The lights are on
Thomas Was Alone is an indie puzzle-platformer created by Mike Bithell in which you assume the roles of multiple AI entities who, due to an accident within the server where they exist, have become self-aware. It’s a short little adventure, clocking in around four to five hours at best, but it’s definitely worth your money and time should you get the opportunity to grab it. All of the elements of TWA come together in such a way to create a very unique experience that I think should be enjoyed by veterans and casuals alike. The game starts you out controlling Thomas, a small AI represented by a small, red rectangle--He has just become aware of his existence and immediately starts asking questions about the world around him as you start to move through the environment. He meets other AIs, each vastly different than the other, that join him and continue to progress “up and to the right.” Chris--for example--is a small, orange square with an irritated personality and the ability to fit through tight spaces. Or take Claire--A large, blue square that believes she is a superhero due to her unique ability to float in water. Going deeper into the game’s story would be a mistake, as it does have quite a good one. Rest assured--It’s well worth your time to uncover.
And don’t worry--You’ll have a lot of fun uncovering it. The story of the game is intriguing, but so is the gameplay itself. The game is divided into one-hundred small levels where the goal is to get the AIs to their individual “portals” in order to progress. Certain stages only have you controlling one AI, but most have you controlling multiple. You can only control one AI at a time, switching between them using L1 and R1. Using the character’s different shapes and abilities, you must have them help each other out in order to get each AI to its portal. Every member of the gang has to be touching their specific portal at the same time in order to progress, which leads to a few good brainteasers. Emphasis on *good* brain *teasers*. TWA is not a hard game by any stretch of the imagination. It makes you think, but not too much. While some may yearn for a greater challenge, I think this was a good call on the developer’s part. Because you don’t get stuck for but a few minutes at a time (if at all), the game retains a constant, steady flow all the way through. These elements assure the heavily interesting story does not get brought to an abrupt halt. In those couple moments where you do have to think for more than a few minutes, you start to feel the strong desire to get to those next sweet lines of narration.
Yes--Narration. All the AIs talk, think, and dream, but they’re never actually caught saying a word. The entire game, from start to finish, is narrated by Danny Wallace, a British comedian not well known in the States. Mr. Wallace does an absolutely phenomenal job bringing them to life as he lets you in on the thoughts, aspirations, and fears of the entities. It’s like listening to a bedtime story being told while you actually act it out yourself. This narration is a huge part of the game--Part of what makes it so unique, charming, and all-around great. This is because of the fact that, as previously mentioned, all the characters are simply colored quadrilaterals. They don’t even have true animations for movement--They simply slide along the screen. The narrator, brings these characters to life, however. You love them almost as soon as they’re introduced and want nothing more than to learn about them further. This proves that a good character doesn’t always have to do with how realistic they look--Deeper implications would suggest that who a person is has absolutely nothing to do with their appearance.
And to accompany the sultry voice of Mr. Wallace, you get to listen to a wonderful soundtrack composed by a certain David Housden. The composer doesn’t really have much of a track record, but he got nominated for a BAFTA for this particular work. He manages to blend a mix of immersive and light electronic with smooth and vibrant strings--It’s awesome. The soundtrack combined with the charming narration is simply an experience in and of itself.
No review seems complete without a little criticism, though, TWA makes it difficult to do that. An engaging story? Lovable characters? Phenomenal narration? A beautiful soundtrack? Even the controls are snappy and responsive--Totally up to snuff with platforming standards. And the visuals? Though the characters are simply colorful shapes, the environments themselves are heavily pleasing to the eye. Straight lines and pulsating backgrounds give off a sort of minimalistic charm that is simply a joy to look at. I’m not saying TWA is a perfect game (no game really is), but it’s pretty spectacular. It may be on the short side, but that’s more a “flaw of opinion” than anything else. I think the game's length helps it accomplish its goal, in a sense. It comes into your life, lets you have some fun for a brief time, and then leaves you with the bittersweet taste of a powerful story in your mouth to think over and ponder--I find no fault with that.
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