Greater than 10 years after its inception as a Flash sport, Thomas Was Alone is now a lot greater than the puzzley, story-driven platformer it seems to be. It’s an artefact of an fascinating time within the progress of indie video games; a time when lo-fi, hi-concept darlings made Twitter swoon week-to-week. Thomas Was Alone was a kind of darlings, and the Swap launch prompts a welcome retrospective on a sport that has held up remarkably effectively as a factor to play, and equally effectively as an thought to ponder.
Thomas Was Alone was created by British developer Mike Bithell and launched at a time when indie gaming was simply about breaking into the mainstream in an enormous means. Cell web and social media had been in full swing, offering the situations for breakout hits to overrun the gaming dialog, and consoles’ on-line shops introduced wider, mainstream distribution inside attain of the smallest builders. By 2013, Thomas Was Alone and its DLC had been on each PS Vita and PlayStation 3 – sure, in these days you wanted two consoles!
And indie video games had been going by a very introspective part. It was the period of Cow Clicker (click on a cow on Fb as soon as each 6 hours), of QWOP and GIRP (wrestle your keyboard to carry out fundamental actions) and of The Stanley Parable (attempt to frustrate a narrator who describes your each transfer earlier than you make it). These video games had been deconstructing the tenets of gaming; the psychology of time increments and social gaming, the connection between management schemes and content material, and the constraints (even chance) of interactive or player-determined narrative.
Enter Thomas Was Alone. Bithell’s sport sees you platforming a rectangle referred to as Thomas in a fairly featureless however attractively lit 2D summary surroundings. As you progress, you meet new characters – rectangles of various colors and proportions – with their very own skillsets to enhance Thomas’. You turn between a given set of characters on every stage as they cooperate to succeed in their respective exit portals. All through, a narrator (a BAFTA-winning efficiency by Danny Wallace) relates the psychological lives of those shapes as they discover, type relationships and develop.
It’s a considerate sport in two large methods: it lays naked the fundamentals of platform sport design – explicitly commenting within the narration, for instance, in regards to the relationship between the participant character’s skills and the structure of the surroundings – and it directly masters and makes a mockery of the presentation of characters in video games.
On the primary depend, explaining sport design, it’s a fantastically clear instance of introducing ideas and instructing abilities to the participant over its opening few ranges. We had entry to a four-year-old youngster for the needs of this assessment, so we popped a controller in his hand and watched. It was fascinating to see the teachings touchdown with an keen new scholar, and the primary 10 ranges proved to be a superb primer not only for the remainder of the sport however for platform gaming typically.
As all this intelligent instructing is happening, Thomas, by the narration, displays on his world: “It had been… designed, only for him.” The sport gently pokes enjoyable on the contrivances of video video games whereas demonstrating how essential they’re for a sport to work as we anticipate.
As for deconstructing the concept of character, Thomas Was Alone clearly separates two methods by which video games can function. On the one hand, the totally different characters are distinguished by gameplay – Chris can match by small areas; John can soar very excessive; so on – and on the opposite, their inner lives are invented out of nothing and easily asserted by the narrator.
The supposed emotional relationships that develop between the characters are hardly ever performed out in any interactive means in any respect. Actually, the requirement for the characters to cooperate flies within the face of among the acrimony you might be advised is growing. Regardless of that, this superficial layer of character element is surprisingly efficient and for essentially the most half had us becoming a member of within the role-play in our heads as we jumped the characters about on each other – which truth is revealing of the ability that superficial, non-gameplay storytelling wields in contexts like cutscenes or visible novels.
So, placing all that highfalutin navel-gazing on one aspect, is that this a enjoyable sport? Yeah, fairly enjoyable. The extent design stays contemporary for many of its 100 ranges (plus 20 extra within the included Benjamin’s Flight DLC), the simple-shapes presentation is engaging, and the atmospheric and soothing electronica soundtrack lends additional profundity to the rectangle drama. Crucially, leaping is enjoyable. In line with the included commentary monitor, Bithell was nonetheless tweaking the soar physics till three weeks earlier than launch, attempting to make it really feel precisely proper. It reveals.
There are imperfections: some bugginess with characters sticking on platform edges sometimes, some repetition of fiddly duties, some overuse of what’s primarily the identical fundamental puzzle to climb stairs, and a truly fizzling out of problem into a fairly simple closing a part of the sport.
Within the commentary monitor, we discovered that the majority of our criticisms of the sport had been referred to as out by Bithell himself, and described very eloquently, typically with explanations of how they got here to be. The easiness of later ranges, for example, was a product of planning to not have respawn factors till playtesters demanded them simply weeks earlier than launch. Whenever you put it like that – a selection between tougher problem and fewer repetitive gameplay – we predict Bithell made the fitting name.
Because it’s a bundle from 2013 of a sport that reportedly offered 1,000,000 copies, you in all probability already know if you’ll want to get Thomas Was Alone. If you happen to haven’t performed it and you’ve got a Swap then you definately completely should get the demo – straight away, no excuses. Its playful elucidation of how video games work should not be missed by anybody within the medium. The complete sport provides you a couple of hours of fine platforming with nice presentation and a well-told story. And as an artefact of its period of indie video games, Thomas Was Alone is a delight. The sport might be skilled start-to-finish in a couple of brief periods and Bithell’s commentary supplies a form of meta-narration to inspire one other playthrough for those who haven’t heard it earlier than. In brief, Thomas Was Alone was fairly nice when it got here out, it’s held up effectively and now it’s in your Swap.