Volume review (Vita)

A few months after its initial release on PC and PS4, Volume is now available to Vita owners. Here’s our review of the handheld version of Mike Bithell’s latest game.

Thomas Was Alone is no doubt one of the more memorable titles to come out of the indie genre in recent years. It’s a brilliant mix of simple gameplay dynamics and a minimalist visual style, but most of all the game featured excellent storytelling through the use of voiceovers. This elevated Thomas Was Alone well beyond the typical indie puzzle game and turned the game into an award-winning title. Volume is quite different in that it’s a game with a much larger scope and takes on a different genre, but it’s a worthy follow-up nonetheless.

In Volume, you have to pull off more than 100 “virtual heists” in order to complete the story mode, and then there’s a ton more user-generated content after that. The virtual heist is a concept that works well here – especially considering the Vita’s limited power in terms of graphics when compared to modern PCs. Instead of sporting realistic visuals, each level is represented with a 3D style that is reminiscent of the 3D games of the early 90s. The reason for this is that you’re playing these levels through a machine called the Volume – a device originally meant for darker purposes which falls into the protagonist’s hands on accident.

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Using the Volume, you simulate real world heists and upon completion of a level you share your solution with the world. This allows people to steal from various high profile targets and re-distribute the wealth among the poor. Great power, great responsibility and all that. Most of the levels are quite short once you get the hang of things, never lasting more than 10 minutes even for the longer ones. This is excellent for some of that ‘pick up and go’ gameplay that handheld gamers tend to enjoy, and makes Volume a great addition to the Vita library.

As mentioned, the game has 100+ levels and most are fairly short, so the options for diverse gameplay could have quickly run out. Luckily, the game keeps introducing new gameplay dynamics as you progress, keeping the experience fresh throughout the length of the story campaign.

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Although the visual (or ‘virtual’) style is rather simple, Volume – just like Thomas Was Alone – does excel in its presentation. The story isn’t just told by a narrator this time, but features multiple voice actors that give the game an extra layer of depth. Also demonstrating that Volume is a higher-profile title is the fact that one of these characters was voice by Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Star Wars: The Force Awakens fame. All the actors put in good performances, and the audio score is further enhanced by a musical score that echoes the suspenseful nature of the gameplay.

It’s hard to fault Volume, since it’s just as wonderfully crafted as Thomas Was Alone was. Sure, you can add layers and layers of polish, features and graphics, but Mike Bithell sticking to delivering a gameplay experience that’s simply rock solid at its core is a testament to how good indie games can be – even if this is a higher profile title than Thomas was. Volume works amazingly well on the Vita – the port is excellent from a technical standpoint and the nature of the game is perhaps even more at home here than it was on PS4 and PCs. The only exception is perhaps the level editor – that felt a little easier on a bigger screen. Not to worry though, Volume is a cross-buy title so you can create levels on your PS4 and then play them on your Vita.

Score: 8.8/10

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