Review – Thomas Was Alone [PC]

Posted: July 5, 2012 in PC, Reviews

This is my first indie game review, so be gentle if I have missed any points of the indie culture which those more experienced in may have recognised where I have not. Thomas Was Alone is a game I have been watching the progress of since I first saw creator Mike Bithell at a previous GameCityNights event, the trailer intrigued me. Like a movie trailer it made me think “What’s going on here? I really want to know more.” But unlike the promises I always make to myself regarding seeing future movie releases – I actually invested in Thomas. And I’m glad I did.

Strip Thomas down to the bones and you have a simple ‘jump to this goal’ (up and to the right!) platformer. But Thomas offers so much more. Thanks to perfect narration by Danny Wallace you cannot help but feel more attached to the characters. Even game giants like Mario and Sonic didn’t have this sort of psychological analysis given to you. The characters do not have faces. They do not change colour based on emotion. They may change shape a little when you jump but you are still dealing with coloured blocks. But you can look past this due to Wallace’s narration. You know that Chris, an orange block of short stature that doesn’t have the greatest of jumping ability, is insanely jealous of Thomas for being taller and possessing much better jumping power, but also that Chris is in love with Claire. Claire is a large blue block with the ability to float and sees herself as some sort of superhero in need of a cape to show everyone that she really is an official hero. This isn’t the kind of understanding you can experience just talking to NPC’s and reading signs, this information is fed to you as you play through each level. This narration inspires you to expand and develop the characters for yourselves, creating such a unique experience for each player as they form a link with a certain character as well as breaking the fourth wall on occasions.

As such each character has a different shape, colour, ability and thanks to the narrative a different personality. As previously mentioned Claire can float, Thomas has decent jumping abilities (overshadowed by the tall John) and although Chris isn’t that great overall, his short size can fit through tight gaps to hit switches allowing the team to advance to the next portal. And that is just a small sample of the characters you’ll meet whilst playing Thomas. Due to the solid colours of the characters and the platforms (which are all black) this doesn’t mean the world looks flat – far from it, the world exudes charm. Although your choices of movement do not tread into the third dimension, the fluctuating backgrounds and fantastic shadow effects deters the perception that you’re exploring a 2D environment.

The controls are simple enough on the earlier maps, but later on as more characters are present in one level it can become a chore switching between them to do a simple thing such as cross a body of boiling acid. Although it does feel rewarding the first time, later attempts and many button presses later to get a couple of blocks over a small gap can get tiring.

There isn’t much in way of plot here – Thomas finds himself alone (sorry if I spoiled anything there) in a weird world and needs to escape. As he progresses Thomas finds new friends and they must work together to reach portals in a bid to escape wherever it is they are stuck in. And Thomas becomes less alone as he moves on. And just when you think the action may be feeling a little stale a new hook is introduced as an “ominous pixel cloud” floats in the background, ready to strike… additionally when you feel the game is becoming repetitive with the same characters, a whole new cast is introduced along with some interesting changes to the environment.

All this jumping is made all more immersive thanks to music from David Housden. With subtle beeps, boops and gentle harmonics – the only way to describe it to give a better understanding would be ‘inspirational techno’. The music resonates of those moments in films when everyone joins forces and works together and being part of this team you can’t help but raise a smile as you get the gang together, making a staircase so one lowly character can get to the higher platforms.

With all the games being released which seem to pride themselves on having all these extras and gimmicky stuff tacked on in an effort to be unique, it’s refreshing to play a game like Thomas to which keeps things simple. But be warned, simple does not mean easy. Thomas does test the gray matter in later levels, with the real possibility of bringing a character back through half a level to help another. The experience that is Thomas Was Alone is a short one as many indie games are, however this is a blessing as there is only so much variety that can go into a game such as this before it becomes overkill. Mike Bithell has found the perfect balance with this.

Follow Mike on Twitter! @mikebithell

A] Fantastic soundtrack
B] Narrative adds real depth
D] Crisp visuals
A] Character switching can be confusing
B] Gameplay varies, but not much

Graphics 3/5
Sound 5/5
Gameplay 4/5
Playability 4/5
Lifespan 3/5



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