Thomas Was Alone

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Studio: Curve
Developer: Mike Bithell
Format: Windows & MacOS, PS3 & PSVita (Reviewed), Linux (Coming soon)
Price: Steam £5.99; PSN: £5.99 (Cross-buy)

Thomas Was Alone didn’t interest me when I first started seeing press for it, as it looked like a very basic platformer with rectangles as characters and fairly plain looking visuals but after hearing at lot of good things, including three nominations at the BAFTA video games awards, I can safely say I was intrigued.

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As I’ve already mention at first glance it appears to be a very simple platformer but after playing the first few levels, I started to discover it’s charm. The striking thing is the narration which is provided by Danny Wallace (Voice of Shaun Hastings in Assassin’s Creed & writer of Yes Men), it feels like it’s being read by a parent telling a bedtime story to a child, from the inner monologue of the characters and thanks to an exquisitely well written script.

TWAIMAGE2The eponymous character who is a red rectangle, finding himself in existence (yet absent of company), discovering the ability to “inverted fall” (read the platforming classic jump), trying to work his way “up and to the right” to progress through White empty rectangles magically the same size a Thomas.

As I progressed through this journey it became apparent quickly that Thomas is not the only right angled four cornered inhabitant of this simple looking world. All these additional members are introduced usually over a chapter, of which each consist of ten parts and taught me about their own special and unique abilities as well as their weird and wonderful personalities. Delivered with each characters thoughts being given their own accents by Danny. I’m not going to spoil any of these extra characters or their unique abilities but they all interact superbly and add layers to a rather touching story of solitude and companionship. These abilities all worked to educated me in how the game works, which is essentially puzzles getting from a start point to an end portal, that all the characters must be in at the same time.

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Visually I’ve mention that it’s very simple looking but this actually grew on me in a way I didn’t expect, the pastel shaded levels work as a superb juxtaposition for the brightly coloured characters. The levels also have a random jaunty angle to them which I only realised that I was adjusting the PSVita to compensate for this, when playing on PS3. 2013-07-14-185138 I also enjoyed the clever lighting effects and beautiful particle effects, my favourite involve the main hazard of water which has a frothy top but if a characters falls into they disintegrate in a collection coloured pixels that take a few seconds to dissipate. The characters also deform when they jump which I found strangely quite cute, when I noticed it.

The sound is also very simple with basic squelchy jumpy noises and a rather annoying (to start with) audio track that actually matures in to a rather affecting score. Which brings back memories of the soundtrack to Everyday Shooter with it’s twangy electric guitars. There’s also a surprise bit of audio, which is the Developers Commentary. This adds a wonderful bit of trivia from Mike Bithell and insights in to his trials and tribulations of developing an indie game. It’s the first game commentary I’ve come across since Portal and it added a reason to have a second play through, which I feel a few big budget titles could learn from this addition intimate insight.

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The controls are perfectly simple with move and jump, as well as scrolling through the other playable characters using either the shoulder buttons or touching the corresponding colour in the bottom right of the PSVita.

Thomas Was Alone appears simple but some of the puzzles had me scratching your bonce, yet failed to leaving me, extracting clumps of hair in frustration. The levels and abilities evolve at a gentle, yet steady pace and the use of check points kept me playing to the end, mainly to find out how it will all conclude.

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I played the game first on PSVita and it’s perfect on the OLED screen the colours and visual effects have a real pop, this isn’t the same on PS3 and I actually found it didn’t look as nice on a 40″ HDTV but may well serve as a useful test card. The PlayStation Network version is “Cross-buy” and features a Cloud save function which I personally had some issues with it simply not working, also the PSN version only contains one trophy list. Not great if you’re a trophy-whore like me that is expecting virtual Silverware for both versions like MotorStorm RC or Soundshapes. This is nitpicking and doesn’t take away from a rather enjoyable experience, with a truly engaging story and the deserved BAFTA award for Danny Walace’s performance.

If you own a PSVita you owe it to yourself to get this game, as it feels like a perfect fit, due to the length of the levels being bitesized nuggets of fun. I should also warn you before playing this game contains “Mild Peril” but will only really have you play through a couple of times unless you’re determined to set some incredible speed runs. It does still play well on PS3 but strangely loses something of it’s visual fidelity in my opinion.

I should declare that I received my copy of Thomas Was Alone free as part of my PlayStation Plus subscription (in April 2013), and I kind of feel bad that I didn’t pay for it, but I will be buying #Project2, based on how much I enjoyed this.

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Special thanks to Mike Bithell for confirming the single trophy-list and allowing me to use screen grabs from the PSVita version via Twitter.

New Score 4

Connor McKervey

(VDJomb)

vdjomb

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