Thomas Was Alone – Review
In the last few years the focus for games is to be bigger, better and prettier – just take a look at titles like Call of Duty, Gears of War or Battlefield 3. Or even better, look at Skyrim; a game that many people would put forward as a prime example of everything good about current game philosophy. Every so often though, a title comes along that proves that a game can be wonderful without being the biggest or the prettiest. Thomas Was Alone, a game created and built by one man, is one of them.
Thomas, the titular character, is a red rectangle with a penchant for jumping. Well, he’s not technically a rectangle per se. What he really is is a bunch of rogue code in an artificial intelligence that happened to be in the right place at the right time. Suddenly he’s a thinking being and also, as may have been mentioned at some point, alone. Since there is clearly nothing else to do, Thomas decides to investigate his surroundings and, as he jumps through the world, he also observes it. For example, he observes that he’s not half bad at jumping. He also observes the portals which, as he says, have a purpose – reaching a portal will send Thomas to the next stage in his adventure.
His goals are simple. He doesn’t have any high and lofty ideals to fulfill; he doesn’t want to save the world; he just doesn’t want to be alone. Throughout the game however, there are hints at something bigger. Thomas, it seems, was the start of something bigger than himself and his quest for friends soon morphs into something more. He meets others along the way of course, after all, Thomas was alone. He succeeds in his own little quest; it doesn’t take long, but thankfully for the length of the game that isn’t the end of it. Instead it begins to delve into the characters that Thomas meets as he explores the world around him and follows his travels with them.
There’s Chris, whom Thomas meets first. Chris is small, orange and perfectly square and also doesn’t like Thomas. In fact, Chris doesn’t seem to like very much at all. He is cynical, pessimistic and he’s jealous of the fact that Thomas can jump higher than him. Then there is John; tall, thin and handsome. Oh, and yellow. He can jump like a flea, but man does he know it. He has a little bit of a god complex and manages to be one of the most arrogant people I’ve ever laid eyes on, despite the fact he’s a yellow rectangle. He likes to think he helps the little people, and has practiced his condescending look in the mirror many a time. There’s also my personal favourite; Claire. The only character who can float on the water that’s deadly to everyone else, Claire comes to the realisation that she’s a superhero. Her personal quest is to save the all the coloured quadrilaterals she meets, no matter the cost. Thomas meets more than those three people on the way. In fact, he meets many other people. Well, quadrilaterals. But Chris, Claire and John are more than enough to showcase the real magic of Thomas Was Alone.
It’s a good thing that they are, because as a platformer alone Thomas is missing something. Despite the fact that the puzzles are clever, and rarely restrained by the fact that the only mechanic in the game is jumping, they never quite escalate. The game starts nice and easy and it ends… nice and easy. During the bits in the middle there are a couple of moments that are liable to make you scratch your head, but nothing that is really and truly challenging, which unfortunately takes away from the satisfaction just a little bit. That’s okay though, because it’s the characters that Thomas meets along his journey are really what makes the game brilliant. Watching little cubes of colour grow and develop characters is remarkably endearing, and the writing does a fantastic job of humanising what are, in reality, just little rectangles that jump.
What makes it all the more impressive is the way the game is presented because, when the game opens, it is not particularly breathtaking. In fact, let’s be honest, the graphics look like they wouldn’t be out of place in a flash game. However, as the game goes on, the presentation begins to show its worth. It’s tough to imagine the game and the characters presented in any other way. On top of that, the quality of the animation gradually begins to come into its own, with some clever lighting and some stark, good-looking stages.
The graphics, good as they are, are completely overshadowed by the performance of Danny Wallace. In fact, pretty much everything else in the game is overshadowed by Wallace’s brilliant jaunt as the game’s narrator. Wallace single-handedly imbues emotion and depth to the characters and he does it so well that I made a special effort to hear every single line of his dialogue. And it was worth it. It’s all well written and amusing, and Wallace delivers it flawlessly. Seriously, he deserves some kind of award for his part in this game. A happy side-effect of my obsession with hearing every line of dialogue is that I also heard plenty of the game’s soundtrack. The melodic mix of orchestral and digital elements compliments the game perfectly, and though much of it is very much in the background, there are moments where it really comes through and perfectly complements and enhances the tense and the poignant moments.
Thomas Was Alone is more than a game about coloured shapes. It’s a game about friendship, dreams and jumping. Oh, and a little bit of ignoring the rules of gravity (but just a tad). It’s brought to life by some wonderful writing and some utterly brilliant narrating, with some damn fine music thrown into the mix as well. Despite the fact that the platforming is just a little too simple for my taste, it’s hard to put into words how enjoyable the game was as an experience. Not only did it have me playing compulsively, but it got my gaming illiterate family in on the act as well. It’s a showcase of how some fantastic writing can make a game engaging, enjoyable and help it cross the line from merely entertaining to something magical.Pros
- Brilliant and engaging characters
- Clever puzzles that make use of different personalities
- Danny Wallace
- Not much in the way of difficulty
- Slightly lacklustre conclusion
Thomas Was Alone is a platformer driven by characters who are as charming as they are unexpected. It takes an overdone mechanic and refreshes it with a diverse selection of abilities and puzzles that require both teamwork and a bit of mental straining.
Not only does it have moments of wonderful emotion, but it also has clever puzzle sections that make the most of each individual's talents. Danny Wallace combines with some good writing to create fantastic characters that completely overcome any limitations the game might have had with mechanics and, indeed, difficulty. I can’t recommend this game enough.
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