Volume is the second major project for British independent developer Mike Bithell. The first was the charming and critically acclaimed Thomas Was Alone, a puzzle platformer with more personality than its simple visuals would lead you to believe possible. This second game is much different in style, genre, and tone, but it still manages to surface that witty charm that made Thomas so lovable.
What Is It?
Imagine a near future where the 1% have all the power. Corporations are king and people have far less liberties and privacy than they do now. You assume the role of Rob Locksley in this modern retelling of the Robin Hood story. Tired of the oppression, he takes matters into his own hands by using the ubiquitous live video streaming technologies to broadcast his Volumetric Simulation sessions. Imagine a precursor to the Star Trek holodeck that can project solid objects, but doesn’t have photorealistic resolution, and you have a good grasp on what the Volume as an apparatus is. Using this technology to simulate the homes, offices, and other secure locations where the rich keep their valuables, he shows the people exactly how to rob the wealthy blind.
Volume isn’t the sort of cinematic, epic and convoluted jumble that other games in the genre have become. Instead it tells a tight story I think is worth hearing. The voice cast deliver a good performance, headlined by Andy Serkis as Guy Gisborne, the main antagonist. While the tone of oppression and rage is very evident in Rob’s dialog, there are also some funny exchanges between the characters that keep the game from going too far into the darkness.
Why Should I Care?
Rob himself isn’t a killer, so you won’t be eliminating guards willy-nilly. No, you’ll need to distract, evade, or temporarily stun them to achieve your goals. At first all you’ll be able to do is hide behind cover and sneak past them, but as you progress through the game’s built-in 100 campaign levels, you’ll gain the ability to draw the guards attention by whistling and then be introduced to a number of gadgets. This is where Volume does an excellent job with its difficulty. It slowly introduces elements into the mix and gives you enough time to get a handle on one before introducing another. Couple that with the game’s liberal checkpointing system and you have a mix that’s challenging for stealth game veterans and approachable for newcomers.
I feel that many modern games that bill themselves as stealth-action put too much of an emphasis on the action part of it. Volume doesn’t do any of that. It’s a top-down game where planning and execution is the key to success. Thanks to the checkpoint system, making a mistake isn’t the end of the world. You’ll just reset back to the last checkpoint you crossed. It makes sense. (This is a simulation after all. Why wouldn’t you have the ability to just return to a previous state?)
While some might think it makes the game too easy, for most people this system is going to be what keeps them from giving up on the game entirely. For the more hardcore stealth fans who want things to be more difficult, Lockdown and Execution mode are available. Lockdown mode disables checkpoints when when an enemy is chasing you. The amount of checkpoints remains the same, but you will not be able to brute force your way through the game without being sneaky. Execution mode just gets rid of the checkpoints entirely. If you get seen and shot, it’s back to the beginning of the map.
With 100 levels in the core game, Volume is not exactly lacking in content. Each level can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to complete, depending on how often you get stuck. The level design is such that sometimes a bit of trial and error is needed in order to get through. You’ll need to get a handle on how the guards make their rounds, how sounds can attract them, and how the various gadgets can be used to circumvent them and snatch those lovely polygonal gems that you’re after. It’s one thing to have a gadget to divert a guard’s attention, it’s another to figure out how to get the guard to look at it. You’ll have to puzzle these things out, and that’s half the fun of the game.
Volume would be an easy one weekend game, except that there is a level editor included in the game where you can build and share your own maps. If you’ve cleared every level in the game and are craving more, then you’ll likely find a wealth of new challenges online. Or if you prefer you can create your own levels and share them with the community. The game is designed to have legs, though at this early stage the maps available are mostly made up of people just messing around with the editor. That isn’t to say there aren’t some real gems hiding among them. That’s what the developer picks section is going to be for.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Volume is not a game that will appeal to everyone. It is, however, a game that knows exactly what it is and what it is trying to accomplish. It is a well-crafted game that I had an immense amount of fun with. It is a stealth game, not a stealth-action game. As such, it’s a game that rewards planning and persistence rather than brute force. If you’re someone that likes to use your brain, Volume is a game you should absolutely play.