Thomas Was Alone is an indie, puzzle-based platformer, set in a computer program gone awry and featuring AI in the form of coloured blocks, which you need to guide to a goal; the first being Thomas, a red rectangle, who is indeed alone; at least to start with anyway. As the game progresses, more and more characters are introduced, with different sizes and shapes (all quadrilateral), strengths and weaknesses, which need to be guided (the player can switch between them all) to their individual goals and need to use each other to do so. It’s kind of like a message for society; we need to all work together in order to overcome any obstacles, which come our way…maybe I’m looking in to it a bit too deeply though.
It’s quite unusual to play a character, which is just a featureless, coloured block, but the story, narrated by writer/comedian, Danny Wallace,does the job of giving them human personalities and names. So while you’re jumping around, trying to work out how to get to the goal, Danny tells you of their inner-thoughts and dreams, which include falling in love, ambitions to be a super hero and accepting the fact that they will never get to meet Nathan Fillion (these characters may have only just come to be in existence but somehow they found time to watch Firefly apparently). These little snippets of information are very entertaining and make the experience much more enjoyable for it.
Wallace’s role as Narrator won the “Performance” category at the 9th British Academy Video Games Awards, while the game itself was nominated in the “Story” and “music” categories. This was very well deserved and although it appears that he didn’t actually write the narrative, it does sound like the sort of thing he’d write; making trivial and mundane things sound exciting and adventurous, very much like his column in Shortlist, so he was definitely the right man for the job.
It’s quite a strange concept; you, a human being, thinking for and controlling AI, instead of them doing those thing for themselves(as that’s the point of them, right?), while they take on human-like personas. I found this a pretty interesting idea…I’m doing it again, aren’t I?
There are 100 stages to get through, many of which are ingeniously designed; my favourite ones being a series of puzzles, which involve two blocks, one using gravity and one with anti-gravity, each needing to get to the opposite side of the screen, requiring them to coordinate with each other. Some stages contain hazards and a few have time restrictions so your characters can die but they just respawn at the nearest checkpoint, so it’s never too frustrating. The gameplay is always kept fresh as new shapes with new abilities are introduced and it never stops being fun to play.
The downside is, it rarely offers much in the way of challenge and while there are 100 stages, each can only take between 30 seconds and a few minutes to beat so it only takes a few hours to finish the game. Also, there isn’t a steady difficulty curve as some stages can be much easier than the one before; the final one, which should be the hardest to complete, is far too easy as some of the early puzzles take much more time to work out. The only tricky thing about this stage is barley being able to see a button to push in order to complete the game. The most challenging ones are those, which have a time limit, some have a set of spikes following you and others have a rising water level; these can take quite a few attempts to survive the hazards but most of the game is a breeze.
There isn’t a lot of incentive to replay a stage; each one has a leader-board but only for the 5 quickest players in the world and doesn’t show where you rank or your time, unless you are also in the top 5, or how you fared against your friends. In fact, there isn’t a timer during gameplay so you can’t see how you’re doing and your record time (or best online player’s) isn’t displayed and no star rating is featured, so you can’t tell what you’re aiming towards if you want to beat hi-scores. Also, some stages can be beaten faster than the narrative runs for, so if you want to hear it, you need to sacrifice a good completion time. I really think the developer has missed a trick there.
For players, who are thirsty for more, there’s is a DLC pack called Benjamin’s Flight, featuring a green square (I think you can guess what its name is) with a jet pack, which adds an additional 20 stages to the game.
As you can see from the screenshots, a simplistic graphical style is used. However, shadow and mist effects make it look pretty cool. Also the excellent ambient-style soundtrack, with a combination of bleeps and chimes, helps it give a bit of atmosphere, although can sound quite repetitive as most tracks can be very similar to the last.
The game has been available on PC and Mac for a while but has just seen a PS3 and PS Vita release; for a bargain price of £6/$10 you get both versions or if you’re a PS Plus subscriber you can get them for free until May 22nd. It also has a cloud sync feature, which means that when you play on one version, selecting this option will track your progress on the other version, meaning you can play it on the PS3 at home and if you need to go out, you can continue your game on the Vita. How cool is that? The game won’t last long enough for you to incorporate this into a lifestyle mind.
To my disappointment, there isn’t a character called Phil but if there was, his story would go something like this…”Phil had reached the final goal. He thought that he would have a sense of great accomplishment but actually it was a breeze and over a little too quickly for his liking. Was this because he was so talented? Was he better than others? Well, not the top 5 in the world anyway. Would he return? Probably not. He had great fun though and the time had whizzed by; looking at his watch he noticed at it was past 2am and he had work in the morning, so he rushed to bed and dreamed of maybe getting the DLC. The end.”