"I have never cared so much about squares on a screen"
At its core, Thomas Was Alone is about a group of personalities, forced together through circumstance, who face incredible odds to change the world. True, it is simply a platformer and each of the characters are actually quadrilaterals, yet it goes so much deeper than that. It explores the idea of being normal, and that normal isn’t always a good thing – we are all different, and our unique-ness is what will enable us to change the world.
The game begins with Thomas, a red rectangle. His first observation is that he is alone, and through narration we come to learn that he is very observant and does not like being on his own. He is a self-aware AI and notices that the world is built for his abilities; Thomas is great at falling, and the inverse, at jumping. As Thomas moves through the world, he meets Christopher, a curmudgeon, and John, an AI with incredible jumping ability. Next up is Claire, my personal favourite, a large blue square who believes she’s a superhero because she can swim when the other can’t. Following this is Laura, a bouncy AI who has a love affair with Chris, James, who defies gravity, and Sarah, who can double-jump. This ragtag group moves through a range of platforming puzzles, with a narrator explaining their internal monologues.
After Sarah tells them about the “fountain of wisdom”, which is actually an internet connection, they eventually find it and Thomas connects to it for 12 seconds. He becomes aware of the outside world and decides to architect the world to empower other AIs. After re-joining with his friends, they sacrifice themselves by entering the “creation matrix”. The next AIs we encounter are grey, but are able to take on the powers of the original crew by passing through “shifters”. Sam and Jo, a couple, eventually leap into the final portal and appear to enter the outer world.
Thomas Was Alone is ultimately a game about sacrifice, friendship and betrayal. It explores the very nature of what makes us who we are – personality, relatedness, and a desire to make something of ourselves. I have never cared so much about squares on a screen. The gameplay is nothing particularly unique. Each quadrilateral has a particular skill – using them in combination, the player needs to guide each of them to their portals, generally up and to the right. As far as jumping and manoeuvring goes, the game is fairly similar to other basic platformers – in that way it hasn’t moved far from its original flash design.
The power of this game comes from its storytelling. The script is genius, and subtly supported by the soundtrack. David Housden scored the original score, which gained a BAFTA nomination, while Danny Wallace narrated and earned a Games BAFTA Award in 2013 in the Performer category. Yes, he’s that good.
Through the narration and story-telling the anthropomorphized objects become so much more. It isn’t about getting the irritating square who can’t jump high to the next ledge, it’s about Laura and Thomas working together to help Chris to his next portal. Through simplistic and minimalist design, Thomas Was Alone creates an immersive game where players can identify with the characters.
To say I loved this game is simply not high enough praise – it is quite possibly the game that has had the greatest emotional impact on me this year. And yes, I’m comparing it to The Last of Us. Thomas Was Alone is available on PC and Mac through Steam, Desura, Indiecity, direct from the website, or for PS3 and Vita on the PSN.
Simple, straightforward and brilliant indie game. Pick it up at a bargain, or even pay full price; it is worth every penny. So well executed - a definite must play for any and everyone.
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