Volume: Hands On Preview Laura Kate October 6, 2013 Previews Volume is Developer Mike Bithell’s new upcoming stealth game and it’s the first 3D stealth game to actually force me to play stealthy, to be non lethal and to get into what I consider to be a true stealth mind set. How does it do that? By being a 3D stealth game that copies a lot of what I love about great 2D stealth titles like Mark of the Ninja. Volume never feels like it’s punishing me for failure, through clever use of checkpointing and visual markers. Your character in Volume is never given the ability to kill, you have to play through the game non lethally.This means that if you try and brute force your way past a puzzle you are going to die… A lot. Thankfully, checkpoints in the levels were common, easily accessible and restarts were instant. You get mowed down by a rain of bullets? Within seconds you’re back at the checkpoint, very little progress lost and knowing that you can rule out at least one method of moving forward through the level. It’s also incredibly easy to tell if an enemy in Volume can see you or not. Enemies all have visible binary vision cones, outlining exactly when you are and are not visible to your pursuers. Doing this takes a lot of the trial and error out of working your way through areas and ensures I never felt like it was the games’s fault I died. I just wasn’t doing enough to avoid the enemies. Unfortunately, telling when enemies can and can’t hear you was less immediately obvious, which created problems in puzzles where I had to lure enemies into set locations to get past them. My biggest desire going forward for the game is to see an improvement in the way audio radius’s are handled as far as visible or audio ques for the player. Your in game character has a health bar, meaning that while being seen is likely to kill you, it’s not a given. You can in some cases brute force your way past a situation, surviving by the skin of your teeth. It’s not how I imagine the game is meant to be played, but at times I would lure enemies to a point I knew I could squeeze past them at, then just run and hope to survive the onslaught of gun fire. It was certainly do able, and it was refreshing to see a stealth game where being seen but running for your life was both an option, and something that felt exhilarating too. Just because you play as a non lethal character in Volume doesn’t mean you don’t have projectiles and “weapons” at your disposal to work your way through levels. We were able to try out two weapons in the Eurogamer demo, the Bugle and the Blackjack. The Bugle is a noise making projectile that can be launched, bouncing from wall to wall, creating noise and luring enemies to an area of your choice. The tutorial didn’t explain very well that you need to hold down the fire button to control how far along the visible ricochet path the projectile will travel which caused me some initial issues, setting the device off right in front of my face time and time again, but once I got the hang of it the Bugle was incredibly rewarding to use. The Blackjack on the other hand knocks out enemies for a short time, but with the trade off that they will then come back and start hunting you more aggressively than before. The non lethal device fulfilled the “incapacitate and move smoothly through the area” that I often use more lethal weapons for, while leaving the enemies as this a threat that needed to be kept in mind throughout the rest of the level. Mike is best known at this point for his work on minimalist platformer Thomas Was Alone, and his streak of making games with clear minimalist visuals has continued with Volume. While set in a 3D and more visually complex world than Thomas, the world is devoid of any distracting extra details. Everything in the world serves a purpose, tells you it’s purpose through it’s visual design and doesn’t distract from the information you need to successfully navigate the level. Colours are used effectively to differentiate details, vision cones are clear and identifiable and the games visual identity really works to create an environment that while full of personality also gives you just the right amount of info to process as you work through the environments. Having now played Volume I’m really excited to play more. While it’s the story reveal IO’m most excited about, Mike has managed to make me get excited about a genre I’m generally not too into. I’m really excited about Volume, because it has sparked a love for stealth in me that few games besides early Metal Gear Solid manage to capture in quite the same way.