Have you ever felt that you don’t fit in ? Or have you felt that some days the world just seems wrong and all you want to do is escape ? Well if you have then you’ve a lot in common with the world of Thomas Was Alone, the new PlayStation platforming game from Mike Bithell.
Thomas Was Alone tells the story of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) called – unsurprisingly – Thomas who due to a programming glitch has developed independent thought and now wants to escape from his restrictive computer mainframe world. Unfortunately, Thomas’ newly found independence hasn’t gone unnoticed and the programmers responsible are determined to see that he never escapes. To make sure of this they have developed a series of more and more complex puzzles that bar his way to freedom.
Luckily, in spite of the game’s title, Thomas isn’t alone for very long and he soon meets other AIs, who like him also long to escape the mainframe and are willing to help him do so. All of Thomas’ friends can be controlled by the player and, as well as being able to jump, each also has a unique power that is needed to help them all escape: some float, some act as springboards and some take on the powers of their friends where possible. Players will not only need to understand how each AI’s abilities work but will also need to learn to use them in concert to overcome the puzzles placed in their path.
These puzzles start simply and require the player to just help one AI escape to the next level; however as more are encountered these levels become more and more tricky with the addition of rising water, limited time, reverse gravity or problems that require several AIs acting in concert to overcome. To add a further level of complexity each AI must escape through the portal at the level’s end at exactly the same time, this lends a new dimension to the puzzles as if after all your hard work Thomas and his friends dont end up in the right place at the right time you have to start again.
So far you might be forgiven for thinking that Thomas Was Alone is just another platformer. However, aside from being a great addition to the genre, it also brings two other great strengths to the platform scene. Firstly, as you play the plot unfolds by use of narration from PS voice talent Danny Wallace, who in a vocal style similar to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy brings Thomas and his friends’ adventures and thoughts to life with great warmth and charm. This narration adds a whole new level to the game and really draws the player into Thomas’ world, something that is not often part of a platform game. The second great strength is that when this narration is overlayed with the game’s magnificent understated score composed by David Housden, Thomas’ world opens up on a new almost sublime level making the player nearly forget that they are just playing a platform game.
The look of Thomas Was Alone is unique in that the world is depicted so simplistically you might be mistaken in thinking the graphics have also escaped from a computer, albeit one from the 1980s. Now, you might ask why has the game gone to all the effort with the commentary and music to magnificently bring the struggle of Thomas to life if its graphics look so basic and are almost off-putting to the player. And it’s true Thomas Was Alone isn’t going to win any awards for graphic brilliance; however, its simple look is its strength in that it just seems right that this is how the world would look for an AI trapped inside a computer. This graphical no whistles and bells approach really brings to life the harsh mainframe world that Thomas wants out of, everything is as you imagine he would find it just a stark and uninviting world where escape seems the best option.
Mastering the escape for Thomas is fortunately simple as the controls are easily learnt, meaning it’s no problem for the player to switch between and manoeuvre increasing amounts of AIs as the levels progress. A problem can sometimes occur when switching between them in that if they are far apart the transition can sometimes be jerky, but this is a minor issue and easily overlooked.
Thomas Was Alone was originally released for PCs in 2010 and has been tweaked and evolved much like Thomas himself until this version is now available on PlayStation Network. That it’s a straight port is the game’s greatest strength in that its engaging world, puzzling puzzles and excellent commentary lose nothing and PSN users can experience in full the game that wowed PC users. Conversely, the fact it is a direct port is also the game’s greatest weakness in that nothing new has been added so it’s very quick to finish. I played through the game and obtained every Trophy in about five hours, while I enjoyed the journey I was disheartened to find it was over so quickly and that the Trophies weren’t very original and very easy to get on my first play through.
Thomas Was Alone can be expanded by purchasing DLC which involves a new AI Benjamin and his jetpack, but it would have been nice if this had been included with the PS release to expand the game’s play time.
All in all Thomas Was Alone is a great but short game which makes a nice break between playing longer titles, and after playing it you will believe rectangles have feelings too.