What if you took Robin Hood out of Sherwood and put him into a virtual reality stealth simulation? Too far-fetched? Well no one told Mike Bithell that, so the result is Volume!

Genre(s): Stealth

Developer Mike Bithell

Publisher: Mike Bithell

Release Date: August 2015

Played Core Campaign + User Levels

Platforms: PC, PS4, Mac

Purchase At: Steam

Good:

  • Strong Mechanics.

  • Interesting approach to storytelling.

  • Superb voice acting.

Bad:

  • “Discovery” music is too loud.

Review

In Volume’s alternate British future, a man called Gisborne used Volume machines to train covert operatives before staging a coup and taking control of the country. In his new regime everyone’s divided into castes, each with a defined role in society, with the rich and powerful—like Gisborne—at the top.

Tired of this system that robs people of their futures, Rob Locksley decides to steal one of the older Volume units—the new iterations now in every household for educational purposes—and resets it. His plan is to give the people back their futures by staging simulations of some of the most guarded places in England so people watching through the internet enact the thefts by mimicking his actions. But he has to hurry as the moment he activated the Volume and the AI, Alan, couldn’t identify him, it sent a distress signal to Gisborne’s army.

Every level has a short blurb on what you're "doing."
Every level has a short blurb on what you’re “doing.”

You might think Volume doesn’t have a plot, that the setting I just described is merely the excuse for the events of the game, a simple premise that goes nowhere or at worst tries to cash-in with the Robin Locksley name. But if you really think so then you’re absolutely mistaken. Not only is the plot of this game phenomenal, with interesting twists I really didn’t see coming, but the ideals presented in it open so many possibilities for philosophical debate and introspective analysis. Would you be ok with such a system, stability at the cost of personal freedom? What would you do to overturn an unbearable status-quo, or how far would you go to defend it? Is the greater good worth sacrifices or should you avoid them at all costs? Volume presents you with these questions and more and it’s up to you to decide what you make of it, independent of what the characters feel about this.

Independent is a way I would describe the storytelling in Volume, as it is independent from the gameplay. The story continues no matter what stage you’re in at the time. You can finish a level mid-conversation and it’ll resume when you load up the next one. With the Volume just creating simulated environments, Rob never really leaves the room he’s in and this seamless continuation of plot and narrative reinforces this and enhances the immersion and the connection to your protagonist.

The Bugle, your bouncy ball of sound and fun!
The Bugle, your bouncy ball of sound and fun!

Volume is a stealth game. With Rob’s reprogramming, Alan simulates the properties of Gisborne’s allies. Each level will have a set of rooms to explore, guards to avoid, items to pick up and gems to mark your progress. You can’t escape the level without collecting all the gems. It sounds simple enough when I write it like that, but when you have multiple item options—of which you can only hold one at a time—various guards, alarms, lasers and even turrets, what starts out nice and simple becomes incredibly complex. But it’s always fair, and to mitigate the frustration that comes from being discovered the game returns you to your last checkpoint the moment you’re shot. This respawn and even the level loads are instantaneous, something that I found pleasing and which lets skillful players (which I am not) breeze through the game at their own speed.

Rob doesn’t have many skills, he doesn’t take guards down and he can’t hurt them. After all, they’re simple AI projections. But he can hug walls to avoid enemy lines of sight and whistle to draw their attention from their current spot. It might seem counterintuitive, but whistling to call guards or use items to distract them is one of the best tactics in the game, as it lets you break up enemy patterns to suit your needs.

Guards come in different styles, from the simple basic-guard Pawns to the Hounds, dogs with enormous fields of vision. If a guard sees you, a timer will pop-up over their heads and they’ll shoot you when the time runs out, so take cover if you can. This’ll put them in alert mode and they’ll try to find your last location and you can use this to your advantage. The AI might seem simple but it can surprise you and I found myself getting shot repeatedly because I underestimated it!

It took me approximately seven hours to finish the main campaign, though it might take much longer depending on your skills or if you’re trying to beat the time records for each. Aside from it, you have hundreds of custom stages created by the community using the in-game editor. The editor is easy to pick up and use and you can try out your design to refine it before you publish it.

I loved the visuals. Not only did the characters look great but the monochromatic levels add to the virtual reality experience. Be it hues of yellow or tones of purple, the levels feel surreal and cement you in this futuristic training tool, enhancing your immersion while making you drool at the spectacle of colour and light. By the time I was finished I wanted a Volume for myself!

Gotta love the colour scheme!
Gotta love the colour scheme!

Audio follows the same level of quality and the music ranges from techno-ish beats to some outstanding melodies with harmonies. The only problem I have with the audio is that the music that plays when guards spot you is too loud. Not only does it overpower every other song in the game but also it actually hurt a bit while playing with headphones. And you can’t lower the volume of this sound without it affecting the other phenomenal tracks. Voice acting is superb and Andy Serkis plays a reasonable villain in Gisborne, always willing to talk and offer unwanted advice. At least until he loses his temper! Rob and Alan’s voice actors make these two characters likeable and relatable, and you can form a good rapport with your AI guide. I was surprised when I heard Tuck’s voice: Jim Sterling. The fact that Tuck criticises Rob’s actions made it feel as though the character was on the Jimquisition. It was too funny for me.

Conclusion

I’m shocked with Volume, shocked that I can’t find a single truly bad thing to say about it. It’s a phenomenal game in plot, storytelling, gameplay, visuals and music, and it’s the beast stealth game of 2015 for me. Hell, it’s one of the best stealth games I’ve ever played.

TMA SCORE:

5/5 – Hell Yes!

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