Volume is Mike Bithell's follow-up endeavour to the charming little platformer Thomas Was Alone. While this wasn't necessarily the most complicated side-scroller ever, its personality and wit allowed it to stand way out among the competition. Bithell's next project takes him into the stealth genre, with a title that wears its love for Metal Gear Solid on its sleeve.
You assume the role of Robert Locksley, a thief who finds a simulation device called The Volume. Along with the help of Alan, a leftover AI – voiced by Thomas alumnus Danny Wallace – Locksley is able to stream simulated heists to the masses. The goal of doing this is to teach people how to pull off heists so that they can steal from the rich to give it to the poor. Naturally, this catches the ire of the company that housed the Volume – the Gisbourne Corporation – and its chief, voiced by the ever amazing Andy Serkis. Sounds a lot like a contemporary Robin Hood, no? Luckily, that's the point.
Unfortunately, the story's never really better than okay. The concept is neat – and it incorporates some neat little meta bits that we don't want to spoil – but in the end it just doesn't feel focused enough. The exposition is handled in much the same way as Thomas' was, but there's less of it this time around – including less Danny Wallace, which is a particular loss, as his BAFTA winning performance from the game's predecessor was extraordinary.
The biggest misstep, however, is casting YouTube star Charlie McDonnell to voice Locksley. While the initial idea is certainly a good one, the performance leaves a lot to be desired. Part of the issue could just be that alongside the likes of Wallace and Serkis, the video sensation seems flat. But at the same time, the voice work simply doesn't convince; McDonnell sounds like he's just reiterating words off a piece of paper as opposed to performing, which is unfortunate.
Luckily, the audio fares better. David Housden, the composer on Thomas, returns and delivers another stupendous score. This pairs beautifully with the impressive and interesting art direction, which employs bold use of colour, helping to actually freshen up the gameplay in long spurts.
Speaking of which, the title has a fine set of mechanics which blend together well to make a generally enjoyable experience. You play from a top-down perspective, and your goal is to navigate increasingly complex arenas. The difficulty curve is well determined, and new enemies are introduced throughout the 100 levels to keep things fresh. You'll also unlock different gadgets to work with, which, again, give you something different to think about.
While it's fun, though, it's far from perfect. For example, the checkpoint system is designed in such a way that it practically begs you to exploit it, though Bithell has already announced a newer, harder mode that hopes to address that. It's not just design problems either – we actually encountered a really nasty save bug that not only caused us to lose two hours of progress, but also required us to re-install the title in its entirety. At least the game's technical performance outside of the aforementioned is generally decent, though; the load times are a particular highlight, as they're practically instantaneous.
Volume is a bit of a mixed bag. Underutilised voice performances and some really nasty technical issues stand in the way of the title getting top marks. However, it's difficult for us to deny that the actual minute-to-minute gameplay is damn fun. Really cool art and a great score pair to ensure that Mike Bithell's latest is worth a shout – but we'd advise proceeding with caution, because there are still kinks to be worked out.