EGX Rezzed 2015: Volume Hands-On Preview – Prince of Thieves (PS4)
‘Lightly armed and facing an army of foes, Snake must avoid firefights in order to survive.’ As you may perhaps recognize, this is a description once tethered to the release of Metal Gear Solid back in ’98. Hugely influential for the genre, Konami’s stealth opus was irrefutably ahead of its time. Not just for its cinematic tendencies, but the story, the pulse-pounding action, and the exhilarating boss encounters helped mold an experience like no other.
Fast forward 17 years and we land at the imminent arrival of Mike Bithell’s sophomore effort, Volume, a present-day rendition of the Robin Hood legend that bears semblance to Hideo Kojima’s masterclass. Specifically, the stylized stealth title takes may cues from Metal Gear Solid’s VR missions, wherein players must evade enemies in order to reach the all-important exit.
And it’s this hide-and-seek gameplay that serves as the clandestine crux of Volume.
Hide and Seek
Though my time with the game was brief, I was able to play through a trio of levels, slinking around enemies as protagonist Robert Locksley, gathering a small fortune of gems as I went. You see, in order to open up the exit portal, you’ll have to collect a select number of these wayward jewels while sticking to the shadows.
But don’t be fooled by Volume’s welcoming aesthetic; in this journey, you’ll come up against Pawns, Turrets, Knights, and Rogues that patrol the area in routine fashion. With no weapons to speak of, evasion is your only option. Granted, the game presents you with an ever-expanding roster of gadgets — a devious disguise known as the Veil, along with a device that mutes your footsteps for an all-too-finite window of time — but tiptoeing around the enemies’ cones of vision will always be an exercise in risk assessment.
Thankfully, checkpoints are there as assistance, and these rare safe havens soon become lifesavers as the difficulty escalates. Whether it’s the standard fare guards or the more long-ranged snipers, make one false move and it isn’t long before a bullet is sent careering in your direction and the screen around you shatters into a colorful melange of shards.
Trial and error is part and parcel of the game’s DNA. And though Volume may throw up spikes in difficulty intermittently, it’s hugely rewarding slinking past an enemy’s field of vision by a fraction of an inch. Also, while some of the devices and obstacles are difficult to understand the first time around, we fully expect the final product to include clearer signposting than this early build.
Evasion is Your Only Weapon
Besides, those who grew up sneaking around Russian soldiers in cardboard boxes will no doubt have the wherewithal to take to Volume’s design like a duck to water, and in my time waiting to get my eager hands on the controller, I witnessed a string of players from various age groups grasp the stick-to-the-shadows-or-you’ll-get-shot-in-the-face concept with relative ease.
Stylistically, Volume still retains much of the simplicity found in Bithell’s previous effort, Thomas Was Alone. The minimalist set-up is in concert with the developer’s vision of virtual reality, and there’s a tremendous sense of place as you creep gingerly around the areas, hugging against the walls as an oncoming guard passes by too closely for comfort.
These production values also extend beyond visuals and sound design, as cinema veteran Andy Serkis lends his dulcet tones to the villainous role of Guy Gisborne, while Danny Wallace returns for another partnership with Bithell as the game’s quick witted AI.
It may lack the charm and characterization found in Thomas Was Alone, but there’s evidence here that Volume could become a cult classic. With an intelligent story at its foundation, not to mention an excellent voice cast, its success will largely be determined by the ways in which audiences take to the tactical action.
One thing is for sure, though: players won’t exactly be left wanting for content, as it’s understood the final product will place a heavy emphasis on user generated content beyond its core roster of 100 levels. Chalk one up for replayability!
Volume is without a release date at the time of writing, but all signs point to Bithell’s second outing slinking onto PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita later this year. Do you think it has what it takes to emulate the success of Thomas Was Alone? Let us know your early impressions in the comments.