Volume: Turn it Up

Volume is a brilliant top down take on the stealth concept behind games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. Created by Mike Bithell – Thomas Was Alone being his first success – it is a game where style and substance are the same: beautifully minimalistic scenarios let the player dive right into the action.

The story is short and simple, yet bizarre: Robert Locksley – the player – is a young thief (totally not based on Robin Hood) who uncovers a plan to stage a coup through various heists. Using a VR device called Volume he then decides to make the plan crash by virtually executing those same heists in a 3D environment, streaming the self-made propaganda to the people in order to get them rise against the conspirators.

While the plot is short, the game itself is quite long at 100 levels. Game basics are the same as every other stealth-oriented title: sneak, cover, get keys to open doors, avoid the guards, exit. It is gameplay what actually makes the difference here: controls are smooth and responsive, supported by well-designed UI and graphic elements that make everything fast and easy to understand. The top-down visuals give you an unexpectedly immersive experience, with a dreamy and geometric looking 3D graphic style mainly based on cubes and triangles. It’s got a definite retro-modern feeling to it.

You will need to study every level and move wisely in order to succeed, because the game speeds up the pace very quickly: guards begin moving and turning around, faster and faster, with dogs and security turrets to further limit your freedom and time to act. Sometimes you get the feeling of playing a fuzzy mix between a puzzle and a stealth game, where the player sometimes struggles to find the only way through, tempted to use a trial-and-error approach, also backed up by a checkpoint based save system that won’t let you start it all over every time. Anyway, don’t be scared: Volume is challenging, but anything but frustrating.

Sadly or not, the game forces you into a constant rush to complete your schemes fast: each level gets a “par” time that you need to match or beat in order to be considered good, and a leaderboard where all of the players’ times are recorded. It’s competitive stealth; and while I can’t say it’s 100% a good idea (freedom of play is limited since you couldn’t play at your own pace if you wished to) I can see its point.

So, the game is good and feels solid. But does it really add something new to the genre? Well, just a bit. It is an top-down and different take on stealth gaming, but after the first couple of hours I didn’t feel that initial sense of innovation no more. It won’t get boring fast: it is a well designed and realized project, with content and atmosphere to keep you entertained for hours, but it also isn’t a total reinvention of the genre. It’s a fair accomplishment, though, and often brings to mind the VR missions in Metal Gear Solid.

Finally, I got to spend a very good word on voice acting and script: lines are often rich in dark and cheap humor, giving a somewhat funny twist to a very serious and difficult game. The A.I. companion, Alan (again totally not a Robin Hood reference), has an interesting sense of humor and will constantly be speaking with the protagonist, who will often reply and start dialogues that drag the player deeper into the mood of game, explain key concepts or commands, or even drop casual lines to break the drama with cheap talking.

Overall, Volume is a game that I would recommend and that’s worth buying if you like this genre: consider it as the joining link between 3D stealth and 2D puzzle games. Add good low-poly 3D and nice sounds for an overall strong package.

Value for Money8
While it doesn't innovate hugely, Volume is an entertaining game with a lot to do. It's a worth addition to the stealth genre and a continuation of good form from Mike Bithell.

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