Volt Patrol – Stealth Driving PC Review
Besides the obvious twist of mixing stealth mechanics with driving, there really isn’t that much to Volt Patrol. However, what is there is excellent. Narrowly avoiding being caught by pulling off a perfect drift around a corner is thrilling, quickly parking up to lose drones that are chasing you is suspenseful, and sneaking through an entire section without a hitch makes you feel like a champ. The premise is straightforward – you are to navigate through the ‘impossible’ security system, Volt Patrol, in order to test its functionality. To sell you on this the system architect itself, AIMOS, displays messages on billboards throughout the game assuring you that you will never succeed, subjects you to a cheating check halfway through, and can often be spotted keeping an eye on your progress through gaps in the walls. It’s a subtle but effective way to keep the player engaged with what little story there is without getting in the way. That’s not what we’re here for, though. We’re here for the Stealth Driving part.
Right off the bat the movement is floaty and buttery smooth; exactly what you’d expect a hover car to feel like. This makes it easy to control but, with the addition of what is essentially a hand-brake turn, also allows the player to pull off some pretty sweet manoeuvres like effortlessly swinging your back end around to slide under cover as a spotlight rapidly gains overhead. The glidey nature of the vehicle and elementary controls are a big part of what makes it so satisfying to play. With these tools the player is only expected to accomplish basic tasks. First and foremost is not getting caught – it’s electrically charged insta-death if you ever find yourself in the light cones shone by enemies and obstacles. There are static street-lamp style traps to block paths, spotlights that move back and forth over a particular area, headlights from cars that drive around a set path and, the only true threat to your death count and sanity, drones. Drones also follow set paths but can pull themselves away to hunt you down should you get close enough, forcing you to quickly drive away, park up (hide), or face the music.
With their much greater murder range and mobility, drones can often cause a lot of problems, especially when you’ve accidentally synced up their movements by alerting them. Patience is the key. Whilst some areas will inevitably get you on your first pass due to simply not knowing the routes or where to go, what I really like about Volt Patrol is how it’s not about the trial-and-error that so many ‘stealth’ games fall into. With the right positioning it’s possible to get a nice view of what perils lie ahead and plan your route piece by piece, plotting the perfect heist and executing like a futuristic Italian Job. It’s not just about sneaking past unnoticed, after all. More often than not there are codes that need to either be found written somewhere around the arena or hacked from security cars by parking up near them or following them slowly, decoding those sweet digits. With that there’s still the matter of actually inputting the codes via buttons that are spread out on the floor. There are also buttons that can deactivate the street-lamp style blockers either temporarily or permanently depending if they are on an enemy’s track, often resulting in short but exhilarating races against time. It may sound like a lot all rolled out like that but in reality it couldn’t be simpler – find code, use code, escape.
This loop is concrete and, more importantly, fun. In fact, because of its moreish-ness and short playtime, I went back through several times to try and grab some of the Steam achievements to do with getting through the entire system with fewer and fewer deaths. That’s not something I’m usually into to be honest, but I really wanted to play more when I’d reached the end and the alternate ‘Random’ mode only changes up some of the enemy routes and code combinations. The real challenge is bringing it home without a single mistake – something I’ve haven’t managed to do yet, but I am getting closer. My first time through on Classic I had 58 detections, the second time I played on Random and got 19, and, finally, my third time (Classic) I achieved a very daunting 9; just barely managing to grab the second-best achievement of under 10 errors. It’s really a shame there isn’t more to the core experience because I loved what I played and it’s incredibly easy to see how the concept could be expanded on. And that’s just what this is – a concept, a demo.
A game being short doesn’t make it bad, but seeing it end before it even begins to explore the space it has to play with is disappointing. Abilities, chases, races, and more enemy types aside, there’s a lot more that could be done with what is already here. What about more vertically-focussed terrain, allowing the player to sneak under bridges or narrowly making their way over walkways? How about hacking drones and not just the cars? What about moving hiding spaces that you have to keep in time with? These are just a few things that I expected to see as I progressed through the first time but they sadly never came to be. I seriously hope to see more from this developer in the future, whether it continues as a solo project or is taken to a crowdfunding platform. We need more Volt Patrol – it’s too interesting not to push any further than this. Until then, I seriously recommend it if it looks like something you’d be into but just be warned, you’ll come away itching for more and there’s nothing else to fill that void. Also – I hate you drones! How do you work?!