Monday, July 24, 2017

Review - Volume

There was a particular purity about Thomas Was Alone that carries over into Volume, even with the move from flat pixels to 3D and a funkier sci-fi plot. Volume is also one of those games that despite being available on PS4 and PS VR fits best on the Vita, even if it might not quite have the fluidity of the big screen or immersive versions.

You play as Locksley, a modern day avatar of the Robin Hood character. He is aided by VR/AI creation Alan (Danny Wallace), who is being used to hack into the treasures of a corrupt British regime, and to stream footage of his virtual crimes out to others to ferment rebellion. Defending the status quo is Gisborne, a techno Theresa May or Liam Fox, voiced by the king of computer-generated characters, Andy Serkis.
When your world starts to fall apart
Each of 100 core levels is a compact puzzle with a range of tricks, and security-guard traps to overcome to collect the treasure and escape. Caution and timing are your watchwords. While there is a community best-time leaderboard, you can worry about those later. Instead, you start out, treading cautiously around, working out the route and learning from your many mistakes.
Mike Bithell in his blue period
Tricks such as whistles, jumping mute buttons with a run-faster mode, alarm cancellers and noise makers will help you past the guards. You can see their cones of vision and regular patrol routes, and generally, know where they will go if you alert them. Creeping along the walls, hiding in cupboards and a good, old-fashioned leg it to the exit all add to the fun! New tricks are added later on like the Blackjack to stun enemies, so things never get stale, especially with teleporters and invisibility.

The stark atmosphere, the many notes you find along the way and the slightest scope for different paths mean Volume never gets boring or leaves you stuck in that one place. You can put the Vita down for a few minutes, try the user-created levels for a spot of fun, or try to beat some of those times.

Whatever, the game never feels pushy or has the vicious degree of addictiveness that can lead to hatred and 4AM where-did-my-life-go? moments. Like a good British afternoon tea, it is a game to be savoured, enjoyed not rushed through in a blur of chemical romance.

The deeper review bit...

Normally around here in a review, I start looking for deeper mechanics or meaning, trying to link characters to classic archetypes (or talking about fishing minigames with an axe to grind). But Volume is a pure and simple affair, politics aside. There's no bolted-on social interactions or a sudden appearance of a fishing minigame (I think).

Instead, you can build your own levels with the brilliantly simple creator and try to think of fiendish traps for others to fall into. If there's one thing that's annoying, the death mechanic is a bit feeble, surely something more final or variable would have helped, beyond the odd comedy message.

With Volume, you can see exactly what you're getting and while the puzzles get more fiendish, it never tries to alienate or overwhelm you. With deliberately muted tones, simple but polished graphics and a clever plot, Volume may be rather long, but is still well supported by the community (the weekly blog has only just finished publishing some two-years after launch). Buy cheap in the PSN sale and enjoy, a lot!

Price: £3.99 (PSN Summer Sale, usually £14.99)
More reviews
Score: 8/10
Dev: Mike Bithell
Size: 1.4GB
Progress: Completed

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