Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Thomas Was Alone for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox One, PC, OS X, Linux, iOS and Android

I’m an unashamedly emotional consumer of media; I watched pretty much the entirety of How to Train Your Dragon 2 through misty eyes. Games have made me cry, but they have never brought on that unending cascade of emotions some film, TV and books have…until Thomas Was Alone. I spent the final third of this game feeling intensely emotional and I DON’T KNOW WHY OH GOD SOMEONE GIVE ME A HUG.

Thomas is a red rectangle who jumps on stuff. He’s also a newly emergent AI who is just discovering sentience. He’s a curious and affable fellow and is soon joined by a group of other coloured quadrilaterals who use their different abilities to discover more about the world which contains them and, maybe, find a way out.

In a way, Thomas Was Alone tells two different narratives; one is a cosier and whimsical story about the AIs and the relationships they form on their adventure and another in a meta-narrative which lends everything context. It’s a bit like Assassin’s Creed in a way, but done so much better, with each element of the narrative supporting the other beautifully. Thomas Was Alone manages to blend an intimate and personal narrative with an epic context. The wonderful narration from Danny Wallace imbues each coloured shape with a distinct personality. These squares and rectangles are some of the most memorable characters I’ve seen in a game recently. I can barely remember the conflict between the Kyrati freedom fighters in Far Cry 4, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever forget yellow square Chris mellowing out from his grumpy beginnings through his love for the pink rectangle Laura, or the high jumping John’s newfound humility. This game almost feels like an experiment in empathy, as if someone asked ‘is it possible to make people care about a four sided shape?’ Well, the answer is a conclusive yes.

The actual mechanics are really solid as well. It’s a puzzle platformer, with the objective of each level being to get into the portal at the end. Although early on you just play as Thomas, who has no particular abilities, in later levels you are introduced to more and more friends who all have different abilities. For example, Sarah can float in water which kills the other shapes and Laura provides a surface which other shapes can bounce on. Switching between the different shapes and finding out how to get all their abilities to work together to reach their portals is hugely satisfying, although never particularly challenging. It also reinforces the theme of teamwork which suffuses the game, a great example of using the actual mechanics of the game to tell part of the story. The controls are a bit frustrating and I had my fair share of unfairly missed jumps, but Thomas Was Alone never frustrated nearly as much as many indie platformers with floaty controls.

The graphical style is very minimalist but highly effective. In a few years I think it may even be considered iconic. The real star though is the music. You know how I mentioned that I spent much of this game in tears? The music played a pretty massive part in that. A beautiful blend of real instruments and a laid back chip tune influence combined into something entirely unique but supremely effecting. I honestly think Thomas Was Alone may have shot up to join Braid, Banjo Kazooie, Ocarina of Time and Mario 64 in my favourite ever videogame soundtrack charts. I’m listening to it now as I write this and beginning to tear up again and oh God I can’t stop. David Housden is a composer I’ll be keeping a close eye on.

Between them, Mike Bithell, David Housden and Danny Wallace have created a live write straight to my emotional core. I played this game when I was feeling quite down and Thomas Was Alone provided a catharsis and left me feeling moved and saddened yet optimistic. Thomas Was Alone is a triumph.header (1)

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