What with all podcasting and video making we have been doing as of late, I thought that it might make a refreshing change to get back to my roots and actually put pen to paper…or keyboard to internet, whatever.
Certainly a game that, in my mind and indeed that of the BAFTA awards, is worth writing about is Thomas Was Alone. Originally a flash game, this lovely 2D platformer has been out for PC and Mac for a while now and recently made it onto the PlayStation Network. In Thomas Was Alone you take control of some AI’s who find themselves suddenly self-aware and trapped within some kind of corrupted computer system.
Although not graphically stunning, this was never the aim of its creator Mike Blithell, who didn’t have the budget to make a huge fireworks display like the Beijing Olympics, he instead set out to tell unique and engaging story. Without getting too near the realm of spoilerville he achieves this by building an excellent narrative and bringing these little quadrilaterals to life by giving them those every day insecurities we find in our society today. To illustrate what I mean this next paragraph mentions a couple of characters you come across very early on in the game and how they are portrayed. If you really don’t want any kind of spoiler then just skip it.
You start off as the title suggests meeting Thomas, a fairly optimistic rectangle who views the world with wonder but who doesn’t want to be alone in this strange environment he inhabits, which I guess is the embodiment of the human condition in that we want to live our lives and share our experiences with others. Then there is Chris, a little orange square which suffers from short man’s syndrome somewhat and a general feeling of inadequacy. The first female character you meet is a rather large block named Claire, who on first encounter comes across as a woman worried about her weight and is rather depressed that she doesn’t fit the expectations of society.
Of course a well written story needs an excellent narrator and in the case of Thomas Was Alone this comes in the form of Danny Wallace – a british actor, comedian, writer etc.
Wallace’s narration really breathes life into the characters, his intonation and humour are as integral to driving this game forward as the mechanics or storyline. He won a BAFTA for his voice work and although I don’t necessarily think that anything that wins an award must be praised, in this case I think it’s deserving. The humour in Thomas is certainly very English but not so much that it would alienate international players, which again I guess has helped in its success.
Gameplay is not challenging really but again for those who may be disappointed with the difficulty level are kind of missing the point with Thomas Was Alone. I played it on the PS3 I thought the ability to use the D-Pad to move through the game was a lovely little hark back to the days of old, not that I did this, after 14 years of having a thumbstick on my controller since the days of my N64, if given the choice I will use it every time, more is the pity for me I guess because playing it the old school way would certainly inject some nostalgia into this modern-day retro platformer. Of course Thomas isn’t just one long nod to the old school platformer, there are plenty of new twists on the platforming genre mechanics found throughout, in fact everything after chapter 5 turns a lot of the conventions on their head and creates its own rules too.
The music, well I don’t have much to say on that front, I certainly cannot criticise the soundtrack at all. At times it promotes a serenity in the player, it is mesmerizing throughout and is perfectly paced to match the evolution of the narrative in each level.
It’s not a long game at all, about 4-5 hours in total, but it tells a story of heroism and selflessness as convincingly as, if not far better than, many triple A titles.
I conclude by saying this, if you need a break from firing bullets into the faces internet morons, or maybe you are just sick of gaining that XP to unlock that pointless bit of gear then give Thomas Was Alone a shot.
If you must to drink gallons of really sugary chocolate milk everyday, once in awhile you need to take a sip of ice water to refresh your palette.
If you have played Thomas Was Alone and want to talk about your thoughts on the game please leave me a comment, or if you think I am talking shit (i.e. that last pretentious sentence) then put me in my place. Thanks.
-The Quim Ninja