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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Volume.


Hey, we have another game today that I've Let's Played - I swear this isn't intentional, it's just that I'm finishing a lot of series lately.


Volume.



I've had cause to review a lot of games that I've just finished Let's Playing, lately, as in a space of about three weeks I've finished short series Never Alone; episodic game Minecraft: Story Mode's fifth installment; and longer series Undertale and, now, Volume. That's a trend that's only likely to continue, as well, with the last episode of The Walking Dead: Michonne coming out today and another episode of Minecraft: Story Mode due to come out soon-ish.

In Volume's case, I started playing it after seeing Jim Sterling showcase its gameplay. Being under the mistaken belief that this would be a short game that could be rushed through in just a few parts, and not being aware that it actually has ninety-nine levels, I started Let's Playing it, only to realise later that not only was it a lot longer than I thought, but also that it probably wasn't that interesting to watch.

Set in the same universe as Thomas Was Alone, a game revolving around emergent AIs, Volume follows Robin Locksley, a young man who has hijacked Alan, a 'Volume' - an artificial intelligence designed to create accurate battle simulations for use in training soldiers, who many years earlier was used by businessman and politician Gisborne to train an army that he used to take over the United Kingdom. Set on dismantling Gisborne's empire, Locksley, with Alan's help, simulates infiltrating key Gisborne facilities and stealing the items there, and streams his endeavours to the web, intending to provide a roadmap for other people to commit his crimes in real life. It isn't long, though, until he draws Gisborne's personal attention, who dispatches soldiers to find him.

Triangles.

The gameplay is - hm. It's reminiscent of the VR sections of the Metal Gear Solid games, deliberately so, and that's a solid base that Bithell Games have clearly tried to build off and improve upon, but it never quite achieves greatness. It runs smoothly, the difficulty is sometimes frustrating but never impossible, and it knows how to introduce new abilities and new obstacles in an organic way that allows players to adjust to them (although there was, later in the game, almost a routine of 'gain a new ability, have two or so really easy levels to get used to it, then have a difficulty spike with a new obstacle added in'). The AI of the enemies isn't very bright, to the point where quite a lot of the time you can get away from them by just shuffling around a block until they give up, but since they're kind-of-sort-of meant to be robots (even though they're simulations of actual living people) that makes sense - although it does introduce some storyline problems that we'll get to in a bit.

The big problem with the game, mechanically, is the fact that it's ninety-nine levels long. It could have been fifty levels long and had just as much meaningful content, just without the padding of a few nearly identical levels that feel more like frustrating time-wasters than anything else. In a game that can sometimes feel like it's punishing you for not being completely precise, that can get very grating.

Squares.

The story, meanwhile, could definitely use some work, primarily because it doesn't make sense. The 'oh and Robin's streaming it all' was clearly put in both to justify the scaled down graphics and because Bithell Games really, really wanted to appeal to streamers and Let's Players (the game even opens with a little chunk of text encouraging people to stream and Let's Play it), but it doesn't actually work in-universe. 

Apart from the obvious problem that Robin comes off as a tremendous coward by essentially encouraging others to take all the real risks, he also comes off as an idiot, because in real life, people don't have clearly marked out vision cones and won't forget about you if they can't see them. In real life, not everybody will find the perfect high-tech gadget lying around the place they're trying to rob - I mean, are these available from stores? Can someone just buy the Veil from their local Argos and go running about invisibly? In real life, sometimes people have updated their security in the past however-many-decades since Alan was last active?

Other shapes.

The game very briefly tries to address this, having one of the people mimicking Robin die, and Alan shut down the stream in response. But then it just kind of - brushes it away. Robin keeps playing to the end of the simulations, and then he scarpers and leaves a message that he's now going to take what he's learned and put it into action personally, something that will surely get him killed in about six seconds.

In a nice turn, and one that ties into Thomas Was Alone quite well, Alan reveals that he's uploaded his programming to all Volumes, and that they, a new faction of AIs, will be watching with interest to see how the war turns out. Which is great and all, but doesn't do much to get rid of the bitter taste the rest of the ending leaves.

Overall, probably not my favourite game, but if you like stealth games, then check it out. It's probably a lot more tolerable when you're not trying to make videos out of it.

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