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Hands On: The Signal From Tölva

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I’ve had my hands on a brief demo build of a game called The Signal From Tölva [official site], from maverick and bohemian developers, Big Robot – yes, they of Sir, You Are Being Hunted. Oh, and I guess owned and run by Jim Rossignol, one of the directors and owners of this site. (There’s not going to be a conflict of interest issue here, is there? I mean, I can barely stand him.) Below you can read my very early and quite remarkably impartial first impressions.

Okay, so obviously I can’t be impartial here. As awful a person as Jim truly, truly is, I do count him among my “friends”, and begrudgingly acknowledge him as a colleague. As much as I want to see him fail, to see his robotic empire fall around his hubris-ridden feet, watch him come crawling back to RPS, head hung low, mumbling, “Please, I’ll write anything, even release date posts,” – as much as I so desperately want all of that from the core of my being, you still need to read my thoughts bearing our extremely close connection in mind.

What we’ve played is a very brief demo, the same one currently on the show floor at EGX, that cruelly cuts off just as things are getting meaty. We’re hoping to get a busier, longer version to delve into more deeply soon – we’ve got connections – but this certainly gave me a taste for a game I’d not quite understood until now. Forget Sir, despite being about hunting robots with weapons, this is a very different sort of game. Think more Far Cry meets a 1970s sci-fi book you’ve found in a charity shop.

You play as a robot, who for reasons as yet unrevealed is friends with robots a similar colour, but super-not friends with those of different colours and models. A sprawling, but hand-crafted (as in, not procedurally generated) map is littered with bases to capture, goodies to gather, and gangs of enemies to shoot at – it certainly has that Ubisoft vibe of a busy map covered in tasks to tick off, but set in a far more visually interesting world than the norm. The art style achieves this, rather than the actual location, which is a fairly standard bunch of plains and rocks – but gosh it’s very pretty. Think Borderlands’ art but 80% less smug.

At one moment in this half hour or so of game you crest a hill to see the fantastically huge skeletal remains of a monolithic robot spread across the plains, and it’s impressive stuff. Animations are all great, especially the enormous drop-capsules that elegantly and mechanically open themselves up. But the big highlight is when you get into a firefight with enemy robots, and others on your side start joining in.

I should say that up until those firefights, things were rather quiet. It’s pretty, but there wasn’t an enormous amount to do as it loosely explained the ropes. This is a build especially made for the show floor, designed to welcome all-comers, so that makes some sense, but it wasn’t until the moment it cuts off that it finds its groove. Weapons are impressive, especially the sniper rifles (you can carry three weapons at a time, two of them swapped out in bases, with upgrades bought in exchange for gathered scrap), letting you take on baddybots from a good range, although this doesn’t last long enough to get into anything tough. What’s delightful is the lack of fuss when nearby bots join in your antics. It seems that if enemy groups drift near to each other, fights will break out whether you’re involved or not, and in those moments laser blasts are blipping everywhere and it all feels rather fab.

The other moment that stood out and took me by surprise was what looked like a crashed enemy ship, with a scannable item set too high for my scanners to reach. So I went inside, and discovered I was in some sort of TARDIS-like space, far too enormous to be contained by the metallic outer shell. That’s a neat trick, but it’s a trick that gets far, far neater as you explore. Corridors weave and turn and then impossibly emerge back into the starting room, the geometry cleverly muddled, which then starts to work vertically as well as horizontally. Despite never going uphill or up steps, my exploring eventually saw me appear on platforms above where I went in, then reach that scannable cube. Returning I then dropped improbably far down through holes to return to the entrance just a few feet below. Brilliant.

This is far too brief a demo to get a sensible impression of the game, and far too incomplete to get a sense of why you’re there and what you’re doing. But what it did display was smarts, a really nice look with the Unity engine, and the potential for some really fun single-player group-based shoot-outs. It certainly needs to be a busier world than is shown here, and while the skies are decorated with lovely alien creatures, the ground is a little woefully barren and undecorated. And, quite honestly, I’ve no idea if I’d be more or less generous about every aspect if this weren’t a game made by a close friend and long-time colleague. (When it comes to review, we’ll obviously get someone who doesn’t know Jim at all to cover it – or not review it at all.) I do know that I’m looking forward to playing more, because I’m a sucker for map-icon-led gaming, and the setting is gorgeous and interesting.

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Who am I?

John Walker

Prisoner

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I tried to leave, but they won't let me. If anyone reads this, please send help.

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