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Video Game / The Signal From Tolva

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A Wide-Open Sandbox Mystery/Exploration First-Person Shooter from Big Robot (creators of Sir, You Are Being Hunted), The Signal From Tölva follows the (mis)adventures of a rogue Mind on the planet of Tölva, seeking the mysterious titular Signal. This is achieved by hijacking robot bodies belonging to the local Surveyors and puppeting them, something facilitated by your Information Broker contact.

Complicating matters is the fact that Tölva is host not only to marauding scavenger Incoherence Bandits, but also Church Militant Zealots. The Bandits will break you down for parts, whilst the Zealots want to protect and worship the ancient artifacts on the planet.

In the Polar Regions prequel, meanwhile, you take the role of a special operative deployed by the Information Brokers to track down a missing Broker ship and its resident Mind.

The Signal From Tölva was released on Steam on April 10th 2017, and received the free 'prequel' campaign The Polar Regions on March 30th 2018.

This game provides examples of:

  • 100% Completion: There's 60 data items to collect in total. 37 data snoopers. 20 missions. 16 bunkers. 16 beacons. Polar Regions has 34 data items.
  • Ability Required to Proceed: Certain zones require Radiation, Chemical, or "Weird" protection to enter and survive in, which also require Rank 2, 3, or 5 to equip - necessitating the completion of at least 15 side-missions (including the ones that unlock the protection equipment) in order to complete the game.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: All the robots/Minds in-setting are - or were - technically looking for the same thing (except the Q-Tract and Zealots), but how they go about doing so varies wildly and tends to bring them into conflict with each other. There are half a dozen major factions mentioned in the lorebook, and no doubt countless more.
    • The Q-Tract and Zealots meanwhile... the Q-Tract appear to be actually insane, and are devoting all their resources into attempting to escape entropy. The Zealots, on the other hand, worship entropy.
  • All There In The Lorebook: A 48-page PDF lorebook in the game's install folder goes into much deeper detail about the greater Magnitudes setting.
  • Apocalypse How: Aside from many in the lorebook/backstory, the Surveyor Minds ultimately decide that - whatever the Signal is - it's a problem, not something related to the Search. Activating their bomb doesn't completely destroy Tölva, but it does leave vast swathes of the landscape torched and burning. Alternately, if you travel to the Source of the Signal and interact with it, something... else... happens.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Completing missions and scanning large red data 'nodes' unlocks data entries accessible at any Bunker terminal. They're often quite vague but ominous, and many include commentary from your Broker contact. Then there's the corrupted message that appears when you scan Ghosts.
    Exigent demands on access overwrite tectonic shutdown
    All attempts to activate must collapse into one lattice
    Trace mineral intelligence down to single response versus
    Signs of sentient behaviour necessitate direct response
    Unable to engage data release without third-party intervention
    Network in stasis, we'd help if we knew how_
  • Attack Drone: Of the small, hovering variety. Most drones are neutral, but you may encounter hostile Bandit or Zealot drones whilst exploring. They're mostly just a nuisance as they don't have very much firepower and aren't particularly good at evading attacks, but they're surprisingly durable.
  • Augmented Reality: Your robot normally sees what a human would see, but you can opt to turn on multispectral sensors at any time, which can reveal anything from hidden Bandit graffiti to salvageable materials to special scannable objects. Scannable objects in particular are highlighted by weird energy tendrils which make them easier to see around corners and at a distance.
  • Beehive Barrier: The highest-tier Ticks are protected by an impassable spherical Beehive Barrier. The Hard Light-looking shields also look somewhat hexagon-y.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Some of the debris around the Slipgate Run area includes the scattered parts of a titanic robot whose house-sized head appears to have been cored out front to back. You can also find a massive hand and forearm laid out close by, with a colossal foot and shin not too far away as well.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Scanning a particular relic in Polar Regions causes your Broker contact to remark, in frustration;
    These data strings make little sense. It's encrypted, or gibberish. Or alien. Or encrypted alien gibberish.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Surveyors are yellow, Zealots are red, Bandits are blue. This applies not only to paint but to the chassis lights and shield systems.
  • Cool Spaceship: There's a few of them buzzing around, such as the Surveyor's Treadlight Freighter, and the Zealot Crux-class Frigates (most of which appear to be scattered in pieces across the planet, and several make flyovers during Polar Regions). Unfortunately you don't get to conduct any boarding actions.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: As you can casually 'bodyhop' between drones and simply 'borrow' a new one at the nearest Bunker or Beacon, your current chassis being destroyed is a minor inconvenience in most scenarios. Unless you've wandered a very long way, at least.
  • Deflector Shields: Both you and enemies can use an energy barrier that absorbs incoming damage but drains whilst active and also drains faster from taking damage. Careful use of your shield can get you through a lot of trouble.
  • Eldritch Location: Anywhere saturated in some kind of hazard (radiological, chemical, or weird) is likely to be one of these. The Source of the Signal is probably the best example; your contact notes that the area is 'leaking' a kind of 'quantum foam', and that the geology around the Source is not stone but information.
  • Enemy Scan: Your Binoculars allow you to scan objects in the world. Scanned enemies are tagged, and their health, current weapon, and task/assignment are revealed.
  • Energy Weapon: Weapons come in three major types; rapid-fire repeaters, long-range accelerators, and close-range projectors, which shoot narrow, thick, or crackling beams respectively. Battles between Tölva's robots devolve into glittering laser light shows, which are stunning at night as technicolour beams light up the darkness.
  • Final Boss: A shielded, unique variant of the Spider Tank appears as the final obstacle guarding either the Signal from Tölva or the Annihilation Bomb. It continuously spawns Attack Drones as you fight it, and also seems to be hostile to the Zealots as well as to you. The game even has a unique action music for when you fight it.
  • Giant Mook: Ticks, strange Spider Tank quadrupedal walkers with heavy weapons and about 10 times the durability of a regular drone. There are only a few of them throughout the entire area, and they're all betrayed by the ground-shaking rhythmic thumping of their steps. A couple in the highest-threat areas also function as Mook Makers and will constantly spawn flying Attack Drones to harass you whilst you fight them.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: From a gameplay standpoint, Tölva's robots are intentionally fairly bad shots, especially those armed with accelerators. The flashes of beams narrowly missing you and the sound of impacts on the dirt and rock around you is an intentional choice to build tension; your robot bodies are actually fairly fragile without using the shield to absorb damage.
  • Infinite Flashlight: You can use your headlights for as long as you like (they even come with a fog/high-beam mode that illuminates a very large area!) although they do occasionally glitch and flicker off for a moment. You generally want to turn them off for long-range night shooting though, as the chassis lights and shields make enemy robots highly visible to begin with.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: It's fairly easy to get your hands on one of the top-tier assault rifles early on in Polar Regions, though you'll need to be collecting all the resources in the surrounding area in order to afford it.
  • Knowledge Broker: The Information Brokers, a subfaction; in the lorebook's words, they "...collect, buy, and sell information to those in need of it."
  • The Maze: Several facilities on Tölva are host to Asymmetric, Nondeterministic, Tricky mazes; areas are connected by invisible trigger zones (though they can be seen with your Augmented Reality multispectral sensors) and passing through them in the right way is essential to escaping them. Most of them are optional, thankfully, and the developers acknowledge how hard some of them are - there's achievements for spending 10, 30, and 60 minutes lost in maze zones.
  • Mecha-Mooks: Everyone's a robot, even you. Most robots you encounter are of the humanoid variety, with some differences in appearance but no significant differences in performance. There are also hovering drones and larger quadrupedal Ticks.
  • Mle Trois: Enemies from different factions will target each other in addition to you and your Surveyor allies.
  • Mind-Control Device: Two tiers. You're hijacking robot bodies as your personal avatar, but you can also use the Phreaker control devices to recruit other Surveyors to fight by your side, so long as their rank is equivalent to (or lower than) yours. Having a few extra bodies around for firefights can be a great help, as enemy patrols tend to be groups of four and can easily overwhelm you by rushing you.
  • Mind Screw: Certain areas are experiencing time/space distortions, particularly the mazes, which may lead to headaches after a while. At one point, your Broker contact mentions something having left 'troubling footprints' in space-time.
  • The Mole: The player takes the role of a special operative Mind inserted into Surveyor drones by the Information Brokers. As this Mind, you need to carry out missions for the Surveyors in order to earn their trust and gain access to better equipment and weaponry so that you can complete your real objective.
  • Multiarmed Multitasking: The Information Broker standard chassis appears to have four arms, but are also amputees from just above the knee due to being semi-permanently plugged into stationary interface suites; they have 'plug stumps', apparently.
  • Multiple Endings: Two;
    • The Signal: You are repeatedly warned not to go to it, and it's incredibly vague as to what actually happens; entering the Source causes Tölva to appear to undergo some kind of transformation into another state of energy/matter, and the ships above it are entangled in strange energy fields.
    • The Surveyors: Activating the Surveyor's bomb causes a massive explosion visible from orbit. The three Surveyor ships jump out, and Tölva burns.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: Entering hazard zones causes your camera to start having various weirdness such as heavy tinting and film grain effects.
  • Precursors: Tölva was host to an unknown species in the distant, distant past, and the planet is littered with their artifacts. The Surveyors want to understand them; the Zealots seek to worship them. Trying to figure out what happened to these Ancients is the driving motivation of the Network, as it seems they just up and vanished overnight with no struggle or internal conflict.
  • Robot Religion: The Zealots follow an unclear one that is a mishmash of elements and the lorebook states that it doesn't require understanding, merely following the rote/ritual instructions. They can sometimes be found kneeling or praying near unusual objects, and scanning those in prayer with your binoculars doesn't mark them as hostile.
  • Sentry Gun: The Surveyors, Bandits, and Zealots all possess the ability to deploy these in preset locations via Drop Pod. Most of the time you'll encounter them as you attempt to take control of bunkers, though a few will drop in the wilderness as well.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Very averted. The core campaign has a couple different climates, starting out tame and green in the south-western zones where you begin the game, graduating to reddish sandy badlands towards the northeast. Then there's The Polar Regions prequel-campaign which also takes place on the same planet.
  • Sinister Silhouettes: Ghosts, ominous black figures that briefly show up in certain regions, only ever at a distance. If you're quick you can scan them.
  • Spider Tank: Ticks, and in Polar Regions, the passive Survey Cows.
  • Stock Sound Effects: How do you tell you're close to a hazard zone? The Surveyor light pods around its perimeter are red, and make geiger counter crackling noises. Thankfully this doesn't persist throughout the entire hazard zone.
  • Used Future: Everything looks and feels quite rusty and beat up, whilst the various bipedal mech units are all mismatched in appearance.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: There is absolutely no reason to hunt down and destroy all the harmless little Zheng He data interpolator bots, not even a 100% Completion achievement (bar the first one). But you can do it anyway. There's also no reason to go blowing up Survey Cows.