The new game from the creator of Thomas Was Alone is a homage to Metal Gear Solid, but does it have any new tricks of its own?
We’re not sure what we really expected from a follow-up to minimalist, story-based platformer Thomas Was Alone, but a love letter to PS one era Metal Gear Solid would not have been our first guess. But that’s, very obviously, what Volume is, right down to the overbearing story that occasionally gets in the way of the action. But viewed purely as a stealth game this is destined to be one of the year’s best.
Volume (PS4) – turn it up a bit
As you can seen from the screenshots Volume takes as much inspiration from Metal Gear’s VR Missions as it does the actual real world elements of the game. We’re sure that’s partially for budgetary reasons, but it also emphasises the fact that this is a much more stripped down experience than the actual Metal Gears. The gameplay is pleasingly devoid of complications and although Hideo Kojima’s attention has a tendency to wander, Bithell is laser-focused on making the most of a purposefully limited set of gameplay mechanics.
The plot is more complicated though, a high-tech retelling of the Robin Hood legend, where hero figure Robert Locksley broadcasts his exploits to the masses and calls out the evil corporations he’s robbing. There’s also a clear attempt to comment on the cult of Internet celebrity and modern concerns about privacy and corporate greed. But some of the characters can yabber on for literally the whole level, which may have worked in Thomas Was Alone but that was primarily a comedy. Given the more serious tone of Volume’s story it often becomes an unwanted intrusion that spoils the mood.
Volume (PS4) – Snake? Snake?! Snakeeeee?!
What Locksley’s trying to do in each level is collect all the gems that litter the floor, so that they open up the exit to the next stage. Especially given the overhead viewpoint it feels very much like Pac-Man meets Solid Snake. There’s clearly a statement being made here: that this is a video game that’s proud to be a video game, rather than hide itself behind needlessly dour visuals or unlikely real world explanations for what’s going on.
There is of course more to it than that though, with each level filled with automated turrets, laser tripwires, pressure pads, force fields, and… guards. Although there is some scope for improvisation, since the guards have the typical goldfish memories of any stealth game, there is usually a small number of ‘right’ ways to complete each level – arguably making it just as much a puzzle game as anything else.
Guards are not just forgetful but highly predictable, and will respond to any noise no matter what. A simple whistle, the sound travelling out from you in concentric circles, always draw them out, allowing you to observe the route they take, the exact size and position of their vision cone, and, hopefully, a clue as to the solution of the level.
Locksley also has a small range of gadgets he can employ, although you can only take one into each level. These include a Total Recall style decoy hologram, a ‘bugle’ that allows you to bounce sound waves around a level like a snooker ball, and the ‘oddity’ – an object so supposedly fascinating that it can distract any guard indefinitely.
Although if anything you’re given too much help, as despite what you might think this isn’t a particularly difficult game. It’s almost trivially easy to break the line of sight with some enemies and the checkpoint system is overly generous.
Volume (PS4) – see the sound you’re making
The instant you touch a checkpoint your current progress is saved, but no matter where they are when you do so the position of enemies is reset back to their default when you reload. That creates a very easy way to cheat, and although it’s presumably designed that way so you don’t reload in an unwinnable position surely it would’ve been better just not to allow you to use a checkpoint if enemies are within a certain distance – as many other games do.
Even the target times for each level are usually pretty easy to beat, and it’s only the occasional stage that finds you struggling to work out what to do. The game does offer at least some kind of solution to its lack of difficulty though, in the form of an easy to use level editor. Which no doubt others at least will soon be taking advantage of.
But despite everything Volume gets right it still falls just short in most areas. The stages are rarely challenging enough, the visuals are never quite as stylish as you feel they should be, and the story never meshes as well as you’d like with the rest of the experience. It’s a solid game but you do feel it needs to turn up the dial a notch to be regarded as a true great.
In Short: An enjoyable homage to old school Metal Gear Solid, but a lack of challenge and an overbearing story means it isn’t quite a stealth classic in its own right.
Pros: The basic mechanics and controls are great, with some excellent level design that makes a stage a pleasure to complete even when you know the solution.
Cons: The story is trite and the voiceovers usually an unwanted distraction. Often too easy, especially if you exploit the checkpoint cheat. Visuals are a little underwhelming.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC, and PS Vita
Publisher: Mike Bithell Games
Developer: Mike Bithell Games
Release Date: 19th August 2015 (PSV TBC)
Age Rating: 12