So, what’s the best way to describe the latest release from, Thomas Was Alone developer, Mike Bithell? Well, imagine if you will a game that combines the general aesthetic and structure of Metal Gear Solid’s VR missions with the more basic fundamental mechanics of Pac-Man. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely more Metal Gear than Pac-Man, but make no mistake, Volume, despite its interesting themes and borderline incessant dialogue, is very much a ‘gamey’ game.
First and foremost and above all else though, this is a clear homage to the PS1 / PS2 era Metal Gear Solid games. From the classic Metal Gear viewpoint to the basic stealth mechanics and the insistence on near continuous chatter, other than its somewhat uniquely stylish visuals, this is Metal Gear diluted down to its purest form. Despite all of the talk though, the dialogue never actually gets in the way of the gameplay which forgoes sprawling stages in favour of much smaller, puzzle like affairs that task you with collecting a selection of diamonds dotted around each level that ultimately unlock the door and thus stage completion.
It’s these diamonds that not only give the game its aesthetic similarity to Pac-Man, but thanks to the collection of guards that patrol most stages, also give the game a mechanical similarity that becomes a lot more apparent once you try to beat each stages best times. When you first play a stage, it’s often a very stealthy affair with the emphasis likely to be on sticking to walls and carefully moving around guards and obstacles, but once you know the lay of the land and come back in an attempt to climb the leaderboards, you’ll often find yourself tearing around stages, picking up diamonds with the guards (read: Ghosts), lagging just behind you as your emphasis changes from hiding from guards to simply staying ahead of them. Whether you play it slow and steady or at break-neck speed, the beauty of, Volume is that it works just as well either way. It’s almost like having two games.
There are a few gadgets at your disposal (one allowed per stage), but for the most part, this is simplistic, arcade-style stealth that substitutes realism in favour of easily identifiable rules and mechanics. Those available – a decoy ala Total Recall and an oddity (think the girlie mags from Metal Gear) to name but a few – do work well, but like everything else in this game, there implementation is basic, but perhaps more importantly, successful.
The same could be said of the guards – yes, their cone of vision, basic movement patterns and their penchant for easy distraction makes avoidance relatively easy, but within the overriding systems that dictate Volume’s world, they actually work perfectly. Too smart and the game would slow to a crawl, too dumb and they’d be a non-entity – it’s all about building AI around the pace of your game and the mechanics at your disposal, and in that respect, Volume’s slightly dopey AI is probably just about right.
The story, a modern re-telling of Robin Hood complete with an array of nods towards current socio-economic issues is largely entertaining and well delivered. Some of the dialogue does rattle on a bit and it can be difficult to pay attention when you’re trying to complete a mission, but for the most part, this rather serious and certainly more sombre tone (certainly compared to, Thomas Was Alone) suits the world created. A bit of levity wouldn’t have gone amiss, but for the most part, Volume delivers and interesting and well told tale. The story, as solemn as it might be, certainly suits the art style which, despite consistent flashes of colour, does have a starkness about it that, while rather striking, is far from welcoming. The unique, minimalist art design might have been used primarily as a way to keep the budget down, but it does give the game a certain aesthetic punch that might have been lacking had it gone for a more realistic approach.
It’s not the deepest or the most challenging stealth game out there and there are times when it can feel like an additional mode for a larger, more elaborate video game, but for the most part, Volume is a highly entertaining stealth game that puts immediacy and accessibility above elaborate gadgets or mechanics. If Metal Gear Solid was an arcade game, it would probably look and play a lot like Volume – and believe me, that’s not a criticism. Whether it be carefully plotting your way around a stage for the first time or tearing around it for the tenth, Volume’s basic but incredibly slick stealth mechanics ensure that each of the games’ carefully crafted collection of stealth-based stages can be enjoyed in a number of ways. With an equally simplistic but equally effective level editor also available, Volume offers a wealth of content for those looking for a more streamlined stealth experience.
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