It’s TUESDAY and we’re technically late again. If it’s any consolation though, I started working on this on Monday so. I feel I should be excused, one way or another. A few weeks ago we were fortunate enough to visit REZZED, which you’ll know all about if you’re either of our regular readers, or just happen to have had the VR Accessories post inflicted upon your person, somehow. Either way, you have our deepest sympathies, you poor unfortunate soul. At Rezzed we got to try, and be publicly terrible at, a smattering of new games, one such being Mike Bithell’s latest sneaky stealthy, catchy monkey, Special-Missions-esque VOLUME. And I thought it’d be lovely to tell you what that’s like. So there.
Mike Bithell is the creator of the wonderful Thomas Was Alone, a darling of the indie boom of a few years ago, in which a number of small studios or individuals created games that burst into the public eye with the unhinged, table-flipping enthusiasm of Katie Hopkins at a kitten-stamping festival. She’d take all the trophies wouldn’t she, let’s be honest. If you haven’t played Thomas Was Alone we suggest doing so immediately if not sooner. It’s a delightful platformer and a delightfuller (yes) tale of some 2D shapes and their existential conundrums. Bithell manages to cram these otherwise inert polygons full of personality, through the combination of some inspired writing and my mawkish, sentimental personality. It’s a feat not easily managed and it’s roaring success was, and still is, well and truly deserved.
Volume is nothing like Bithell’s first successful foray into the world of game development. It is instead, a 3D stealth outing that doesn’t look a million miles from the classic Special Missions expansion to Metal Gear Solid. Notably, it once again features the charming vocal overtones of Danny Wallace; Thomas Was Alone’s narrator and also instantly recognisable for his role in the Assassin’s Creed series. His immediately discernible presence invokes a reaction in me before I’ve even taken the reigns of our main character. And that’s quite important.
My issue with playing games at events is that I don’t. Either I have no physical contact with the game, hovering about the stand and staring at it until someone looks like they may speak to me and then I run away; or, even if I do somehow manage to awkwardly shuffle my way onto a machine, a situation that will always leave me muttering ‘another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Rob’, I don’t do it properly anyway. I sort of lose any feigned ability I may have had and scramble to the end of the demo, or a point where I can reasonably put the controller down without offending anybody, as quickly as possible. I quite frequently don’t manage to get to grips with a game during these sessions, even in the primitive way you’d expect, and that can get a little frustrating. There we have it then, in one paragraph I say goodbye to all future potential event press passes I may ever have garnered.
Still, the striking thing about my experience with Volume is that, I didn’t actually feel any of this supposed life-threatening pressure, and that may be majorly down to the familiar voices that greeted me inside the headphones. Now, it’s worth mentioning that the PCs that were showing the game off were neatly tucked into a corner, in a room that appeared to be busying itself with something else entirely. The area was still heaving, but it didn’t feel quite as exposed as usual.
Still, the moment Mr. Wallace’s dulcet tones soaked through the speakers with that distinguished sense of comic timing and tone that’s typically drier than the Sahara’s ‘dry bit’, I was relieved and relaxed, and ready to play. And I’ll come back to that in just a moment.
Volume itself is instantly playable; not only does it seem to carry the look of its Metal Gear Special Missions forefather over, so too comes that fluidity to the controls. It’s light and lithe, and fun to move around in. There’re a plethora of gadgets at your disposal, from noise-making devices to tripwires, though I neither get the time, nor do I build the in-game prowess to properly explore them.
Stealth games are sticklers for punishment if you, y’know, don’t stealth right, and this is where Volume seemed to step away from the routine jig. Getting caught didn’t mean the level was unsalvageable. In some circumstances, it seemed to adjust the paradigm in just the way you’d want it to, lending a certain degree of strategy to the ‘doing it wrong’ approach. This posture in regards to completion, together with its small, contained levels leant a pick-up-and-play element to the proceedings; something that will probably make it perfect for its portable Vita release too. It almost diffuses the frustration that often comes hand-in-hand with the genre, simply by blurring the lines of its boundaries a little. It’s a refreshing, if subtle catalyst to the typical formula, and I enjoyed my short time with it immensely.
Back to my earlier point then; a familiar voice to introduce me to the game and to the story seemingly helped me hit the ground running with Volume. And while it doesn’t hurt that Wallace’s delivery is a waltz of brilliance as per, it made me wonder just how far a voice actor’s narration can really go in winning over the player.
It’s something that is so often over-looked, with big sound files something smaller developers try to clamp down on, thus making their games decidedly lighter; are they missing out on the one element that might nail the game into a player’s memory? A well written narrative is certainly one thing, but delivered by a voice that does it justice? That could put it in a different league. My time with Volume got me wondering whether Bastion would have been quite the success it was without its iconic and dynamic narrator; if Little Big Planet would be duller without Stephen Fry’s musical allocution at the helm. It also coerced my tiny brain into considering if there’re other games I’d have had more time for if a recogniseable, or well-performed piece of narration had been present to guide me through from the beginning.
Stick a comment below and let me know if you’ve played Thomas Was Alone, if you’re all pumped up for Volume, or if there’re any voice actors, narrating games or simply playing a role within, that would sell a title for you; or indeed, HAS sold you on a game in the past.