I’ve not written about a game in quite a while, so it’s high praise for Thomas Was Alone that I felt the need to on this occasion. Yes, I’m a bit late to the party – it was released on the 30th June – but, well, it’s magnificent and an absolute must at £5.99. Here’s a trailer:
If you hadn’t guessed from that video, it’s a 2D puzzle/platform game involving a series of blocks and a Danny Wallace voiceover. That’s probably not going to convince you, is it? Ok, fine. It gets better:
First of all, for a game involving a series of 2D blocks, it’s gorgeous. Mike Bithell (that would be the creator) has managed to do just enough – shafts of light and subtle shapes to the lightly textured backgrounds – to keep you interested in a very simple art style. It’s also sharp as hell at full HD resolutions, which is something frustratingly lacking in a lot of 2D games.
Then there’s the soundtrack. There have been a few games in recent years that have had a soundtrack good enough to have stood out against, or at least proudly alongside, the gameplay and this is definitely one of them. The very minimalist look of the game means that it’s almost a necessity to have a decent score in order to keep your attention, but last night was the first time I’ve listened to a game’s soundtrack outside of playing the game – twice, in fact. It was composed by David Housden and you can even have a listen to it here. Why not listen to it while I ramble on some more?
The gameplay itself is a simple enough concept, but it’s easy to overlook how well crafted a game is when it’s not doing as much visually. The aim is to get the blocks from their starting positions to a white outline somewhere in the level. It starts out simple enough with the red rectangle, Thomas (yes, they all have names); he has an average jump height but will disintegrate when he touches water. We’re introduced to Chris shortly after – he’s a little orange square with a tiny jump, so he often needs Thomas to get up higher walls. All the blocks have different characteristics and shapes, which, as you’d expect, you need to use to your advantage to get where you need to go.
It’s way too easy to underestimate how well-balanced the jump heights and physics are, though. Despite being a world consisting of basic shapes you feel immediately comfortable with how far you can jump and how fast you can move with each block and this sort of balance makes or breaks a game like this; something that’s often sadly overlooked. Traversing the levels is never annoying, confusing or tedious and the fact that you never give the physics a second thought is testament to how well they work. Which brings me to the Danny Wallace voiceover and the story. Yes, the story.
Well, basically, it’s wonderful. I obviously don’t want to reveal anything about the actual events of the story, but the fact that the game would work without any of this stuff shows just how much love has been put into it. It’s told through a Danny Wallace voice-over (love him or hate him, he does a superb job) which manages to reveal both the personality of the characters (yes, the blocks) and the mystery of the story at a perfect pace, often focusing on one character for each level.
The story manages to build tension brilliantly towards the conclusion and does so while keeping the difficulty perfectly balanced. The fact that I felt more emotional attachment to Thomas, Chris and the gang by the end, than I did to almost anything else I’ve played in the last few months speaks volumes, really.
So, my advice to you, dear reader, would be to buy it. It’s a fun, charming, lovely little game with a magnificent soundtrack. It’s available on both PC and Mac and there’s even a demo, so you’ve got no excuses. Go!