Volume Review

Written by Rick Lane

August 18, 2015 | 12:15

Tags: #metal-gear-solid #pac-man #splinter-cell #thief #volume

Companies: #bithell-games #mike-bithell

The clean visuals combined with the MGS-inspired camera angle means it's extremely easy to take in a level and figure out how you're going to pass through it. It's nearly always clear what you're supposed to do, where you need to go, and what your objective is. The clarity and brevity of each mission lends Volume a pleasing rhythm. It's undoubtedly at its best when you're on a roll, distracting guards, leaping over obstacles and slipping into the shadows without a break in momentum.

Volume Review [TUESDAY OR WEDNESDAY] Volume Review

Yet even in my smoothest moments, Volume never engendered in me anything more than a pleasing buzz of activity. At no point was I thrilled or absorbed by the game, for several reasons. Firstly, a big part of what makes stealth games enjoyable is figuring out the best way to approach a situation. All the best sneak 'em ups - Thief, Splinter Cell, Metal Gear, give you a range of tools for dealing with problems, and let you decide the best way to solve it.

Bar a tiny fraction of its levels, Volume doesn't do this. Instead, its missions are all heavily prescribed puzzles. There's no "best" or "worst" solution, only right and wrong ones. Most only require the use of a single tool, which the game will provide as and when it is required. In and of itself, it isn't an issue that Volume is more of a puzzle game. Yet because it embraces the language of those classic stealth games so closely, when you realise that it's only part of that family on the surface, it kinda feels like you've been hoodwinked. This is thematically fitting at least, but no more welcome for it.

Volume Review [TUESDAY OR WEDNESDAY] Volume Review

A far more significant problems is that as a stealth puzzler, Volume simply isn't that exciting. The idea that all the missions are simulations makes for a neat plot point, but it also removes any sense of thrill or danger to the proceedings. Remember the terror you felt when you were spotted by a guard in games like Thief or MGS, the wail of alarms, the arrows whistling through the air, the train of guards chasing you across the level? Volume doesn't really have that. If you're spotted by one of the simulated sentries, nine times out of ten you'll be dead within seconds, before being catapulted back to the last checkpoint. This turns the feeling of "Oh shit! I've been spotted! Nonono runrunrunrunrun!" Into, "Oh sh- oh never mind I'm dead try again!" It's stealth by attrition, which under any other circumstances wouldn't work at all.

The only reason it works here is because Volume's levels tick over at such a rapid pace.
There are a few smaller problems too. Once you die, on respawn you must wait several seconds for your currently equipped gadget to recharge. Complaining about this may make me sound like the most spoiled brat in the world, but in Volume that break in the momentum yanks on your immersion like a frustrated dog-walker. When you're stuck on a particular puzzle, having to endure that unnecessary pause time and again is maddening.

Volume Review [TUESDAY OR WEDNESDAY] Volume Review

Lastly, I found it quite difficult to listen to the dialogue exchanges which occur during missions. A lot of the story is laid over certain levels, with conversations taking place while you're sneaking through buildings and evading guards. This means you're often distracted from what everyone is actually saying. Worse, if you trip an alarm, pause the game, or even read a note, the game will cut-off any dialogue being spoken, and then replay that entire segment from beginning to end. Over the course of a lengthy conversation, this becomes downright torturous.

Volume is well-presented, thematically intriguing, and boasts some neat design ideas. Sadly, the only impact those ideas had was to make me yearn for other stealth games I've played in the past. It does boast an impressive level editor. So perhaps some bright spark can take the building blocks Bithell games has created, and employ them to make something more in tune with the classics Volume so obviously admires.

Volume Review [TUESDAY OR WEDNESDAY] Volume Review

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April 3 2020 | 14:09

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