Set in an abstract virtual world, Volume manages to remove the abstraction from stealth. In doing so it has turned what frequently felt like a mystical art in Metal Gear Solid, into an entertaining and exact science.
Volume’s creative lead, Mike Bithell, is open about the inspiration he took from the Metal Gear Solid VR Missions during the game’s development. Placing the action in a neon virtual world, the people and environment are all crisply recreated in neon polygons.
Just because the world is virtual does not mean that your motivations are. You are in control of Rob Loxley, who is using the VR's AI, called Alan, to recreate buildings owned by members of the evil Gisborne company to learn how to steal from them.
Though ineffectual in itself, you are streaming your efforts out over every social media channel you can find. It’s a plan designed to incite the public to go and take back the money the political corporation has taken from them, in a modern retelling of the Robin Hood legend.
It is an interesting tale that utilizes faux social media chatter to add flavor. This combines with an ongoing debate between Rob and the fantastically voiced Alan about the nature of this political struggle, to create a compelling narrative.
Though the world looks incredibly stylish, that is not the main advantage of this setting. By making the environments abstract, Volume is able to create hard and clear rules for all of its different elements. It then visually represents these for you to see as you sneak through the world stealing gems.
Volume's camera is locked in a bird’s-eye perspective, giving you a clear view of every enemy in an area. As they follow their methodical patrols, their vision cones show what they are aware of. So, whether they can see far in front off them or a just small circle surrounding them, you know exactly when they can see and hear you while you tip-toe around.
Luckily, you have plenty of ways to best your pursuers - from ducking below various tables and low walls to stay out of sight, to manipulating the generous checkpoints to grab gems before you are caught.
Slowly the levels become more challenging, and you soon discover that more active methods of distraction are required to move through heavily protected areas. These begin with simply with you flushing a toilet or whistling to draw guards to a position you have already retreated from. This repertoire is quickly expanded with collectible items, including noise makers, trip wires, and disguises. These help you pass more rigid security procedures and floor boards that can creak to give you away.
You are limited to one item at a time, which on some levels introduces interesting strategies while forcing you to choose how you intend to make your way forward. So, if you want to move silently passed a guard you may select the Mute ability, or you can choose to just knock them out with a Black Jack.
The other result of the item system is that the controls never overwhelm you. Apart from learning how these skills work, you have access to all of your abilities from the start. As the basics are all quickly mastered, you are left only having to worry about how to solve the spatial and temporal puzzles of the world – with controls never proving an obstacle.
I could not put Volume down until I finished it. And even now I want to go back and better my position on the leader boards, and try out user created maps. While it may look like a stealth game, with its rigid rules that allow you to plan and manipulate every action in the world it feels more like a tense puzzle. It is, quite simply, amazing, and with enough content available (both from the story and user-generated levels) to keep you going for hours.