Stealth has been a pretty popular genre lately! We’ve had some solid entries like The Swindle, Invisible, Inc. and Metal Gear Solid V cross the Popzara desk over the past couple of months, so there’s been no shortage of sneakery going on around here. Aspiring ninja have yet another adventure to get their black-gloved hands on in Volume, a sci-fi stealth title that’s all about style.
Volume styles itself as a cyber-retelling of the classic Robin Hood story. Our hero Rob Locksley gets his hands on Alan, an AI belonging to a totalitarian corporation that’s taking over the UK, and uses it to simulate thefts from corporate-owned buildings. The successful completion of these simulations results in a recording being sent to the world at large, where copycats can do the same thing in real life; robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, in other words. There’s 100 of these simulations to complete, so you should probably get started.
Locksley’s moveset is…well, limited, to say the least. He can creep around, cling to walls to avoid detection, interact with environmental objects like pipes and use gadgets, like throwing noisy Bugles to distract guards or putting on a disguise. There is no combat in the usual sense; Locksley can be taken down with ease by alerted guards, so your best chance lies in methodical stealth and creative use of gadgets. There are a variety of guards, ranging from long-ranged snipers to your average wandering beat cop, and they’re typically placed in a devious mix to provide coverage over key points of a stage.
Your goal in each stage is to grab gems to open an exit then make your way over to it, then proceed to the next stage. Later, rinse, repeat until satisfied. You continue with this until you’ve gotten through all hundred sims or get tired of sneaking, at which point you can switch to user-made levels or go play something with a bit more shooting, whichever you’d prefer. You can also grab up bits of story as you proceed in the form of notes, which include outsiders’ reactions to Locksley’s stream. It’s an entertaining concept to be sure, though eventually I found the gameplay to be a bit stressful thanks to the constantly building tension.
One of Volume’s selling points is the game’s striking techno-minimalist aesthetic; I imagine the fantastic art style has managed to sold more than a couple copies of the game. Locksley’s character design is memorable thanks to his geometric mask, in particular, and the guards all look suitably threatening. This simple design makes it easy to pick out routes on a stage at a glance, which can come in handy when things start to get a little more intense. It also makes crafting your own levels with the included editor a pleasure, since it’s difficult for custom levels to look all that terrible when they’re properly made.
On the other hand, and this must be mentioned, Volume is dragged down by some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard in a video game. Locksley’s discussion of the particulars of his plans for rebellion are key to Volume’s plot, which would really like to be thought-provoking; unfortunately, Charlie McDonnell takes the role and, with a seeming yawn, abuses it to the point where it comes off as a pretentious joke. Imagine Splinter Cell with Sam Fisher being played by the guy from the mail room at work and you’ve got the idea.
For what it’s worth, Alan sounds great thanks to Danny Wallace…which just makes Locksley’s half-hearted lines sound even worse. At least classically terrible VO work like the PS2 stinker Chaos Wars is funny in retrospect; I don’t think we’ll look back and see Volume’s voice work as anything but an internet superstar being handed a starring role he wasn’t suited for.
Still, if you can get past this flaw and you’re into stealth games…uh, Metal Gear Solid V just came out, so play that. If you’re done with MGSV and still can’t get enough sneaking, though, Volume should suit you nicely. Turn down the volume – see what I did there? – so you can avoid the voice acting and get to grabbing up some gems. London needs you.