Welcome to the Volume. Or at least this Volume run by an AI named Alan. Say hello to Alan, he is going to train you in a volumetrically created space, something like a virtual reality training room. But wait, he can’t find you in the database Rob, are you a secret agent of some sort?
If you have ever played any of the VR missions in Metal Gear Solid, you will know exactly what I am talking about when it comes to the look and feel of Volume: a space with minimal textures and large polygons: a spartan take on the world around us, reduced down to the most basic elements. Vision cones of enemies are visible, as are traps and hiding spots. Your top down view gives you a massive advantage, easily identifying threats and working out the safest or quickest path to the objective.
The premise is simple: get all the gems in the level and reach the exit. Your character, Rob Locksley, is a modern day Robin Hood. He steals from the rich to give back to the poor in a dystopian near-future England where a few years after the events of Thomas Was Alone, one power hungry CEO has taken over England and turned it back to a caste system frighteningly similar to the one the original Robin Hood was fighting to undermine.
Over the course of the game’s 100 levels you will discover a lot more about the evil Gisborne corporation and its power-hungry CEO, voiced by Andy Serkis. You will also learn more about why Locksley is on this mission to steal from the rich, as well as what has been happening in the world outside the Volume. Things in England are not too good, unless you happen to be one of Gisborne’s cronies or you happened to be born into the right caste.
A thief, not a killer
Similarly you will be exposed to all manner of gameplay objects over 100 levels, the game making sure you have the fundamentals mastered (or at least firmly gripped) before introducing gadgets to distract enemies and new hiding spots. Thanks to the minimalist design these elements pop out at you, making you want to go explore what anything new in the environment does. Most of the objects and gadgets are intuitive: you can hide under floor traps or behind doors and the gadget called a bugle makes a loud noise. You can only carry one gadget at a time and they don’t carry over between levels, meaning for the most part you only have your wits to rely on. Being spotted will almost always end in death, except for a few situations where you get spotted on purpose to cause an enemy to break his patrol. By level 100 you are still using the same techniques you learnt in the first few levels, but that point they are so ingrained that you are doing them naturally without thinking about how you learnt how to handle and bypass all the challenges you have faced on the way.
The game is sleek and the design feels effortless, with well-crafted levels making your brain work, while sometimes making you feel rather clever for solving them below the par time for the level or without dying too often. A clear run through the patterns of patrols feels exhilarating, and will have you challenging levels again to see if you can find a spot on the leaderboards. The game also comes with a comprehensive level editor so you can challenge your friends or try some of the devilish creations by some of the masters of Volume. There are already a few level creators I have my eye on, players with times that appear consistently in the top 5 of the campaign’s leaderboard.
If you enjoy stealth games where the point is to be a ghost, and not just an excuse to quietly murder everyone in sight like a homicidal maniac, you should give Volume a try. Get ready to have a lot of fun by making some noise.