tortured nightmare-scapes overgrown with thorny vines.