Thomas Was Alone shows that good writing can transform even the simplest games into something impactful.
Story can really make or break a game. In some cases even save it. Thomas Was Alone is a great example of a simple game that is made into something greater thanks to some excellent writing and actual character given to the game’s protagonists. Which is kind of funny since all of them are just simple shapes.
In Thomas Was Alone you control a group of Artificial Intelligences as they come to terms with being self-aware. Each of these AIs are a different shape and personality, take Thomas for example. He is a red rectangle and he is very inquisitive. Then there is Chris, a grumpy square who eventually falls in love. You learn all these things from the games top-notch writing. As you play through each of the 100 stages you are given bits of details about these little guys from the game’s narrator. The ever-present story even becomes part of the screen as the written text will follow your characters around. This can lead to some jumbling of the sentences, as it dynamically spaces them. I while I don’t wish there was an option to remove them, maybe if it was fixed width it might be less distracting.
After some initial light tutorializing, all done in game, you finally get to the puzzles. The goal is to get each of the shapes to a similarly shaped portal. After everyone has arrived you will be transported to the next area and a new piece of story will be read to you. To do this you will have to juggle between many different shapes, depending on the level. Each of having a different set of skills. There is Claire who can float on water, which will otherwise kill the player, John who can jump far and high, Laura who acts as a trampoline, and many more. And as I mentioned before each has a different personality.
I really became attached to Chris. As we shared names, I sort of thought of him as me in the world. I would always make sure he got to the portals first, taking control of him whenever possible. His tale is one of the most touching stories in the game too. I actually felt sad for him at some points, which says a lot since he is just a small orange square.
The game does suffer from some repetition however. It seems that most puzzles are solved by having to form staircases with characters and then having to repeat that same process over and over. The game does do a good job of changing things up by switch which characters are in each stage, but you pretty much will always have to do that one set of moves if Chris is in a level. The game is also never really challenging. Checkpoints are abundant and there aren’t too many tricky puzzles.
One thing PS3 and Vita owners are getting as a timed exclusive is developer commentary for each stage. I totally recommend playing through the game once and then going back again to hear what creator Mike Bithell has to say about the process of making the game. It is really is interesting to hear about how “checkingpointing” was added around 1 month before release and how some levels were almost cut. Really insightful stuff, and if you have any interest in game design it is worth a listen. I do wish I could skip levels I have already beat though. Currently it will only trigger the next part of the commentary when you complete a stage.
I also want to mention the game’s soundtrack. It really adds to the overall feel. I got some Everyday Shooter vibes from it at some points with the guitar riffs that fill certain stages. It also feels like at times the layers of the music were trying to convey different emotions over-top of each other; one being happy and the other sad, one part excitement and the other fear. I found myself just listening to the soundtrack at times, instead of solving the puzzles. I was also a big fan of the different sounds each of the characters make when jumping. They are really crunchy and digital which contrasts well with the airy piano, synths, and strings.
So while the game might be short, I think it took me around 5 or so hours to complete, it is definitely worth your time. The writing and narration in Thomas elevates what otherwise would be a pretty average puzzle platformer into something really impactful.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
Chris K's Score:
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