Despite being a bit late to the party, I was really impressed with Thomas Was Alone – a platformer taken back to its most basic level in terms of gameplay and visuals but elevated by a strong narrative and humourous voice-over. Its creator, Mike Bithell, is now tackling a much more ambitious project but in a similar vain. Volume is a stealth-puzzle game that forgoes guns and violence in favour of wit and cunning.
• Developer: Mike Bithell
• Publisher: Mike Bithell
• Reviewed on: PC
• Also Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
• Release Date: TBC
At the Eurogamer Expo, the Volume demo was set up on two PCs in the corner of the Rezzed area. Despite the low-key presence, it was continuously attracting a crowd, which was good to see. Mike Bithell was on hand, overseeing the booth and seemed nervous and excited in equal measure. The steady flow of interested fans must have been reassuring at the very least.
The demo consisted of a number of tutorial levels to get you accustomed to the controls. While the game is being released on Vita and PS4, the builds for these platforms have not been created yet. Therefore, PCs with keyboards and mice were used to demonstrate the game. I would have preferred to use a gamepad to get an idea of how it would control on those platforms but that also may not have been ready.
In any case, Volume was a delight to play. Taking a leaf out of the original Metal Gear Solid’s VR missions, the level opens with the environment being constructed around you. The visuals here are beautifully vivid, using vibrant greens, oranges and blues for the level’s layout. Enemies are then shown in stark white while your character is appropriately dressed in black.
Just like Thomas Was Alone, there is very little superfluous detail in the game. The visuals and audio are minimalist for a reason too – each element is used to inform your progress. Similar to Mark of the Ninja, every aspect of the design gives you feedback on how you’re playing. For instance, stepping on noisy floor panels plays a specific noise and the tile flashes, not as an aesthetic treat but to warn you that you should probably avoid these in future.
The goal is to collect gems and fill a meter at the bottom right of the screen – the number of gems required varying from one level to the next. The aforementioned absence of gun play may seem restricting, but Volume gives you all of the necessary tools you need to progress. In the demo, I got to use two – the blackjack, which temporarily incapacitated an enemy, and the bugle, a noise-maker that can be ricocheted along a trajectory line and set off by releasing the fire button. Even with these, the game is challenging. Enemies have a relatively wide vision cone, again visually displayed, that becomes a thorn in your side rather quickly. While Bithell did say that being seen is not game over, it does still feel like a failure on your part. Thankfully, the levels seem to be split up well, with enough checkpoints available to avoid frustration.
While I did not get to see the most intriguing aspect of the game mentioned during the its announcement, specifically the level creation and sharing tools that will be available to users, there was still enough on display to keep my interest high. With a reveal of the story mode still to come, Bithell has plenty up his sleeve to maintain that interest until release.