Well The Ringed City is still hard, God Eater is still grindy and Witcher 3 is still massive, but as part of the Playing Something Else Initiative I took The Signal From Tolva for a spin. It was not very amazing.
The premise is as follows: something on the planet Tolva emitted a strange signal that has brought the world to the attention of several robotic factions with conflicting goals and ideologies who struggle for control of the surface with the player being a separate party who hijacks individual drones in order to realize their own goals leaving the big powers none the wiser.
The game promises, or implies, a kind of back and forth faction warfare between the Surveyors, Zealots and Bandits with the player being able to get involved but ultimately after their own agenda. However, since you can only take over Surveyor drones you just conquer the territory for them as that gives you new respawn locations. All three factions are identical in terms of robots and weaponry they use and the combat is functional but clunky with drones either taking pot shots at each other long range with sniper rifles or unleashing at each other with close range weapons and seeing who explodes first. In addition the “back and forth” is somewhat annoying since you get no warning that one of your bunkers is contested, and even should you notice it in time you cannot jump to a contested location… meaning you will usually be in one part of the map and suddenly get a notification that you lost a respawn point to the enemy, drop what you’re doing, jump to the 2nd closest fast travel location and reconquer it all over again (which admittedly is not that much of a challenge). You can’t improve your factions drones, you can’t reinforce or fortify your faction’s bunkers, you can’t unlock a tech or conquer a building that would show you enemy parties on the map so that you can see when they’re coming... there Is literally nothing you can do to prevent a loss of a location unless you happen to be in the area at the right time.
I would be tempted to say that someone added combat on top of a neat exploration game because they wanted to avoid the association with walking simulators, except the mystery of the titular Signal is also not handled very well. There are 60 objects scattered over the surface that you can scan to reveal bits of lore. Some of those are mission objectives and their location is marked on the map as they unlock new gear for you to use, including mandatory items that let you traverse environmental hazards and reach further areas of the map. The remaining scannable objects are scattered all over the place sometimes plainly in sight, most often hidden in nooks and crannies. The obvious idea is that as you unlock the lore entries you piece together the whole story, but most of the logs are variations upon “planet weird and we don’t know why” and frankly the big reveal is nothing to write home about either.
What I think happened was that the ambition of the project was too much for the studio, there are a lot of ideas in the game that don’t seem to be really implemented or are implemented only halfway or so. For example there are turrets, but they only drop in a few preset locations in result to the player’s presence and cannot be deployed by the player to, say, fortify their bunkers. Similarly, you do encounter a few mobile heavy weapon platforms serving as bosses (I believe there are three in total, one about halfway through the game and one more at each of the two ending locations), I can only speculate but I think those might have been intended for use as parts of the actual dynamic faction warfare. Oh, did I mention there were also those weird non-euclidean mazes where you could find extra resources to buy gear with as well as plot objects to scan? Because there are, they have very distinct, though sometimes obscured, entry points and architecture but they don’t seem of particular relevance to the larger story (other than the aforementioned “stuff is weird”), they’re just there as another gameplay mechanics because… reasons? Padding? To be fair the game is on a short side as it is.
The game also had several small but persistent annoyances. I know I’m piloting a robot but the constant metallic sound of walking around never quite faded into the background for me. Similarly there is a vision mode that makes both resources and scannable plot objects more visible, and can also be used to see in the dark, though the game does have a very highly functional flashlight, but it is accompanied by a very annoying combination of low bass hum with static interference that I found particularly jarring. Visually… you better not be one of those people with a tendency for nausea when playing first person because I imagine various glitches and filters that trigger in the hazardous areas (even with protective gear) will not do wonders for you.
I should also add that I’ve only played the base game so far, the devs have recently added a free prequel campaign called Polar Regions (I’ll give you three guesses as to what kind of biome it’s placed in) to the game. I think I’ll give it a try to see if they improved on the original concept, though I’m not holding my breath, especially since I already know where this is all headed.