Hands On: The Signal From Tölva

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.

From this site

40 Comments

  1. gwop_the_derailer says:

    Sir, Your Game Has Been Noted

  2. Sp4rkR4t says:

    I want to kiss those screenshots.

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    InfamousPotato says:

    Looks marvelous. I’m especially fond of the large robot skulls that seem to litter the countryside.

  4. invitro says:

    It looks great, but we really need some creativity with robot designs. Real robots don’t look like people, and I’ll bet they never will. (I think they’ll look like snakes.)

    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      *covers ASIMO’s ears*

      No ASIMO! No matter what others say, you are a real robot!

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Unless there’s a terrible plague of robot gerbils, I’m thinking that futurebots will probably have limbs.

  5. Kefren says:

    Sounds nice, and I’m glad you can go inside. The main thing that put me off Sir was when I found out there were buildings but you couldn’t hide in them and peep out and creep around with floorboards creeping. A number of the scenarios I wanted to experience were cut off by that, and I know that I’d probably get increasingly annoyed by the buildings just becoming clickable loot boxes. Still: budgets, time etc, I’m sure there’s reasons enough.

    • Kefren says:

      [Insert edit button here] Floorboards CREAKING.

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      RealWeaponX says:

      While this is true I think the reason sci-fi media of all sorts tends towards humanoid robbits is to allow the audience to empathise more easily.

      • Monggerel says:

        I reckon that’s misrepresentative and dismissive of the audience. From what I seen, people can empathize just fine with a Roomba.

        Now, whether that empathy is actually valuable, or a priori valid, is another question, because in its absence, the usual response is a complete refusal of connection (emotional or otherwise).

        Its almost as if the emotional texture of our experiences was their only noteworthy element. Imagine a video camera whose only purpose is to capture snapshots of differences in brightness. Here’s light, here’s dark, here’s a bit of both. What’s that? Warm purple? We don’t really do that here.

        • Ckrauser says:

          Exactly, people seemed to care a great deal about Wall-e, but I guess he is a bit more human-like than a roomba

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    RealWeaponX says:

    The art style is just fantastic looking. This could be the worst game ever made and I’d still buy it to run around in that world for a bit. Of course “Sir…” is great, so I’ve high hopes for this.

  7. Freud says:

    Looks promising, but so did their last game and it failed to capture me.

    • Geebs says:

      The main problem with SYABH was that stealth games and harsh penalties for failure don’t mix. It’s absolutely no fun to try to test the bounds of a guard’s peripheral vision when getting spotted will set you back ten minutes.

      That, and all of the gadgets were useless.

  8. Faults says:

    “I do not like this Borderlands, Charlie. Its smug aura mocks me.”

  9. brucethemoose says:

    Multi sides, spontaneous AI battles are my fetish, especially when they don’t necessarily involve.

    It started in Halo 2, during a level where the flood and covenant were duking it out, and I just sat and… watched. Something about AI battling itself was fascinating, and ever since then I’ve seeked it out. Setting up elaborate 3 way fights in Zero Hour, setting up civs to begrudgingly be on my team, dragging AI through levels or console spawning them just to see how they interact…

    On top of that, AntiChamber is probably my favorite puzzler.

    So this definitely goes into my “must buy” pile.

    • brucethemoose says:

      * Involve me

      I swear, RPS really is a PC only site, as the comment system is not kind to smartphone keyboards.

  10. edna says:

    I’ve occassionally wondered whether Sir made any money. It was clearly a labour of love, with a very clear idea of making a certain type of game that the developers thought was not available out there. So I’ve just SteamSpied it. 500,000 copies at $20 a crack, they reckon. That’s … that’s not really niche, is it? Sounds like a proper success. I’d be interested to know whether than figure is reliable. It would be nice to know that it was.

    • Llewyn says:

      The quantity will be pretty close, the total sales value will be way off. Sure, some of those will have been at $20, but many (more?) will have been in sales or from the Humble Bundle.

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    AutonomyLost says:

    Sounds great thus far. I’ll keep my eye on this one. Thanks, John.

  12. Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

    The game sounds interesting. I hope there’ll be some follow-up articles as it progresses!

    As an aside, am I the only one who feels RPS goes over the top with its ‘conflict of interest’ stuff? Any half-decent writer is able to expose the bad bits of something whether they know the developer or not; and any half-decent developer will know that will happen when they give their game to someone to review. I’ve been a bit nonplussed by the No Man’s Sky coverage where one writer wasn’t allowed to cover it, even the most harmless screenshot article, because he did some writing for it.

    I have yet to see any brown-nosing at RPS, and with people like Mr Walker writing I doubt I will. I think we’re all adult enough that we don’t need even the amusement of the OTT first paragraph to warn us about colouring our opinions. Mine are ineradicably so anyway…

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Its a bit over the top but its also something some extremely loud people get upset about and there’s a range of places you could set the disclosure line which people disagree over. Having an editorial policy to get someone else to review friends games or games they’ve worked on makes it simple.

      (Although it would be interesting to see some inside thoughts on the writing in NMS. On the other hand its already been pretty thoroughly covered here.)

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I do feel like they go over the top with being tongue-in-cheek and jokey about conflicts of interest. Don’t do a song and dance about it every time, just apply basic journalistic standards and you’re good.

      That said, I feel like covering a game produced by a company run by a person who also runs the site is edging into “there is no way this could ever be an appropriate thing to do no matter how you twist yourself into a pretzel” territory. It seems extremely hinky no matter which way you spin it.

      • Person of Interest says:

        No way! That disclosure paragraph is the most entertaining thing I’ve read all week.

        Also, RPS writing about Jim’s games (Jim is an owner/founder but, from my understanding, doesn’t run much of anything at RPS anymore?) is no worse than, say, the Washington Post writing about Amazon’s business. Practically harmless in comparison, given that Jeff Bezos is a brilliant, ruthless businessman, and John… is not.

        • Otterley says:

          John not being a ruthless businessman is the reason I’d give him all the hugs and Jeff none (well, perhaps not the only reason ^^)

        • April March says:

          I agree. Some RPS readers act as if conflict of interest is something that was invented by jerks to disparage RPS, but it’s a real thing that has always needed to be disclaimed and that RPS has always done a stellar job of doing so, often by making delightful disclaimers such as the one John’s made here. (This one is my favourite, though: link to rockpapershotgun.com)

          Don’t change, RPS. Keep fighting that wordy fight.

      • laiwm says:

        I think the thing is that Jim got into game dev to make the kind of games he likes, and the games he likes are the games that RPS likes to write about. It would seem off if they start reposting every dev update from the team, but the occasional check in feels natural to me, so long as they disclose for the sake of folks who aren’t aware of Jim’s involvement with the site.

      • sabrage says:

        The forced irony reeks of insincerity, is the problem.

  13. April March says:

    I hope that when you say Far Cry you mean Far Cry 2. That’s the vibe I get from the screenshots. But it looks lovely either way.

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      cpt_freakout says:

      Didn’t Jim use to love Far Cry 2? At least I’ve got that impression, from reading something here in RPS years ago… man, being old is weird.

  14. Dioba says:

    I managed to try out the demo on EGX and it was enjoyable but too limited. Qhen i asked one of the devs they said they’re not having any early access but thinking about doing a closed beta

    • padger says:

      I played the same demo at EGX. It’s crazy beautiful. These guys really know what they are doing.

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    phuzz says:

    I think it’s ok to cover Jim’s games, but make him write the Steam top 10 post in exchange.

  16. Josh W says:

    Surprising! I haven’t followed this in much detail, but I was assuming we’d see another procedural game. Perhaps their putting more emphasis on behaviour this time? They must be channelling Tom Betts’ limitless enthusiasm for interesting procedural mechanisms somehow.