Learning The Tricks Of The Trade In Volume

When there’s a game I’m looking forward to, I tend to try and let it fade into the background noise of the regular churn of games industry news and announcements, in a faint attempt to let the final game surprise me with those secrets that others had been whispering about for months on end.

Coming off the back of Thomas Was Alone, a game that filled you with the warmth of its charm and wit at every opportunity, Mike Bithell’s follow up, Volume, landed itself in such space within my mindset. It’s been a long time since I last played Volume, but it’s clear to see just how close to a finished game it now is.

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Thankfully, in some ways, what I played was just the first handful of levels, which necessarily act as the game’s tutorial and gradually eased me into how the game plays. Mike has never been shy to reveal the first Metal Gear Solid as a major source of inspiration here, and it’s quite plain to see the similarities, with the top-down camera angle the key to achieving that common ground.

Though visually very simplistic, it’s also quite gorgeous, with a distinctive look that’s accented and punctuated by the visual distortions and polygonal explosions, which see previously solid walls and objects burst apart into their constituent triangles.

Like MGS, this is also a stealth game, as you try to sneak through each level, avoiding or distracting guards so that you can collect the small floating gems that unlock the exit platform. Yet, there’s also an element of puzzle solving involved, as the environment and guard patrols or positioning give you a conundrum to unravel.

Something that caught me out on a couple of occasions was that I could only hide behind low walls but snapping to them, rather than simply crouching. Naturally, crouching would make things almost insultingly easy, so as I found myself caught and shot by the guards – just a single hit and the jig is up – I quickly learnt my lesson as I was almost instantly zipped back to the numerous checkpoints.

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Whether patrolling or standing still, it’s really on you to figure out the way to get past the guards that are in your way, and how best to do so using the gadgets at hand to disrupt the AI. The Bugle has been the most regualarly aired in public, as a clever little noisemaker to draw enemies away from the path you wish to take. What’s particularly smart about it is how you can bounce the projectiles off walls a few times, as well as trigger the noise whenever you like, so that you can really finesse your route through.

Feeling like more of a brute force approach to getting past, the Masquerade allows you to quickly don the same kind of holographic armour as the guards that you need to evade, so that you can saunter through their clearly marked cones of sight without being detected. They will, however, talk to you, telling you to sort yourself out and not look so shabby in their distorted and robotic voices.

One of the delights and draws to Thomas Was Alone was obviously the voice work of Danny Wallace, and he returns as the AI computer called Alan, who creates the world for you to sneak through. There’s a similar charming style to the script as before, but it’s also good to hear how adding extra characters into the mixture hasn’t diluted it. If anything, it’s probably easier to have Wallace bouncing his lines off Charlie McDonnell in the role of Locksley, as they chat away during these early stages, and I’m quite eager to see the wider cast in full flow.

Similarly, I can’t wait to see the level design flourish beyond needing to teach me how to play. There are further gadgets to play with, and we’ve already seen the Figment – a decoy of yourself that heads off in a straight line – and the Foley – a trip mine to stun guards – in action. There are also further enemies to face, with things like the Knight, Rogue and Hound revealed in a recent trailer.

But really it’s with the potential for all of these ideas to play off one another in more complex level design that has me intrigued. Brief glimpses of this were shown as I bounced noisemakers and moved a single guard around who was blocking my way into three rooms, or how forcefields blocked my ability to roll over a low wall, forcing me to find another way around.

Volume might start off with pleasant introductions and a gentle difficulty curve, but with canny and multi-faceted level design, it could quickly evolve into a devilishly tricky stealth puzzler.

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1 Comment

  1. Still not sure whether this is a game for me or not but following the development has been very enjoyable. :-)

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