How Mike Bithell’s Volume has made me play my PS Vita more

Fourteen days into 2016 and reckon I’ve already played my PS Vita more this year than I did for much of last year.

I put that down to two things: a) Going on holiday, so my Vita was a nice portable way to replay some of my favourites like Gravity Rush and TxK and b) I bought Mike Bithell’s (@mikeBithell on Twitter) Volume, which came out on the Vita on January 6. I’ve played my PS Vita more because of Volume.

I can’t express enough joy at what a great game Volume is, not only because of its addictive qualities but that it’s also one of PlayStation’s Cross-play buys, which means if you buy it on PS Vita you automatically get to download it for free on the PS4 (and vice versa).

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_17_37The premis of Volume is simple enough: You take the role of burglar Tom who uncovers a plot involving a military coup and device called the Volume. Using the Volume to simulate high-profile heists, Tom must guide his avatar around industrial environments, avoiding patrolling guards, sentry turrets and dogs while collecting gems. The simulations are broadcast to the internet using the Volume, eventually leading to a stand-off between Tom and the evil Gisborne, who has taken over control of England.

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_25_33Volume is very Metal Gear Solid-esque, with an isometric third-person, top-down perspective, in that stealth and creeping around to avoid detection is to the fore. Get spotted by a patrolling guards (each has a vision cone indicating its field of vision), you have to re-start the level. Each level short – some take less than a minute to complete – but they’re so addictive that you’ll find yourself saying “Just one more. Just one more”.

Bithell is a British indie developer who also make the cutesy game Thomas was Alone, which I like a lot, and Volume has all the trademarks of another hit for Bithell and his team. I initially purchased it for my Vita – and being able to play it on my PS4 for no cost is an added bonus – and if I had any gripe it was the size of the text on the PS Vita version: It’s just too small for my ageing eyes.

So, I tweeted that to Bithell, and guess what? He got back to me shortly after, admitting the text was a little small and he would look at fixing things in a patch. In a simple thing like replying to my tweet, Bithell has proven to me that he’s a developer who cares about his fans and those that pay for his games. That’s something I admire in a developer. Thank, you, Mike.

I’m hoping that 2016 is the year that I play my PS Vita more. It’s a fantastic handheld console but I feel disappointed that Sony have pretty much abandoned it by not supporting it like it should have with first party titles, and left any game development up to third parties.

That said, maybe that’s not a bad thing: Sony is clearly focused on the PS4 and PlayStation VR so perhaps doesn’t want to develop for the Vita half-heartedly. It’s sad, though, that the company hasn’t shown the console more love.

Putting Volume aside (briefly), there are some pretty nice games coming out this year. Games I’m looking forward to include Uncharted 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Horizon Zero Dawn, Firewatch, Hitman, Quantum Break, Dishonoured 2, Crackdown 3, Mass Effect Andromeda and Unrave.

Sure, some have already been delayed already and I suspect many some of them won’t make 2016 but it’s a pretty great line up already, don’t you think? It’s a great time to be a video gamer.

What are you looking forward to this year?

 

Element: The realtime strategy game for those who don’t have lots of time for RTS

element_005According to Tauranga, New Zealand game developer Flightless, Element is a real-time strategy game set in space “for people who don’t have time to play realtime strategy space games”.

The game is currently on Steam Early Access for PC, Mac and Linux, and over the years, I’ve covered games made by Flightless (most notably its iOS game Bee Leader) so was lucky enough to get a Steam code for Element.  As you can see from the screen shots, it’s got a really nice art style to it and colour palate. I also hear it was received favourably at this year PAX Aus, and, frankly, I can see why.

element_008Element’s story is set in a time where you are onboard a space craft escaping a decaying solar system. You must visit each planet, mine enough element and defeat the enemy to progress to the outer planets and beyond. You’ll build attack and defence units and assault enemies while mining the planet you’re on for valuable resources using the elements of fire, earth, air and water.

I’ve had a few games of Element and things start off easily, with just a few enemy units to get rid of, but as the game progresses it gets harder, and you find yourself having to flick between mining resources and attacking enemies. You’ll find yourself rotating the planet as you plonk down defensive units then target enemy attack units, hoping to shoot them out of the sky before they destroy your base.

I think Flightless are on the money when they said Element is a realtime space strategy game for those who don’t have time for realtime space strategy games which, let’s be honest, require hours and hours of time to play. I like that Element is the sort of game that you can play through one or two campaign then call it quits for the night but still feel satisfied.

Here’s me playing through Element’s tutorial level:

I’m really liking Element so far and I’ll continue working my way through its planets. No doubt things will get tougher as it progresses, with tougher enemies and challenges, but I love its art style and, importantly, it’s a realtime strategy game that has mission campaigns that are short enough for busy people, like me (and I’d say you too, dear reader) so I don’t have to dedicate a million hours to progress.

I love, too, that Element is from a New Zealand developer that I’ve followed closely over my years as a games writer.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Element.