Volume, developed by Bithell Games, best showcases just how fun virtually pilfering from the rich can be; especially when it inspires the poor to do the same in the real world. A third-person top-down stealth game highly reminiscent of the first two Metal Gear Solid titles, Volume has a clever and thought-provoking story that raises a plethora of questions. Is the main protagonist really doing the right thing by stealing from others, or is he an ignorant fool thinking that he could actually make a change? Volume is also a joy to play, containing highly varied rooms to plunder and simple mechanics that make for one of the most satisfyingly challenging stealth games I’ve played in years. However, it’s not without its flaws, as a few poor design choices often get in the game’s way.
You assume the role of a young thief named Robert Locksley who, with the help of a forgotten AI and a tool called Volume, reconstructs virtual rooms and areas to steal from and then broadcasts his work to the entire world. The real kick is that these rooms are ripped straight from the archives of Guy Gisborne (voiced by Andy Serkis), a corrupt and power-hungry businessman-turned-ruler and his equally vile associates. By doing this, Locksley gives people the perfect guide on how to successfully steal from these powerful individuals in the real world without getting caught. It’s a fascinating premise that deals with the modern age (internet, live-streaming), and is essentially a refreshing take on the classic Robin Hood story. It’s well acted—Andy Serkis, though not having that much to do, kicks it out of the park—and despite its dark premise, Volume still manages to evoke some clever humor and quirky dialogue. The only problem is the way in which the story is presented; it’s told through brief conversations and emails you can find along the way. This often distracted me from progressing through the levels; especially given the fact that you’re timed for leadership purposes. But this issue is masked a little by the terrific writing.
Volume’s one hundred bite-sized levels will take a total of five to six hours to complete, with each level lasting about a minute to three minutes. Each level is isometric. They're crafted around you from the ground up and contain glistening shards of polygons that form stylish architectures. Volume is a visual splendor, to say the least. These levels often contain intelligent AI guards and dogs, turrets, and traps that the player must overcome in order to get to the next level. They never feel old or humdrum, despite the staggering number of these levels; instead, they carry over new mechanics you just learned and blend them with newer techniques to make for a refreshing gameplay experience. Volume does its best to constantly keep you on your toes and challenge you.
Sneaking past guards is just as important as distracting them by whistling, and you always have to keep moving around the environment as the levels essentially are gargantuan puzzles you have to solve. To add to the difficulty, you have to collect all of the special glowing orbs spread throughout the level in order to advance. Enemy variety is great, as different guards force you to always come up with eccentric solutions and ways to get past them. Volume doesn’t have combat, making it a truly hardcore stealth game, but with all that said, the biggest issue is its checkpoints. Each level has several of them littered throughout and the player can easily get spotted, run over to the furthest checkpoint he/she sees, die, and start in a much more advanced position without getting caught. This basically breaks the game, allowing it to be easily exploited. That’s the one poor design choice that should’ve been avoided by the developer.
But for every little flaw Volume has, in the end, it makes up for them with its engaging story and enjoyable gameplay. Plus, long after the game is finished, there are still levels to replay for leaderboards, and a level editor that gives you pretty much the entire tool set at your disposal to play around with.