Volume Hands-On Preview
Volume is a curious title. Coming from the fine fella that brought us Thomas Was Alone, you might expect something of a similar ilk. In actual fact the only things that would tie these titles together are the quirky humour, colourful use of solid shapes and the fact they are both compelling plays.
Volume, for those with little knowledge of the title, is Mike Bithell’s take on the stealth genre. Potentially heavily influenced by titles like Splinter Cell, Hitman, Hotline Miami and Metal Gear Solid. In fact the look and feel is very reminiscent of some of Metal Gear’s VR training levels.
At the moment the narrative is something that Mike Bithell is keeping very close to his chest. So with the hands-on we tried it was all about showing the general mechanics of the game and how that would relate to the later game at large.
Control is simple enough to master. WASD will move you around the screen as you might expect. Your mouse is used to perform actions with the Bugle. This is a projectile device that you can launch to distract your enemies. You collect the Bugle projectiles from around a level. You then line up a throw using the mouse. A line that demonstrates the trajectory the projectile will follow appears on screen. This solid line will show the full ricochet path which is super useful and removes the guess work of knowing the angle involved in reaching certain areas.
Pressing the mouse button launches the Bugle along the path. What isn’t initially clear is that you can hold the mouse button in and release the button when the projectile reaches any part along that path. I’m sure in later development a prompt or tutorial note will address this – perhaps an animated or dotted line?
Regardless this method of distraction is great fun. Allowing you to experiment with the placement of distractions and offering a quick solution if a guard suddenly starts walking your way. In fact the whole design of Volume is clean and simple. It’s in this aspect that Volume reflects Thomas Was Alone so clearly. Strong design ethos overlaid on a clean and simple interface built around a geometrically luminous and structured world.
As with Thomas a simple game design and mechanic can be incredibly effective if executed correctly and with skill. Once again Bithell seems to pull this off effortlessly (although I highly doubt it was effortlessly – it takes many hours of frantic tweaking to make something look effortless).
Volume leans towards the hard end of the game play spectrum. You will die many, many times in the pursuit of that final level goal. Collecting the small bundles you need to steal (that is the purpose of the game after all!) in order to open a level end gate is such a simple task. Surely it can’t be that hard? Well friends it certain can be! You see your avatar has no real form of attack (with exception to the coshes you get to subdue guards) so once discovered it almost certainly spells death. Luckily the levels are littered with checkpoints. It’s a great mixture of careful planning, pin point execution followed by taught, frantic scrabbling to make it all work.
That’s not to say you can’t brute force the levels in places. It was possible to bum-rush the last few moments of some of the more tricky levels and it certainly got the job done – but nothing beats that feeling of success completion of a level the way it was meant to be done.
Mike Bithell, and his rag-tag team of indie lovelies, have a lot to live up to with Volume – and it appears they’re fully aware of that. Volume is an interesting game that, despite the frustration at dying repeatedly, kept putting a smile on my face each time I failed. It gave back so much more in euphoric glee at a level or section completion than it ever dealt out in near-instant death punishments.
Thomas Was Alone was one of my favourite platformers of recent times. Volume looks set to do something even more impressive – make me like the stealth genre. That’s something that Snake, Agent 47 and Sam Fisher have never managed to do. I have to implore each and every one of you to keep this game on your radar when the giddy new console frenzy hits. Triple A games shouldn’t only refer to budget, it should refer to game quality and enjoyment and as such Volume appears to be unequivocally triple A.
Volume is launching on PS4, PS Vita, PC and Mac in 2014.
Take a look just how Volume actually plays in this developer walkthorugh: