Before going into the game review, let’s talk about video games in general. These days, there are first-person shooters, roleplaying games, platformers, action-adventure, fighting games, and probably hundreds more.
If we look back, we see that most of the video games we know today came from arcade-style games which are played to compete with others. But, we moved on from arcade days: It’s not all about competition or testing your brain and reflexes out anymore.
Video games became a fantastic storytelling medium, and Thomas Was Alone is an excellent example of how a game can tell a story. The game is simple enough, but it has a lot to offer.
Thomas Was Alone is a platformer game, which means that you play as Thomas and other geometric characters with different abilities. Your task is to navigate the team through various obstacles to reach the portals at the end of each level. The controls are simple and easy to learn, making the game accessible to all players.
I mentioned that Thomas meets other characters along the way, and you need to control all those characters to complete a level. The game requires teamwork (even though you control all of the characters) by taking advantage of each character’s abilities. Here are the characters you meet later on:
- Chris is a shorter square who can’t jump as high as Thomas but can get through smaller pathways.
- John is the tallest character in the game, who can also jump quite high.
- Claire is a big square that can float on water, which the other characters can take advantage of to cross the toxic waters.
- Laura is a wide rectangle who can help other characters bounce by letting them jump on her.
- James is a weird one. He’s a green rectangle the same size as Thomas, but he falls upward as if gravity was reversed for him.
- Lastly, there’s Sarah. She’s the smallest rectangle among the group, but she’s the only one who can double jump, resulting in her having a higher jump than John.
The gameplay depends on which character you play. Each level has different characters, so it’s up to you to strategize on what you need to do to get to the portals.
Thomas Was Alone is known for its minimalist graphics, which created a unique and interesting visual style. The game was designed using only basic geometric shapes, which gives the world a stark and simple look.
But that’s just it! I don’t think there’s much else to say about how the game looks graphics-wise. It’s made to be minimalistic, and I think the game does that very well. And I don’t think that the minimalistic art style is an excuse like it is with other games to cover a lack of artistic talent because it does look good.
The Thomas Was Alone soundtrack was composed by David Housden, and it provides an atmospheric accompaniment to the gameplay. The sounds that you’ll hear are mostly piano scores which kind of creates a sense of loneliness, which I think does the game justice.
Here, take a quick listen to one of the tracks from the OST:
If you want to play the game later on, and if you’re going to find and experience the story yourself, close this article now and play the game. If not, then consider that as a heavy spoiler warning!
The story of Thomas Was Alone revolves around the quadrilaterals we play with. They’re spawned into a level, and your task is to bring all of them into their respective portals. Once all of your available characters are positioned into a portal, the level is finished.
But what about the story that I’ve been keeping from you this whole time?
Thomas Was Alone is not your usual platformer, I’ll say that much. Thomas Was Alone has a story, and it’s told through the narrator, voiced by Danny Wallace. He narrates each character’s thoughts as they interact with others. He also narrates the events and friendships that happen over the course of the game.
Thomas is the main protagonist in this game, and he was the first to gain consciousness (or the first to do something about it, at least).
Thomas and his friends aren’t your regular rectangles at all! They are AI entities all trapped within some computer. And since they gained consciousness, the Pixel Cloud chasing them throughout the game is probably there to keep them controlled.
Thomas and the others go on a quest to find a “Fountain of Knowledge” while being chased by the Pixel Cloud. The Fountain of Knowledge is actually the Internet.
The Pixel Cloud eventually eats all of the shapes. Instead of giving up hope, though, Thomas and his friends (not trains!) actually become architects of the world around them. They’ve put their abilities out in the world so other AIs who aren’t captured by the Pixel Cloud can try to escape into the real world.
The AI characters that came after the Architects (Thomas and the others) are all grey, and they don’t have the same abilities that Sarah, Laura, James, and Claire have. But since the Architects sacrificed their lives, the world is now scattered with “Shifter zones” which are colored stripes that give the grey AIs the abilities of the Architects when they step into it.
Blue will give the AIs Claire’s resistance and buoyancy in water. Pink will give them Laura’s trampoline ability. Green will provide James’ ability to fall upwards. Lastly, violet will give Sarah’s ability to double jump.
A Great Example of Why Video Games Are a Great Storytelling Medium
I mentioned that Thomas Was Alone is an excellent example of why games are good at telling stories. So why is that? Do you think it’s through the gameplay? Through the narrator? Or through the music?
If you scroll up and read the things I wrote about the gameplay, soundtrack, and graphics, there isn’t much there, right? But when you put them all together, the game suddenly hass this vibe of desperation and loneliness.
Plus, the narrator states all the character’s emotions while they interact with each other. Suddenly, you feel some empathy for literal squares and rectangles.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Thomas Was Alone has the most remarkable story I ever witnessed in a video game. But, if this game about jumping rectangles can tell a story, I think that’s just proof that video games are an excellent medium for storytelling.
Is Thomas Was Alone Still Worth Playing?
Short answer: I think it is! Despite being released in 2012, its minimalistic graphics are still relevant. It even looks great on a big screen! But, I think most of you are wondering if it’s worth playing for the story? For that, yes, I do. I mean, it really isn’t the best, but there are many games that are worse than this.
So if you want a quick platformer to go through in a weekend afternoon, Thomas Was Alone is worth it! It’s a great game with aesthetic but minimalistic visuals, a fantastic soundtrack, and of course, Danny Wallace’s soothing voice to narrate everything.
I enjoyed the game enough that I would have paid the full price for the game (I got it for free with PS Now).
Oh, and if you thought I was talking about a game about shapes, well yeah, they’re shapes…
… but this is what they look like for some people, including me, who played the game!