Names in games are rarely associated with individuals. Of course, you have your Gabe Newell, or Cliff Bleszinski, among others, who have made a name for themselves within the gaming community. This is because game development is generally done in studios, where hundreds if not more of designers and coders work together to produce the final product. Indie gaming has though brought the rise of one developer, Mike Bithell, who broke onto the scene with Thomas was Alone, one of the best games of its year, and now is following up with Volume, a totally different, and not only in terms of gameplay, title.
Volume is a puzzle game, very much different from Thomas was Alone. If in the latter, the climate was relaxed and playful, Volume embodies the opposite characteristics, in the sense that as the game progresses, it becomes tenser and a sense of urgency begins to take over, even though levels do not have any time limit themselves. Perhaps the only similarity between the two is the narration in the game. While in Thomas was Alone the narrator’s part was pretty obvious, in Mike Bithell’s latest, the game is narrated through the use of both dialogue and messages spread throughout the level, aiding your understanding of whatever place you have found yourself in. Conversely to Thomas was Alone, in Volume the plot is not really the main focus of the game, instead letting the puzzles and mechanics take over in that department. Your character is called Robert and is a thief, and with the help of Alan, an AI who talks quite a lot, you navigate through the levels without alerting the guards. Technically, you don’t have to let the guards capture you not see you, as I’ve been noticed probably a hundred times now, but finding somewhere to hide will give you time to reorganize your ideas.
Gameplay in Volume is simple, but it does require good execution and after the first ten or so levels, thought will become an important factor in puzzle solving. Apart from moving, the only things which you can do is read notes, presumably left by Alan due to their cheeky comments, pick up gadgets, make noise, enter lockers or other places where to hide, or hide behind walls. If this sounds fairly limited, fear not, because the game plays so smoothly you don’t even realise how few the controls are. This is because Volume blends all these actions together in a way that you almost have too much on your hands. For example making noise while hiding behind a wall and then as soon as the guard patrolling the opposite area moves, you turn the corner yourself and escape.
In Volume, the main antagonists of each level are the guards, who patrol the area, either stationary or moving. Your job, obviously, is to avoid being killed by the guards. For the guards to shoot, you have to be in the field of vision of a guard for some five seconds, which honestly gives you plenty, if not too much, time to hide. Hiding in Volume is done either by normally moving behind cover or putting your back against the wall, which comes very useful when turning corners since by a press of a button, you will perform a right angle and stick to the next wall. There are also lockers in which you can hide, maybe until a guard passes by. Apart from being able to make noise yourself, there are also other sources which can be activated to produce noise, such as water taps or flushing a toilet. This will only attract guards standing within the range of such things, so plan your toilet tricks accordingly.
Even though you are heavily disadvantaged, being outnumbered and outgunned, since you don’t even have an arm, the gadgets which you can pick up take the game to another level, and also balancing the game a little. The beauty of this is that, unlike other puzzle games where the game becomes painfully easy when picking up the main gadget or item, you still need to work your brains in order to make it through the level, meaning that these pick-ups only boost your possibility to escape slightly. In other words, the player’s actions will still remain pivotal to your success. The game features a variety of gadgets, changing how you will tackle the level, and with Robert only able to use one at a time, you will need to think the level through to decide which gadget is best, or whether switching is ideal. One of the first gadgets lets you “throw” an object so distracting that even walking on noise pads will not make the guards budge. The duration of the distraction is moderately long, so placement is key. You can also take out multiple guards with one throw, but your aim must be spot on to pull it off. Gadgets recharge over a few seconds, meaning it is more of a trial and error thing than needing to nail it every time. Still, no one likes standing on the spot and waiting, which means there is the motivation to get it right as soon as possible.
For a game called Volume, related to music or not, one would expect a good if not great soundtrack to accompany the action. Well, Volume has an awesome soundtrack, with Thomas was Alone’s David Housden yet again creating another masterpiece. One which you would gladly switch on the game just to hear. Heck, even the few notes played upon dying are so cool you don’t even get mad biting the dust. The music also never gets in the way of the action going on, with the different sounds within the game all adding up to create an auditory experience rarely matched in gaming for beauty, consistency and even effectiveness.
Mike Bithell has definitely created another great game, one which will probably have a bigger lifespan than its spiritual predecessor due to the online part of the game, which lets players enter user-created levels as well as create their own. The story mode is quite lengthy on its own, but it may be beaten over the course of a few days, due to how much the game is addicting. All the elements in Volume blend to create a single item, dependent on everything else building it up but ultimately delivering quite the experience, both story and gameplay wise.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.