Picture yourself as any shape. Now, picture yourself as that shape with no visible differences to differentiate yourself among the other shapes you encounter. How would you define yourself as an individual and more importantly, what attribute would you have to give yourself that identity? Would those around you embrace your ability, accepting you as a friend, or use it to pursue their personal goals. Thomas Was Alone, a recent PSN release, conveys this theme while incorporating a unique sense of storytelling that brings to light the roles of friendships and the affects it has not only in the social, but personal spaces. These distinctions, alongside the simplicity of identity puts a greater emphasis on what the game offers as an overall experience, and is truly one of the deepest, emotionally-driven gaming experiences I have had in a long time.
You begin the game as Thomas, a lone red square maneuvering across many of the games puzzle stages. The game’s platforming mechanics are “tight” (to say the least) as every jump feels according to the pressure you have on the controller. This exactness makes the gameplay as a whole less of a chore, therefore allowing the player to enjoy the narrator’s story moments and the music being performed behind the gameplay. As Thomas progresses through each stage, he comes across new shapes that have their own distinct feature and special trait. What makes these encounters memorable is not simply because of the narrator’s enthusiasm that he puts into the story, but how there is implied social differences between each shape that resent friendship. Some prefer to be alone, while others dream and aspire to accomplish greater things. These aspirations are further exemplified with each shape’s unique ability, much like a special trait that is special to that particular shape. Some can fit through smaller gaps across the puzzle stages, while others jump across larger distances. These different character features help add a sense of individuality across the shapes, while having distinct personalities that the narrator conveys to emphasize this sense of companionship and give an identity to something that doesn’t have one innately.
The significances for a game’s story being told through a narrator is nothing new (Notably seen from Bastion), but how it is used in Thomas Was Alone deserves some recognition. The witty, British tone across each piece of dialogue helps provide both a comedic and melancholic tone throughout the game. Having each shape air certain grievances they have against other shapes and the revelations of their pasts with different shapes really helped paint a somewhat bleak and depressing backstory that I found immensely interested by and also sympathetic towards them. The ability to make these shapes have different voices, views, and experiences that all collectively blend in interesting ways by the end of the game helps illustrate a much wider definition for a “friendship”. This evidently becomes the greatest feeling I felt from the game, which was the defining of certain friendships anyone can have throughout their life. You can’t help but ask yourself whether you are truly “alone” in a space where you are around others who accept your company. Are they really your friends? Are they only around to guarantee a certain dependency on your part to help them with their lives in the long run and vice-versa? Throughout the game, Thomas is simply an outsider who views on this bizarre cast of characters around him, but how each revelation and character interaction that takes place, brings Thomas (and evidently the player) closer to these characters and all cooperate to succeed every puzzle, and contribute to the greater means of success. This was so impactful to me on a personal level that I wanted to see these characters succeed every obstacle, even when there were times of isolation between them. The fact that I grew so attached to these squares and rectangles on their character alone and embraced them for what they did, made their appearance as shapes secondary.
Another contributing factor that helped emphasize these themes of friendship was the music. Its soundtrack consisted primarily of electronic music, with certain tonal changes that emphasized certain moments with each character. Normally, I don’t care for electronic music in games (I’ve always appreciated the classical orchestral soundtrack for games more than any other genre of music), but to slow down the electronic sounds to a melodic pace really helped make the overall experience both relaxing and oddly satisfying. Moreover, It never stuttered when the narrator came on to illustrate narrative moments as it played underneath with no hassle allowing that piece of dialogue to sink in while platforming to reach the end of that stage and going onto a new one. It encouraged continuation and made you want to play it till the end and that is something I can truly appreciate from any game, is its ability to keep me invested in its story, providing emphasis on finishing it and talking about it.
Thomas Was Alone, to me, is a special game. It is a game that’s presentation is as minimalistic as possible, with characters as simplistic in its design. But to give those shapes a unique voice, a distinct backstory and have interesting moments of interaction with the main character and themselves across the games puzzles make the experience as a whole a memorable one. The gameplay is satisfying, the puzzles challenging and the performance is smooth with no graphic hitches or audio skipping to hinder what is evidently a well-made and well-realized game. It is a must buy, and a game that truly stands on its own. Not only was Thomas alone, but he was never alone.