Review: Volume (PS4)

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Title: Volume
Format: PlayStation Network Download (814 MB)
Release Date: August 18, 2015
Publisher: BITHELL GAMES
Developer: BITHELL GAMES
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: T
Volume is also available on PlayStation Vita (Q4 2015), PC, and OS X.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

This won’t be the Internet’s only review of Mike Bithell’s Volume to compare and contrast the game with Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions and mention that this creator is also responsible for the Indie hit, Thomas Was Alone. Both of these titles showcase Bithell’s passion for raw gameplay, the kind that unabashedly strips away gimmicky bells and whistles to focus on the mechanics and precision of the genre at hand.

Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer devoid of bestial mascots, attractive scenery, or minecarts of any kind. The characters you play as are geometric shapes with different heights, weights, and physical capabilities. Everything we’ve learned from playing platformers is ever present in its most mechanically sound form and the gameplay is boiled down to the very core of its essence. Sprinkling in a little thought provoking story makes it complex in its simplicity. Volume exists almost in the same vein but the genre on display here, in all its purified glory, is stealth.

Gameplay:
Shimmying against walls, staying clear of the enemy’s field of vision, using gadgets, creating distractions to affect patrols, creeping under the cover of shadows, and precisely timing your movement; almost every idea that’s ever been explored in the stealth genre is present in spades.

You are Robert Locksley and you’re operating inside of simulated environments meant to emulate the holdings of Gisborne, the evil mega-conglomerate headed by a tyrannical CEO who has all but taken over the world. Your actions are being live streamed in an effort to encourage your real world followers to mimic your movements and reclaim all that Gisborne has taken.

… exceeding the par time does not result in failure …
The story reveals itself through a few cutscenes, dialogue between characters, and various memos and emails littered throughout the story mode’s one hundred levels. At the level select screen, you are provided with a brief excerpt explaining which member of Gisborne’s operation you’re pilfering from and why the location is of significance to your cause.

Playing further into the ideal of refraining from dressing up negligible collectibles, the intel, hard drives, jewels, money, and various other valuables are all represented by generic gems. The player must collect each one of these before the level’s exit becomes accessible.

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Each stage has a “par” completion time which suggests about how long that level should take, but exceeding the par time does not result in failure. This is only one of the examples of Volume’s tendency to dilute the challenge.

A copious number of checkpoints and the ability to cross one while being pursued definitely devalued the threat of capture. I could cheat my way through otherwise beautifully designed stealth scenarios simply by getting spotted and reaching a checkpoint. Being caught after that would result in a respawn at the checkpoint with no enemies aware of my presence.

Many of the real world tropes associated with livestreaming our gaming endeavors are woven into the story in creative and humorous ways. Popular internet personalities offer their opinions on your ideology and fans with interesting talents support you in their own special way.

… the level editor serves to peel back the curtain …
Some advanced stages walk the line of a puzzler with locked areas and a choice of gadgets, of which you can only carry one at a time. Do I grab the navigable noisemaker to lure the enemy away and then unlock the door or should I use the blackjack to stun a baddie first? As is the case with many of the minimalistic accoutrements, the gadgets themselves serve very distinct, overarching purposes without any unneeded flash.

Visuals:
Every level generates with a melding of shapes and colors as the stage creates itself in a true simulation fashion. Environments range from industrial settings to elaborate mansion libraries as the game depends on the player’s imagination to fill in the gaps left by the simple décor. A few limited props like computers and bookcases are used to accentuate the area and indicate the type of location.

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The level editor serves to peel back the curtain leading to the game’s inner workings as every story mode level looks like it can in fact be recreated by users. Most props can be customized to any hue in the spectrum and it will certainly be interesting to see what the community can come up with.

Audio:
The voice acting of your protagonist is definitely not that of your typical hero. Locksley comes off as clever, determined, and sincerely passionate about Gisborne’s wrongdoings while using a nerdy tone in a British accent. It’s hard not be on his side, and when he begins to second guess the impact of his influence, that feeling in the pit of my stomach matched his.

… nails the objective of creating a pure stealth environment …
Volume’s music is fitting in the sense of proper background noise for the gameplay. It isn’t overbearing in any way and helps the player cope with teetering on the brink of capture.

The infamous Metal Gear horn is replaced with a sudden booming crescendo that effectively jumps you into flight mode. I also enjoyed the quips of my AI partner, Alan.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only but the leaderboard integration is done well and can definitely spark competition for speeding through levels. The level creator allows for customization to the highest degree and can eventually result in unlimited stages to play. Unfortunately, the first time I completed a user created level, the game crashed and my 100% story mode save was corrupted.

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Conclusion:
Volume is undoubtedly a spiritual successor to Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions but a key difference is that Locksley doesn’t really have the option of fighting back. This design choice not only fits the story but it also nails the objective of creating a pure stealth environment.

With no fighting mechanics and no gunplay, the focus is on timely and clever movement while the challenge comes from outdoing yourself and others for faster times. Mike Bithell and his team have proven that they can create meaningful experiences through solidifying the common mechanics of a genre and I’m excited to see which one they’ll tackle next.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
– Video games
– Rap music
It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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