From the outside, Thomas Was Alone looks like the most basic of puzzle platform titles, but spend more than five minutes with it and you’ll find a game that for all it’s simplicity, tells a deep, rather rich story.
Thomas Was Alone, or at least that’s how things start. Taking place in a computer mainframe, an unknown event has triggered some AI routines to go a little crazy. Not crazy in a bad way, but crazy in a way that is slightly different to the norm.
These artificial intelligences are represented by coloured rectangular blocks of various sizes. Thomas-AT-23-6-12 (to give him his full name) is one such block.
As is Chris. And Laura. And Claire. Any many many others, all of which you’ll meet, control and fall in love with on your way through the 120 meticulously designed levels.
Aside from differing sizes, each character you come across moves slightly differently and has a distinctly different ‘character set’ and unique skill over the rest. Some can jump high, some can act as a trampoline and others will spend time saving its friends from the pools of toxic water that cover many of the levels. Others will be small enough to whip their way through the tiniest of holes in order to hit the odd button or two, whilst those found later on in the game will be able to use a number of previous abilities.
Alone they would stand no chance in reaching the level exits and the ‘Fountain of Wisdom’, but together, as a team, things turn out to be entirely different.
The control scheme is simplicity personified, with simple left and right movements on the left stick enough to move the little guys to safety, whilst ‘A’ gives them the opportunity to jump and the bumpers let you switch between each one. It works brilliantly and aside from the odd missed jump, is smooth and reliable. In fact, it’s hard to find a fault as things just work as they should do.
Each stage has been designed to the highest level, with each seeing you need to get one or more characters into the ‘end of level doorway’ in order to move on. Whilst none will really push a seasoned puzzle gamer to despair, there’s more than enough difficulty built in to make the old gray matter work a fair bit, especially when you have five or more characters on screen at once, all trying to avoid the traps laid out before them. Levels primarily work on a left to right basis but each have a large degree of vertical exploration involved as well, making them – the latter stages especially – seem much bigger than they are.
Whilst trying to help the team work their way towards the ‘Creation Matrix’ you’ll also notice the odd collectible hiding away in numerous corners. There’s very little chance of you finding all these pickups in one playthrough of the campaign and so if you wish to fully 100% complete the game, and pick up all the 1000 gamerscore on offer, then you’ll need to retrace your steps. Each of the levels can be retried any number of times and once you do find those last few collectibles, gamerscore hunters will rejoice in the fact that the full amount is more than attainable.
The real joy of Thomas Was Alone however comes in the story telling and narration. UK comedian and film maker Danny Wallace brings the well scripted, superbly written back story to life and it’s a joy to hear his Scottish tones throughout. Without his narration, I’d hazard a guess and say the full Thomas Was Alone experience would be sorely diluted. His script has been integrated nicely in text form as well and this follows Thomas and his blocky friends around the levels as they go.
Aside from one small lapse in which the game lost a few hours of save time (meaning I had to go back through attempting levels I’d previously completed), I’m finding it very hard to fault Thomas Was Alone. Yes I managed to complete the entire story in just over eight hours but I enjoyed the whole damn thing, finding even the smallest moment to spend every possible second I could with Thomas and the gang. Thomas Was Alone is a unique experience that you’ll love from the very first minute right up to the very last.
In fact, I can’t think of a single puzzle game I’ve enjoyed more than this.
Thomas was alone. But he wasn’t….he had friends. And you really should get to know them!