Volume Game Review
GDC 2015 Preview
Available on PS4 as timed exclusive. Coming later to PC and Mac.
Volume release date: TBC 2015
Since Volume was announced at Sony’s GamesCom 2014 press conference, we’ve only seen a couple of trailers and a few screenshots. I don’t think anything we’ve seen so far actually does Volume justice. But at this year’s GDC, I actually got a chance to play the game and I’m convinced that indie dev Mike Bithell has another hit on his hands.
You play as Locksley, Bithell’s present-day take on Robin Hood, who commits crimes using stealth.
The game is split into 100 levels and in each one you have to collect a series of gems to get the exit portal to open up. Between you and these precious gems are a number of guards with a visible sight cone that you’ll want to avoid as much as possible. Stay in their sight too long and they’ll take you down with a single gunshot.
As you’d expect, the levels get progressively more difficult, requiring you to use various gadgets and techniques to outfox the patrolling guards.
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These gadgets are a huge part of the appeal of Volume. Each one has a unique feature that you’ll need to use to progress through the levels. For example, there’s the Bugle, which acts as a projectile noisemaker you can use to lure guards away from a location. Or there’s the cloaking device called the Veil.
You’ll need to learn how to use them to outfox the guards. I found learning how to use the gadgets a little difficult at first, as the current build lacks some of the signposting that the final game will feature.
Once you’ve got the knack of the method, though, it just comes down to working out how to use them to get to the dispersed gems. The levels themselves will throw various obstacles in your way that you’ll need to overcome to continue. Those might come in the form of electronic barriers or glowing white floor panels that sound loudly, alerting all the guards in the vicinity to come investigating.
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What makes it more complicated is that, while a level might require the use of multiple gadgets, you can only actually hold and use one at a time.
The levels we played have been cleverly designed, requiring a certain amount of logic combined with trial and error to reach the goal.
I found that the game is very rewarding if you remember to take advantage of the tools at your disposal. Any items you find, pick them up and discover what they do and always make sure to pass through respawn portals to save your current progress.
You’ll soon find that forgetting to seek a portal after a difficult patch will leave you cursing when you get into trouble around the next corner.
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Hopefully you’ll remember to make those little checkpoints with the improved signposting in the game, but it may well be something you just have to learn and remember.
It’s those missed checkpoints and the intricacy of these stealth levels that mean Volume walks the very thin line of being just that bit too infuriating. I reckon in the later levels you might just see people rage-quitting.
Dying does bring out some of the humour of the Volume narrative. Thomas Was Alone made us all familiar with the Bithell comedy and you’ll find some elements of that jocularity weaved through the storyline in the exchanges between Locksley and his mentor, or in the little vignettes.
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Volume certainly feels a lifetime away from Thomas Was Alone’s cast of colourful cubes. It gives a nod to the classic stealth genre and Bithell’s love for Metal Gear Solid 2. It also has an impressive voice cast, a vast array of gadgets and a level design that rewards ingenuity and perservance. There’s plenty to like about Bithell’s newest adventure.
And if it does well? Bithell already has a ton of ideas for sequels and other projects based on Volume, so expect to see more of this stealth adventure if it takes off.
Although it lacks the charm and characterisation of Thomas Was Alone, Volume looks to be Mike Bithell’s next big hit. It’s got plenty of gadgets to tinker with, is verging on infuriatingly difficult and has enough humour to have that distinct Bithell flair.
I just hope that those 100 levels don’t become too repetitive.
- Thanks for reading Volume Game Review