We first came across Volume a couple of years ago at the Euro Gamer Expo. It was in a fairly early state and we struggled to get to grips with the mechanics and the general flow of the game. Now the finished game is here and it tells the story of a modern day Robin Hood trying to steal from a corrupt ruling class in a near future England.
The idea of the game is to navigate around enclosed maps in a pseudo-top down perspective and collect loot. Once everything of value has been obtained you need to reach the levels exit. There are of course a host of traps and enemies to avoid along the way and some wonderful gadgets that help you do just that.
The first thing that strikes you about Volume is that it has a wonderfully distinctive look to it. If the Vectrex was a modern day system running Metal Gear Solid VR missions then it would probably look something like this. The clear design keeps the play field uncluttered and allows players to easily identify loot, items and enemies. The only slight issue is that in tight levels it can be difficult to see everything as objects can be hidden a bit behind walls. It’s only a minor point though and for the type of game this is the visuals work just about perfectly.
Diving in you will find that your hero controls very well and the system is easy to pick up and get used to. You’re only really walking around but you can also crouch behind walls and whistle to attract attention. There are some fun gadgets to use as well and not a gun in sight (at least for you). There are gadgets that let you run quickly and silently across trigger traps and various things you can throw at walls to distract enemies while you sneak by. Our favourite is the first one you get which is the bugle. This allows you to fire a sound pellet across a planned path and then activate it at any point to lure guards away.
Each level has somewhat generous check points throughout and while this does reduce frustration it can also mean things are little too easy sometimes. You have unlimited lives and restart at the last point you passed when you get shot. That’s fine in itself but there were a number of times where it was easier to grab loot by running straight through it, dive through a checkpoint, get killed by the pursuing guard and then just start again from the point with everything reset and the loot still obtained. In a couple of levels we even managed to get through the checkpoint as we were dying, only to pop up seconds later with guards now back in place and everything fine. Again, it’s not a major issue but can make escapes feel cheap and often removes the need for the more intricate stealth sections the levels are designed for.
Level design is excellent throughout and players are always being given new things to play with, new enemies to avoid or new ways to think. The feeling of repetition never really kicked in for us and we played the game for quite sustained periods of time each time we picked it up. There’s clearly some intelligent planning going on here and with stealth games like this it is all important to get it right and Volume does.
Sound effects are kept to a minimum but work well with the stealth premise. Anything that makes a noise is crisp and also gives an indication of how far the noise is traveling. The uncluttered soundscape again acts well to help the player in their loot collection. What doesn’t work so well is the voice over with the protagonist talking to his AI companion throughout. Not only does this mask sound feedback at times it also drops a text box on the screen which can be irritating when you are trying to sneak around traps.
The story is not exactly told in a subtle way either and the script could really have done with a few revisions. Unfortunately it comes across as rather overbearing during play and the protagonists voice over never really fits in with the actions being carried out on screen. Instead it seems like someone talking to you in the room while you’re playing (and we all know how annoying that can be).
Overall, Volume is a very enjoyable and well-designed experience. It offers something a bit different in the current market and succeeds at most of the things it has set out to do. We would have liked to see a bit more of a challenge later on, the checkpoints need a bit of a placement rethink and the story can grate but it’s full of ideas, plays well and looks great.