Volume Review (PC)
Volume, the latest game by Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell, takes typical top-down stealth gameplay, and mixes in its own artistic flare and characters. The result is a very well told story mired by repetitive gameplay. The foundation upon which the game’s mechanics are built is solid and it’s very fun to run through missions undetected, but it becomes less fun in extended play sessions.
Volume takes place in a dystopian future where England is taken over by a giant corporation named Gisborne Industries, headed by a man simply known as Gisborne. You play as an agent named Locksley, whose job it is to run training simulations for the government’s military. You’re accompanied by an AI named Alan, one of the AI mainframes at Gisborne. Early on it’s revealed that Locksley has reset Alan in an attempt to overthrow the government, and rewired the simulations so that they are streamed live all over England, also revealing the locations and blueprints of very secretive areas. The banter and dialogue between Alan and Locksley is fantastic and the voice acting is all very well done throughout the game. The small bits of world building, both through text and spoken dialogue, take a little while to start making sense but work very well once it comes together.
The game’s aesthetic however is immediately appealing, with simplistic polygonal structures and enemies draped in flat, cool colors and shadows. Everything but the main character is done in this style; Locksley is a fully detailed character model which helps him stick out. The various character portraits that depict the game’s villains are also wonderfully detailed. Volume’s narrative and storytelling are really where this game shines however, and you’ll find yourself going out of your way to find the extra bits of text.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Volume doesn’t stray far from traditional stealth mechanics. Every mission has you avoiding enemy lines of sight while collecting all the gems in a level to open up the exit. New items and enemy types are introduced every few levels, but the objective remains the same. The gems represent valuable items in real life, since you’re running through simulated versions of high security areas such as the Queen’s manor or a banker’s apartment. Essentially the purpose of these simulations reveal the weaknesses in security that these areas have. You’ll have a few items at your disposal, such as the bugle and mute, but they are simply distractions or items that help you evade enemies. The level design and forgiving vision cones of some enemies give you a ton of options when approaching any particularly challenging part of a mission. The various checkpoints strewn about each level also give you plenty of room for error.
The freedom that you’re given to try multiple solutions and routes in a mission is what makes the gameplay so satisfying. You can ricochet your bugle item behind an enemy to distract it and get by, or alert it and lead it around the corner until it loses your trail. One major drawback however is that the controls can be a bit cumbersome for the first ten or so levels, as new mechanics are introduced frequently. You might find yourself stumbling over the controls and getting caught as a result. After a bit of practice however, they start to feel more comfortable, but you’ll be frequently holding down multiple keys on your keyboard just to get through some areas or to perform more complex maneuvers later on. It should be mentioned that anyone hoping to play on a laptop should have a mouse handy, since the mouse controls on a trackpad are unresponsive at times.
The game’s biggest drawback however is its repetitiveness. Missions are short which makes them easier to swallow, but there are quite a lot of them. About 30 or so missions in, you might be wanting a bit of a break from the usual stealth. Volume’s length doesn’t help its repetitiveness either, as this game is longer than you would anticipate. After playing through the first few hours only to find you’ve progressed through just about a quarter of the campaign, you might find the game dragging a bit.
2015 is turning out to be a great year for fans of stealth games. Stealth Inc. 2, Invisible Inc. and Ronin have already been solid additions to the genre. Volume would be a perfect game for handheld platforms and feels designed for bite-sized play sessions. This game is worth playing through for the story alone however, with great characters and a surprisingly rich world. Volume is a strong game that is not without its flaws, but finds a nice home in the class of stealth games this year has already offered.
This review is based on a download of Volume provided by the publisher for PC.