Thomas Was Alone, a game with terrific storytelling and shadows.
Thomas Was Alone takes its first steps, not gingerly as the minimalistic appearance would suggest, but refreshingly self-aware. From the opening narration by the phenomenal Danny Wallace “Thomas was alone. Wow. What a weird first thought to have.”, the personally aware tone is set with a series of naive, questioning observations. The consistent, individual display of a nudging desire to feel that questions have answers within attainable distance, and the persistent goal of togetherness met, by this Hodge-podge cast of rectangles has an intriguing resonance that allows for each - only accutely different looking - character to be easily identified with. However, Thomas Was Alone is not simply a visual narrative to be judged based solely on its ability to tell a story - it is a video game.
On the up-and-up, Thomas Was Alone is a fairly traditional platformer; casually ramping up difficulty at a pace that allows for continued enjoyment as the skill set is aquired. Sounds pretty familiar - like nearly every other platformer out there. As gamers have seen over the years, however, it is not the ability to make a platformer that lends this genre its meat; but what a developer wraps the platforming around, and how they present it. From the whimsical merriment and compelling didgeridoo of Rayman Origins to break-neck pace and scatto musical tones of Super Meat Boy, the platforming foundation has seen many a recent adaptation - each with a distinct personality. Thomas Was Alone, with its methodical and interestingly touching cooperative over-tones, is no different.
Thomas Was Alone, as before mentioned, relies on two central themes: self-awareness and togetherness. Very regularly, those two narritive characteristics are juxtaposed by the individual quirks and traits of each introduced character, and their need to coalesce those traits in order to traverse a deteriorating world. One wonderful instance of this occurs early in the game, after the first handful of rectangular apparitions are introduced (Thomas, Chris, John and Claire): “Maybe that’s what the little dots were for. They were there to extend John’s reach, to make his performance even more impressive. John liked this thought. He decided to keep them”. Another instance, around the same time, reveals again the self-aware qualities found within each of the characters in the form of insecurity. “John knew he could do this by himself, Thomas hoped that he would never have to”.
Progressing into the plot of the game any further would be an insult to any who may wish to play the game, though I will stretch on a bit to say that the conclusion to this genuinely enticing tale will leave players in a mind-set very similar to that of Thomas upon the game’s opening. This fantastic narritive, and rather enjoyable platformer, are available for both PC and Mac through the game’s site. As well, the tranquil soundtrack by David Housden, which lends much of the game’s astonishing atmosphere, is available here.
Upon first glance, Thomas Was Alone looks to be simply another lo-fi, minimalistic-by-need creation stuck within the confines of a traditional platformer; and, given voice by a wonderfully Wheatley(Portal Two) narrator. I assure you, Thomas Was Alone is worth a second glance.
Also, this game has terrific dynamic shadow casting.