Nothing about the way that Thomas was Alone looks makes me want to play it. It’s doesn’t have flashy presentation, famous voice actors, an orchestral score or all the polygons. It uses basic flat colours and geometric shapes to create its world and its protagonists, it utilises basic platforming mechanics that make NES era Mario look like a cutting edge title and it can be completed inside a couple of hours.
It’s my game of the year so far.
These two statements may seem completely contradictory but believe me when i say that i mean them both with every fibre of my being. None of the things that i say about this game in those opening few lines bother me in the grand scheme of things. On the contrary, they make this game all the more charming.
Thomas is the eponymous hero of the story, an AI that “wasn’t special, it was just an AI in the right place at the right time”. He’s intrepid, optimistic, has a penchant for noting things down, and is the inventor of the “Inverted Fall”. He’s the yard stick to which every other character is measured. Chris, meanwhile, is a much more cynical guy. He’s small, square, unable to jump as high as our hero, but he can fit through spaces that Thomas cannot. Claire is a large Blue square who thinks she’s a super hero. Her power? she can float, and often ferries her friends across large bodies of water that are perilous to the rest of the AI’s. over ten levels, each of which contains roughly ten areas, you’ll move “predominantly up and to the right” in search of the next portal which might just lead you to freedom.
OK. Interesting. Thomas couldn’t fall past this block. Think, damn it, think. What if there was some kind of inverted fall, some way to “Jump”. – The Narrator
The Controls are, as previously mentioned, different from games like Mario. There’s no momentum built into the jumping mechanic, but since the whole concept of the game is that you are playing as AI’s trapped within a system, it makes sense that none of the laws of physics need apply. In fact in later levels the game takes advantage of this by literally flipping the levels on their head and introducing a character that experiences the world in a state of Anti-gravity.
The level design could be more complex, but again the charm of this game is that it is just difficult enough to make you think and then progress. This game makes you think, but it never leaves you scratching wondering what you’ve done wrong. To progress all you have to do is get each shape to their corresponding portal. Like a modern version of that game you used to play with wooden blocks when you were a toddler.
Some games, such as Dark Souls, are famed for their difficulty while others are more about the experience and less about the challenge. Despite its label as a puzzle-platformer, Thomas was Alone falls directly into that second category.
The world didn’t want him to fail here. It was pushing him – The Narrator
Yes, the graphics are simple, but the game is no less beautiful because of it. The 2D shadows that interact with your characters as they traverse “predominantly up and to the right” through the levels, add a sense of depth that you simply wouldn’t expect to see in a game that, on paper, is no more impressive to look at than an old BBC computer game.
The Characters are simple to look at as well, they’re essentially a bunch of quadrilaterals in a varied range of colours and scales, yet each one is brought to life by the warm and humorous voice over supplied by Danny Wallace. It’s thanks to the voice work of Wallace that each of these tiny oblongs and squares become as dear to you as any other video game character, with the internal monologue of Thomas, as well as Chris, John, Claire and more each given their own twist thanks to Wallace’s work.
The soundtrack is an area that deserves a lot of praise. It’s a largely electronic score that captures the melancholy of the story perfectly. It has bright spots, but they only ever really serve as contrasts to remind you of how oppressive the situation truly is for our cast of quadrilateral AI’s. David Housden, who composed the music for Thomas was Alone deserves massive credit for his work. It really is powerful stuff, ranking right up there with the OST from last years hit title “Journey”.
The real strength of this game is that everything just flows so smoothly. The story telling from the Narrator is wonderfully paced, giving you just enough information to where you want to move on to hear the next chapter. Squares and Rectangles that show no hint of forming bonds suddenly become items after a single sentence, Dark clouds become more sinister just by mentioning the fact that as more AI’s disappear the cloud gets bigger. This is simple but effective story telling that lets your imagination fill in the blanks.
You’ll meet other shapes, with varied abilities during your attempts to escape the network, you’ll hear the narrator tell stories of how the AI’s know of something called cake, but that it is probably a lie, and you’ll swear that you never knew that ten little four sided shapes could have so much personality.
Thomas was Alone is currently available for PC and as a free cross-buy download on the Playstation Network as part of the PS Plus subscription program.