Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thomas Was Awesome

From left: Thomas, Chris, John, Laura, and Claire
In perhaps one of the most masterfully crafted indie games I have seen, Mike Bithell's indie puzzle platformer Thomas Was Alone grants every one of the game's characters a believable and convincing personality. The atmosphere accompanying Thomas Was Alone is spot on, and though simple, the effects thrown into the setting deliver a fitting ambiance. Despite being a game about quadrilaterals, Thomas Was Alone provided one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I have ever had.

Thomas Was Alone title
Thomas Was Alone title screen

As far as gameplay goes, Thomas Was Alone is at first, almost unsatifyingly simplistic. With just movement keys and a jump button, the game feels like a very well-made flash game. However, as the game goes on and the player takes control of multiple characters with different mechanics and traits, the game becomes more and more complicated, with some levels taking up to 3 minutes to complete. The game's level design is nothing short of genius and with every new challenge, I was forced to wait a bit and think of how best to approach each platform. The levels also contributed in a symbolic way to the story behind the game; as the characters grew closer together, the levels forced them to find a way to find themselves again.
Thomas Was Alone gameplay
Claire (blue block) faces some existential issues
What appealed to me the most about Thomas Was Alone, and made me fall absolutely head over heels for, was its irresistibly compelling storyline. Though each character is casted by a solid colored quadrilateral, the brilliantly written narration breathes all sorts of humanity into a game about shapes. Thomas, the first character the player meets, is an AI born within a server farm, thought of as a bug in the system by the IT people of a corporation. The first few levels aren't threatening at all, but as the game progresses, the environment become increasingly hostile. As each new character is introduced, the player discovers unique personalities with each character, which are magnificently paired with what that particular character is or isn't proficient at. Each shape has dreams, inhibitions, and emotions. For example, the second character that is introduced, Chris, has a sullen and grumpy disposition and fiercely defensive about his weak jump. Despite this, he is all the more eager to prove his own worth to his begrudgingly acknowledged friends. Yet another character, Claire, is convinced that she is a superhero, due to her ability to survive the toxic pools of water, conveniently "saving" her new friends by ferrying them across. With each new character, Thomas Was Alone expands on its own experience by introducing a story and personality behind each one along with a new mechanic.
Thomas Was Alone gameplay
An example of the directional lighting effect

I really cannot detract from this masterpiece of a game, and am honestly impressed at how well-constructed and thought out this game was. Upon first seeing screenshots of the game, I was afraid of another precocious puzzle platformer that milked rehashed mechanics and that stale dystopian atmosphere so popular in modern games. If I could take anything away from this game, it was that the controls were sometimes a little iffy for the task at hand. Though there were multiple checkpoints around complicated levels, landing Chris on top a tiny platform can be slightly frustrating. Additionally, Thomas Was Alone also suffers from a low-replayability value. No fault of its own, the game's puzzle platforming genre cuts away at its own worth.
Thomas Was Alone gameplay
Thomas discovering the internet for the first time

Thomas Was Alone was probably the most touching video game I have played. Never have I experienced a suite of characters that were so immediately relateable, and so human as well. When the first casualty occurs to the small band of friends that had formed in such a hostile place, the loss legitimately affected me, and knowing the game would go on without said character made the game that much difficult. Multiple times during the game I felt goosebumps riding up my arms and my eyes tearing up, simply at how masterfully the narrating was done. Granted the gameplay wasn't at all anything to write home about, the story behind newborn AI struggling to make sense of their surroundings and their social interactions was just a priceless and unforgettable experience.
Thomas Was Alone gameplay
Claire saves the day, yet again
Freshness Rating: I absolutely LOVED it.

Get it here! Demo is free


  1. I'm still playing hardcore on the last indie you recommended, will definitely try this one out too!

  2. As a huge indie games fan, I'll give this a try! Thanks man