Volume is a stealth game from Mike Bithell, the man behind Thomas Was Alone, which is a game that told a fantastic story using only colored blocks and, to be honest, will be a tough act to follow. Set in a time unknown, your job is to educate the country of England on how to take back their land from a Corporatocracy, run by the evil Gisborne company.
Jumping right in, the first thing you notice is how very Metal Gear Solid VR Missions it is, and as someone who thoroughly enjoyed that part of the MGS franchise, I most certainly am not complaining. The bright colors, the blocked out world, the short and sharp missions, all bring me back to my late 90s frustration of trying to get through all the VR missions without constantly getting murdered. The first thing I will praise about this game is if you can move over to one of the first tutorial blocks and activate it without help from the game itself, it actually turns off a lot of the tutorials, a feature that I really hope to see in future games from just about anyone.
As you start playing the game, you get to hear some banter and backstory from your character, Robert, and an AI narrator type, Alan, which is honestly a fantastic name for a English AI. This is where you learn about the duality of the games' title. What you are actually standing in while playing this game is called a Volume, a VR representation of real world places where you can practice your sneaking technique. You also learn how to use sound to lure away the AI pawns, for whom their only purpose is to shoot you in the face with a crossbow. The dialogue is funny and great to listen to, the only issue is that it is somewhat sporadic through out the main story.
The graphics are also very nice. The way Volume is presented is like what the past would've thought of the future. Volume is bright, full of neon colors, sharp edges and blocky designs. This once again goes back to the MGS VR comparison, but in a revamped sort of way. It does look very nice, as does the character models and the menu art, which include character portraits of the people whose building you are infiltrating.
The sound, however, leaves a little bit to be desired. Maybe it's because it all blended together, but to me, there were only three distinct music tracks—the menu track, the in-game track, and the you are being chased track—even though the soundtrack does list 14. If you are anything like me, you will likely turn off the music and play your own.
To complete a level, you need to collect all the gems lying on the ground, usually in a terribly inconvenient position, like in front of a pawn, or just over a box that makes your footsteps sound like gun shots, and then proceed to the exit. It all seems very simple, but like with most stealth games, the devil is in the details. The only gameplay elements isn't to sneak, but as the title suggests, you have to use sound strategically. This includes the aforementioned sound blocks, which when stepped on emit a sound in a large radius, as well as whistling, and using the environment and gadgets to make sound and lure away pawns from their inconvenient patrol positions. It's all very strategic, and providing you aren't going for a world record time, you won't have much of an issue getting through the game, especially considering you can checkpoint scum the game, but it takes away some element of fun from it.
The gameplay itself is fun, which is good because there are 100 story missions, each about 1-2 minutes long, if you don't make any mistakes. Volume does its best to keep the game fresh and interesting by giving you an array of different gadgets, nine to be exact, all that do vastly different things to make you work your brain and get to the exit. These range from making sounds, to making you run silently, to a ghostly apparition of yourself that confuses the pawns into following it.
The problem is, even with all this variety, the game can become stale after a while. If there was some more banter between the Robert and Alan, the grind of the story mission would be more bearable, but as it stands it gets dull. To compensate, the game does include a level editor, an online sharing function, and a staff pick section, which allows you to get as many new levels as your heart desires. My favorite feature of this is the fact that you can not upload any levels you create unless you pass them first, so the online section wont be littered by stupid and impossible levels that people make just to mess with people.
In the end, Volume is a little hard to recommend at its $20 price point. It is fun, but I can't see anyone but the most dedicated puzzle gamers slogging through the main story, and then going off to play more of the online levels. I got through about 70% of the story mode before I threw in the towel from the constant grind. Your mileage may vary with this title, but for me, I just could not get enough out of it. But if this does seem to be your kind of game, it is currently available through Steam and the Humble store for $19.99US or your regional equivalent.
What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments!
Volume was provided by Mike Bithell Games and was reviewed on Steam.