The Signal from Tölva – Hands On Impressions
At EGX, I was fortunate enough to get a chance to go hands on with The Signal from Tölva, the upcoming game from Big Robot Ltd, the team behind Sir, You are Being Hunted. It’s a sci-fi first person shooter/explorer with a wonderful art style and dynamic AI. I quite liked it.
I jumped on one of the little plastic stools that dot the floor of EGX as soon as someone left the game, they had already completed the first few basic tutorial missions. Fortunately James from Big Robot was on hand to quickly show me the ropes. When I got my hands on the game, my robot (known as a Surveyor) was safely standing in a bunker, one of several which are dotted around the map. They act as a base of sorts, with a terminal you can use to purchase new weapons and assorted upgrades and goodies for your bot. Your fellow robots also spawn at bunkers you control before setting off on their own patrols.
Looking at the map, James suggested I head toward a marker to the north of my bunker. I stepped outside and took a moment to enjoy Tölva’s dawn (it has a full day-night cycle, with impressive looking sunsets) and started making my way north. I was equipped with the basic tools of the trade – pistol, assault rifle and sniper rifle, enough to get by.
As I headed towards my target, I came across a beacon being held by one of the two opposing robot factions that inhabit Tölva. I only knew they were enemies once they started to shoot at me. While the pastel art style is lovely, for a colourblind gamer like me, it is difficult to immediately identify the enemy. I mentioned this problem to Jim when I spoke with him later, he said the team are aware of the issue, and are looking into other ways of distinguishing the opposing factions without taking away from the art style of the game.
I set about taking aim and blasting my foes…while I survived, it was by the skin of my teeth, and in part thanks to James shouting at me to press X to activate a shield. My problems were compounded by switching to my pistol when a ‘Weapon Depleted’ message appeared. Reloading the gun would have solved this issue. I had burnt through ammo pretty quickly, the starter weapons aren’t that accurate, and the opposing bots are surprisingly fast. With nearly my last breath, I hit V which let off a personal EMP style device, thankfully clearing the last of the enemies.
With low health, I set off towards my objective and came across another beacon. Having learnt my lesson about combat, I took a more measured approach to clearing this beacon of foes, astutely using my sniper rifle to pick off foes from afar, and my shield when in close combat. After dispatching this batch of bad guys, I opened the map and teleported/fast-travelled/hyper-leaped (I’m not sure what the correct terminology is) back to the bunker where I could restore my health. Fortunately, rather than having to walk back again, I was able to teleport back to the beacon to continue my adventure.
I climbed a crest, and came to gaze down at a valley where a mysterious structure lay. I walked down the valley, past the carefully sculpted rocks which have a hand painted aesthetic to them and a small number of trees. When I got near the mysterious structure, an AI companion chirped up to tell me that something was interfering with my sensors and that I should find out the cause of the interference. Jim later told me that as the story progresses, you will be able to choose to ignore this AI buddy, which raises questions of whether it will truly turn out to be a friend.
I entered the structure, which was full of sci-fi vibes from the outside and stumbled my way around a bit of a maze. I truthfully lost all sense of place once I was inside, some of the corridors and halls were very much alike. However, I found the source of the interference, picked it up and teleported back to the bunker where I could return it to the terminal, in return I moved closer to levelling up.
My next trip was to the east, and here I saw friendly robots out on patrol heading to an enemy held bunker. I helped out in the firefight and saw my allies continue on to a new patrol location. It will be fascinating to see the AI work in the full game, but in my short time with the game, I was starting to see the elements of dynamic AI territory control taking place. After capturing my second bunker, I headed off in search of another mysterious signal, this one seemed to come from a crashed space craft of sorts. Wreckage was strewn across a valley where I was able to witness the AI robots fight one another again. I was starting to develop a real sense that the world was alive.
Finding my second mysterious object amongst the wreckage, I returned to a bunker and unlocked a device which can be used to issue orders to your friendly robots. You will be able to send them on patrol, or ask them to follow you around the map, something which will undoubtedly be useful as you come across more heavily armed enemy outposts.
Sadly, I didn’t get to play around with my fancy new gizmo, the demo was time limited, and I grudgingly gave up my seat for someone else. Before playing the art style had already caught my eye. Big Robot have brought ex-Rockstar artist Ian McQue on board, and you can certainly feel an element of Red Dead Redemption’s art filtering in through Jim’s sci-fi imagination. I’m not completely sold on the combat just now, but I think that is more to do with the low grade starter weapons than anything. There looks set to be plenty of options for upgrade your robot with the salvage you collect on your travels.
The dynamic AI is certainly going to be a large part of the puzzle that makes Tölva standout, and I can already see glimpses of what might unfold as you progress in the game. What is going to bring everything together is the story. You are remotely hijacking into the Surveyor’s of one of the factions on Tölva, but where are you linking in from, and what brought these robots to this planet which seems to have been abandoned by another civilization?
There is undoubtedly a potentially very good core gameplay experience on offer in Tölva, but I think it is the story that will drive people on. There will be prologue novella from Cassandra Khaw which is sure to shed some light on what is going on here. I’m excited by the potential in this game, and I am sorely looking forward to an opportunity to get some more playtime with it.
Roll on early next year when this will be released.