Volume Review

By Brandon Fusco,
In recent years, the isometric stealth genre has been in a bit of a slump. Even the franchise that set the standard, Metal Gear Solid, has departed from those roots in favor of a closer, more intimate third person perspective. This viewpoint allows for more action while making the stealth tenser by restricting your view. A game like that can really get the blood pumping, but it leaves a rather large gap that Volume, Mike Bithell's latest creation, aims to fill.

Logo

Volume frames this stealth based gameplay in a near futuristic England with a modern take on the classic Robin Hood fable. Throughout the game, you play as Rob Locksley who is using an old Volume AI to simulate burglaries using holograms. These simulations are streamed around England in an effort to show others how to steal from, and ultimately overthrow, Guy Gisborne and his unlawful rule.

Unfortunately, this plot unfolds painfully slowly over the 100 core simulations that make up the main narrative mode. Aside from the few bits of text scattered around each level, players are only exposed to a scene every three to four levels on average. The quality of the writing and voice work is superb with only a few exceptions, but the way that things are stretched sucks the life and motivation from Volume. During the middle 40% of the game, the simulations are short enough and the dialog strong enough that it's pretty enjoyable, but the first quarter is slow to get going and the last quarter is made up almost exclusively of inconsequential monologue rather than the expected crescendo of personalities.

Steal all the things, get out. Simple.Steal all the things, get out. Simple.

The gameplay is also similarly stretched, but solid. Barring only a few levels later on in the campaign, the difficulty isn't overly high. Each simulation has just enough complexity to elicit a sense of cleverness, but these moments are fleeting. The mechanics of the game, such as the use of gadgets to distract guards or the functions of various types of NPCs, are fairly simplistic, relying on overlapping elements to create difficulty. There's a lot of promise within the gameplay and mechanics, and the levels serve as a good representation of this, even if it doesn't always succeed in fulfilling that potential.

Alongside the core campaign is a map editor that allows players to create their own mazes, maps, and puzzles. The system is intuitive, allowing for the quick creation of basic simulations, but there's a lack of higher end features that could cause serious map creation to stall. If a guard isn't in quite the right place, they have to be deleted and placed again. If there's a particular pattern or group that needs adjusting, there's no way to copy or move them. Simply moving a row of objects one space down could take several minutes and replicating a guard patrol requires redrawing that entire route. Despite this, the editor does seem to provide the game's full suite of tools, and creating a map is easy even if it isn't timely.

Lining up those guards correctly was time consuming.Lining up those guards correctly was time consuming.

Once the map is created it can be uploaded pretty easily, although the creator has to complete the level upon uploading before it can be posted to ensure that there aren't any impossible maps in the online pool. Trying to find it, however, could be a problem, as the only method of finding things seems to be by going through the entire list or through a text search. A "Staff Picks" section is available and was previously populated, but it is currently empty. This is problematic since most people are still learning and many of the levels available at this point are mundane with no threats of any kind and only a single block path. At this point, there isn't even a basic filter so that you can search maps based on their average user rating. Should you find a map that you want to play, be aware that the game will crash upon completion half of the time.

Out of 25 possible trophies, only one appears like it will be any trouble. The trophy to find all of the text pages within each area may require subsequent playthroughs, but the rest of the trophies are fairly simple and are along the lines of performing actions a certain number of times. Many of these will likely unlock while completing the game for the first time, and any that aren't can be finished in just a few minutes on the appropriate level. At the moment, however, it appears that one of trophies may be glitched. The "Q" trophy requires the use of all nine gadgets throughout the game and it seems that it would be almost impossible to complete the game without completing this trophy, let alone having more than 10% of players finish the story while none have achieved "Q".

Summary

It's clear that Volume has been given a lot of love, but there's only so much that solid fundamental gameplay and good dialog can compensate for. There's an entertaining adventure that has just enough to pull you through the game, and it introduces interesting concepts for thought, but it's diluted over the course of 100 levels leading to a predictable ending. The act of playing is enjoyable enough, but the levels tend to consist of small triumphs with no climax or sense of relief at the end. There's potential for a great library of user created challenges, but finding them is problematic, and finishing them could be disastrous. There's just enough to enjoy over the 6-8 hour story to be worth your time, but there's very little reason to come back after that.

NOTE: It must be noted that the game crashes eventually resulted in corrupted save game data on two separate occasions. The game also crashed twice during the main campaign but, aside from a couple of short minutes of lost time, these crashes seem to have had no permanent impact on the game. It also appears that at least one trophy may be glitched. Proceed with caution, or perhaps wait until it is confirmed that these game breaking bugs have been patched.
2.5 / 5
Volume
Positives
  • Strong writing and dialog
  • Solid mechanics
  • Thorough map editor tool set
Negatives
  • Story is stretched thin
  • No overarching sense of triumph
  • Lack of high level editor tools
  • Poor community map sorting
  • Game breaking bugs, glitched trophy
Ethics
Brandon played the game for about 10 hours, enough to complete the story once, build a basic level, and mess around with the levels available online. During this time, he unlocked a whopping 18 of the 25 available trophies. As a huge "Thomas Was Alone" fan, he really wanted to like this game, but there's a chance for a good or even great game to be revealed with some tweaking and a lot of fixes to the online components. He purchased a personal copy on the PlayStation 4 for the purpose of this review.
Brandon Fusco
Written by Brandon Fusco
Brandon is an Editor and TGN's Host with the Most. The most what? The most opinions, the most understanding wife, and the most *funny cat videos. Previously Host of the Trophy Talk Podcast. (*Not Verified)