Previews// Volume

Posted 8 Oct 2013 12:00 by
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?COME BACK 'ERE YOU TAFFER!'. These are the words that sent a shiver down my spine as I tried to evade the attentions of a guard in Thief: The Dark Project back in 1998.

15 years later and I'm sat at a booth at Eurogamer Expo experiencing the same emotions as I did all those years ago. But things have moved on. I'm attempting to evade an ever-so-clever and attentive guard in Volume, the latest offering from Mike Bithell, he of Thomas Was Alone fame.

In Volume the player takes control of a thief who is able to sneak past the attentions of guards, cameras and other security devices in order to get his grubby mitts on precious gems that are littered about the level. Just like most stealth games, Volume provides the player with tools that they can use in whatever way they see fit in order to complete the level.

You can be combative by temporary knocking out guards and then making a run for it, for example. This, however, raises the guards' attention to much higher levels and can end with your demise if you're not careful. Another method is to wait for the patrol pattern of the guards and keep out of their cone of vision, something I first saw in Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. Which if I remember correctly is also a game from 1998! Clearly Mr Bithell was rather inspired by these two games in his youth if these apparent influences are anything to go by.

I played a short demo version of the game that had a series of tutorials. They explained the mechanics of Volume and how the player can use the game's environment to sneak past security. Amusingly as I sat down and began using the now ubiquitous WASD keys a message appeared on the screen congratulating me for knowing the game would support this method. This pleased me somewhat as it demonstrated to me much celebrated self depreciating and dry humour of Thomas Was Alone was going to be alive and well in Volume.

The tutorials were straightforward and, as such, it wasn't until I played the later levels that I gained an appreciation of what Volume is. Yes it's a stealth game, much like the Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell franchises. But the way in which guards interact with one another and relentlessly pursue the player once they have a hint of their location leads one to believe it to be more a puzzle game than a pure stealth title. Each level is presented in a top down view with a slight angle off the vertical to give the player an sense of space and location. The viewpoint also affords you the use of walls to hug against in order to avoid the relentless glare of the guards.

The visual style of Volume is not too dissimilar to the VR training missions in Metal Gear Solid and many players at the booth made comment on its similarity. But while the presentation was similar to those now very famous missions, I felt the guard's intelligence, even in this relatively young version of the game, was more akin to Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. They were far more cooperative with one another than in MGS and would doggedly chase down the player as soon as they caught a hint of their presence.

The sound is a work in progress of course, but the spot effects and the words uttered by the guards did much to explain to the player their current status i.e. had they been discovered. The guards appear to be large gun toting robots that fill the player with lead if they find them. Clearly they don't follow the First Rule of Robotics! The music for Volume is being made by David Houseden, the same talented composer and musician who composed the excellent tunes for Thomas Was Alone.

From what I played of Volume I was really impressed with how the player could use the environment they found themselves in to complete a level in a variety of ways. There is no one right way to complete a level in Volume. It's whatever the player feels best in order to achieve their objective.

For more details on Volume do take a look at the interview with the game's developer Mike Bithell, where he is pressed about the game's influences and how it came into being along with many other things.

Read out interview with game maker Mike Bithell here.

Volume is due to appear sometime in 2014 initially for PS Vita and PS4 with PC, Mac and Linux ports appearing a month after the initial release.
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