I find myself waiting just out of sight of the Knight that was only a moment ago chasing me down before running into a carefully placed trap. Carefully placed for the Knight but not for me as one more step and turn and I’ll be done for. Thankfully though, the Knight returns to his guard post giving me the chance I need to move past, jump a low wall and carefully continue forward to the final key. The challenge now is how to get back without getting seen, heard or more importantly without a sword in my back.
Repeat the above a few times and that is my pattern of thinking during my time with Volume, the latest game from Thomas Was Alone creator, Mike Bithell. Volume is a narrative driven stealth action game where the player takes up the role of Locksley as he sets out oh a heroic mission to return what was taken from the people of England.
Locksley is all about stealth which means players won’t ever be given a gun nor the option to go full-on action hero during the game. This works in Volumes favour however, as rather than a gun you have access to a number of gadgets that allow you to distract, stun, and knock out your foes, and further in the game, the option to disguise or turn invisible.
With each level giving you a different gadget to work with and different enemies and traps to overcome Volume steps up the game and difficult at just the right pace.
Volume features a hundred levels that will not only take you through the story that Volume has to offer but also give you the space and time to learn what you need. You’ll never find yourself unable to continue forward even if you get stuck for a moment, as more often than not it’s just a case of having missed something within the level to help you move forward.
You could argue that the tutorial within Volume is lacking or poorly designed but really it is a carefully crafted system that ensure you learn from trial and error with the prompts given when needed. Failure in Volume is not the end of the game mind, even if you’re set back to the last checkpoint. If anything, failure is the best way to learn in Volume as it extends the gameplay to you.
In the game, when you hide everything behaves in one way but once you’ve been discovered everything steps up a notch. From the music that changes, the red viewpoints on the enemies and the seconds you have to flee. It works really well and only rarely did I feel that a failure in the game was unfair.
Though the story is at it’s core a dystopian retelling of the classic Robin Hood story set in the future. The twist however is something that is greatly enjoyable as the hero, Locksley, rather than carry out these crimes himself, instead he’s streaming the virtual heist that he preformed, to the masses. Though the story is something I felt could’ve been explored a little bit more, there is suitable amounts of text logs to go with the perfect voice cast to ensure a strong native experience.
The cast of Volume are played by (King) Danny Wallace, Charlie McDonnell, and Andy Serkis which together make for a stunning impact on the games narrative. The audio side of things is also spot on with each and every sound being clearly defined and sitting together perfectly. Though at times the sound and music which played when you are spotted was a little too loud, it did it’s job well and really set the mood along with the rest of the fitting music score. The soundtrack alone is a reason to enjoy Volume.
Volume has a very simple art style. One that is very much a reminder of the virtual reality missions in the Metal Gear Solid series which honestly is not a bad thing. It is clean and simple which aids the player in being able to understand where they are, what is going on, and what information they need to process at that very second.
It is simple by design but a design that communicates the language of the gameplay so spot on, it is beautiful. The second key detail about Volume’s art style is that because of how the levels are built, the world reacts to the noises you make. Louder noises alert the enemy to your location, for example, and to visualise this the world splits and breaks apart around you showing how that sound effected the world. It’s a solid piece of feedback that not only aids the player but also the design of the game as a whole.
One of the main selling points for me with Volume is the build in level editor which allows the community to build and share their own levels for others to play. It is also worth noting that the development team plan to add their ‘staff picks’ on a regular basis as well. The level editor works just as you would hope allowing you to place walls, enemies, floors and even the odd dinosaur if you fancy.
The given space to make your levels in is a good size as well so there are many options open to you on how to build your dream Volume level. I found that setting up some of the logic for some of the objects was a bit tricky with the controller but this wasn’t game breaking. I spent around half an hour trying to recreate one of my favourite Metal Gear Solid virtual reality mission and I found myself getting the hang of the editor in next to no time. Okay, yeah my level did not look that great but it did the job as I would of hoped.
The only really complaint I have with the editor is the movement of the cursor is locked to a single view so at the edges of the map the movement gets a bit confusing as up becomes left on the controller and so on. Again though nothing that ruins the experience. The only thing I wish you could do in Volume however was create different levels of height so that I could put a turret on a high wall but I understand why this isn’t an option.
On the technical side of things I did find a number of issues with performance, menus and Steam achievements. I played Volume both on a Windows and Mac machine and found that on both there were, every now and again, some menu issues with the controller and on the Mac, performance was a bit jumpy at times even on the most suitable graphics settings.
Overall it is worth noting that I spent around a total of six hours playing through Volume’s story mode and an hour in the editor. For me this felt like the right amount of time for Volume to stay, speak it’s message, and then wave goodbye before I ended up head first into community made levels. The conclusion to those hours and to all the above however is that Volume works. It does what it sets out to do and delivers it all to the player in a superb way that is never too much nor too little.
You see, what Volume does is create a playground for the player to explore, learn and create. Explore the world laid out before them both in turns of puzzle and lore. Uncover each gadget and tactic available to them as they learn how to manage and master the world before taking all their have learned to the level editor. To create their own journeys, there own stories and even there own way to play.
Volume is a brilliant example of carefully crafted gameplay and story designed into a set of rules and tools for a player to work with. Though at times some levels felt better then others I always wanted to come back for more. Volume captures you and pulls you in but never keeping you. It’s your freedom within Volume that makes it’s a must for any gamer.
Now go out there and be heard. After all, those riches are not going to steal themselves.
This review is based on the Steam version of the game on both Windows and Mac provided by Mike Bithell.