After the simplistic brilliance that was Mike Bithell’s debut, Thomas Was Alone, I kept my eye on Mike Bithell’s follow-up project – the modern-day, Robin Hood inspired, Volume.
I did give Volume a quick play on the PlayStation 4 but didn’t really get too invested in the game because in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to play through the title on my Vita. Thankfully, my judgement paid off – Volume on PlayStation Vita is brilliant, I have not been able to put the game down since it launched in the UK last Wednesday.
The backstory to the game is both clever and keeping with the times. You play as Robert Locksley, a petty thief who finds a device known as ‘the Volume’. This bit of kit was initially intended to be used as part of a secret military coup, but now it is in Robert’s hands he has the ability to simulate high-profile heists.
Robert decides to stream these heists online in the form of Let’s Plays, allowing for his audience to pick up tips so that they can steal from the rich and give to the poor – in a post-modern day Robin Hood tale.
There are 100 core heist simulations for you to tackle that form Volume‘s story mode, each lasting around 2-5 minutes. The goal of each level is simple; collect all the gems to activate the exit, and make it there without being caught. The great thing about Volume‘s take on the stealth genre is that it offers a pure stealth experience. Whereas some other recent stealth games offer a lot of freedom for you to escape your pursuers, Volume keeps you penned into a set area – meaning you will have to use whatever equipment you have to hand and the surrounding environment in order to survive.
You can see the influence that Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid has had on Mike Bithell, especially Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions from the original PlayStation days. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and it certainly shows here. From the vision-cones that show where an enemy is facing, to the almost top-down perspective of the game it is clear that Metal Gear Solid heavily influenced Volume‘s (and Mike Bithell’s) direction.
This is no bad thing, as what you get as an end result is one of, if not, the best stealth experiences in recent years. Volume is a game that challenges you but does not frustrate you. As you make your way through the game’s levels, you will be introduced to new enemies, new gadgets and new environmental objects for you to interact with. These features are split across the levels in such a way that new mechanics are introduced into the gameplay before a previous one becomes tiresome. This kept me engaged with the game and has had my Vita glued to my hands for the past few days as I ran through each level so that I could see what the next stage was going to throw at me.
As you race through these levels – and race you will as you try to make a mark on the game’s leaderboards – you will be subjected to the audio dialogue between Locksley (voiced by Charlie McDonnell) and his AI companion Alan. Although the casting of real-life YouTuber Charlie McDonnell as Locksley was a great idea in principal due to the stream-inspired theme of the game, I felt that the voice performance came across a tad flat – leaving a lot to be desired. This is not the end of the world though, as Alan is voiced by the brilliant Danny Wallace – teaming up with Bithell again after his BAFTA winning performance as the narrator in Thomas Was Alone.
Going against this pair is Guy Gisbourne, reimagined in Volume as the CEO of a company that has taken over England. Gisbourne is voiced by Andy Serkis, and both him and Danny Wallace put in stellar performances – although I would have loved to have heard more from the two of them throughout the game. Complimenting the voice actors is the game’s soundtrack, which features an intense, orchestral-style score, was created by the same guy that did the soundtrack for Thomas Was Alone, David Housden.
The visuals are fantastic, with a polygonal look prominent in both the areas and the characters that fill them. Unlike other stealth titles that thrive on darkness, Volume is bright, with the different simulations you visit shaded with a range of bright oranges, blues and purples amongst other colours lighting up the levels that you sneak around.
Manoeuvring about the simulations is simple, using the left analogue stick to move and the right to move the camera slightly in any given direction. You can interact with items (such as keys and gadgets) that litter the levels and pick up text documents with a press of X. These text documents are worth a read, some of them are hilarious and help to fill out Volume‘s story. You can also hug walls to escape line of sight with a press of the Left trigger and utilise your gadgets with the Right trigger. These gadgets are what thieves dream of, with 9 in total to use throughout the game. These are crucial to your progression and each one offers a unique way to distract and evade the enemy pawns that guard each level.
Aside from the game’s core levels, there is also a level editor available for you to create your own simulations – which you can then upload for the whole world to try. This level editor offers a great range of customisation for you to create a masterpiece (or a feeble attempt like mine below), with hundreds of levels available to play through already – with highlights listed in a ‘Staff Picks’ section.
After all is said and done, Volume on the PlayStation Vita is a fantastic game. Just Add Water have done a fantastic job in porting the title over to the handheld, and it feels at home on the Vita. With bite-sized pieces of stealth that are ideal for a pick-up and play gaming session, Volume has finally arrived and is 2016’s first must-play PlayStation Vita title.