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What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
While many stealth games today incorporate combat, the genre of yesteryear offered players no recourse if they were spotted. Volume recaptures that tense feeling of scouting a situation, timing your approach, and relying purely on stealth to complete your objective in a way that reminds us why this purer incarnation of the genre has such a passionate cult following.
Each level requires you to collect all gems on the map to unlock the exit. This simple task is made more complex by the strategic placements of guards on the pathways. Walk into the sightline of a guard, and he is on his way to your location. Fail to break away, and the guard will take you out. Each time I accidentally alerted a guard, my heart raced as I scrambled to outsmart the A.I. and vanish behind a wall.
The action takes place in a sparse simulation-style environment, but the diversity of enemies and varying scenario designs ensure players stay on their toes. While the early stages rely on basic pawns with narrow sightlines, Volume gradually introduces quick-firing turrets, dogs that alert the guards, archers with long sightlines, rogues with 360-degree views, and sword-wielding knights. Each new guard type brings with it new strategies, as knights have a broad field of vision and fast closing speed, while turrets take you out quickly after they spot you, leaving little room for error.
Bithell Games strikes a strong balance with its scenario designs, as the campaign missions provide challenge without too much frustration. Each time a guard spotted me, I knew exactly what I did wrong and how to avoid it on my next attempt. In one scenario, a group of guards patrolled an area that seemed impassible. After several failures, I realized that I needed to let myself get spotted, and then quickly hide – a maneuver that disrupted the patrol and left holes in the sightlines for me to pass through. While this situation was challenging, the satisfaction of completing it overrode any creeping feeling of frustration. Plus, a lenient checkpoint system minimizes the consequences of failure.
Though you can whistle to lure guards, you don’t have any viable combat options, leaving stealth as the only option. To assist you, various gadgets are scattered throughout the levels. Most are centered on supplementing the stealth abilities already at your disposal, but some have unique applications. Noisemakers like the bugle draw guards to specific locations, while disguise gadgets like masquerade let you hide in plain sight. The gadget I loved using the most was the blackjack, which you throw at enemies to stun them.
While I always had fun using the provided gadgets, the levels that entertained me the most provided multiple gadgets and let me tailor my approach based on my loadout. Unfortunately, these scenarios weren’t as common as I would have liked, as placement of the gadgets is usually linear in the story. This is consistent with the rest of the core game, as the campaign leads players to a definite end-point in terms of gameplay and narrative.
The story pits you against Guy Gisborne, a menacing head of a corporation who has amassed too much power for his own good and is holding down the less fortunate members of society. Andy Serkis delivers a brilliant performance as Gisborne, lending to credibility of the threat. On several occasions, I was so involved with the story that I was in a hurry to get through the level to see what would be revealed next. Without spoiling anything, one sequence in particular delivers a major twist that had me questioning all I had been told by the characters to that point and challenged my notion of player agency.
While the dialogue is well-written and the overall arc is compelling, the conversation boxes take up a large portion of the screen, disrupting gameplay. With no way to turn them off, I often had to wait until the dialogue would finish before approaching the scenario unobstructed.
As I finished the final level, a strange combination of feelings washed over me – a sense of accomplishment that I had overcome all of the challenges Bithell Games had laid before me, but also a sense of disappointment that the main story was over. Volume’s story levels are designed with the same care that players must use when playing, and I enjoyed the experience from start to finish. With true stealth games a rare breed today, Volume stands as a declaration that the formula can still work.
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