JIM AND YAHTZEE | 1 May 2013 16:00
#1: Thomas Was Alone
"They seemed to be leading him up, up and to the right."
Depending on how kind you're feeling, Thomas Was Alone is either a testament to gaming's storytelling potential, or a grim reminder of how far the mainstream games industry is from reaching that potential.
Consider this; 2012's most rounded game character was a rectangle. Its most heart-warming in-game romance was between a rectangle and a square. No motion capture, no celebrity voice cast, the rectangle and square don't even have dialogue.
With the exception of Telltale's The Walking Dead and Christine Love's excellent Analogue: A Hate Story, nothing released in 2012 (or 2011, or 2010, for that matter) comes close to matching Thomas Was Alone's narrative punch. The story just short of perfect; the events that drive the plot are momentous, their importance accentuated by cleverly written "extracts" from fictional works, but the real focus is on Thomas and his band of dysfunctional blocks. Characterized by short snippets of narration from Scottish comedian, Danny Wallace, each block boasts a well-defined, satisfying character arc. What's more impressive is that the platforming gameplay compliments these arcs perfectly. The game's tutorials are punctuated by segments in which Thomas tries to figure out his recently acquired self-awareness. When we're first introduced to Chris, a stumpy orange square with an massive inferiority complex, he literally is the burden he thinks he is. Later, he falls in love and realizes that while he may not be the most physically gifted of the cast, he is a valued part of the team. Claire faces despair and certain death, until a surprise discovery of her "talent" (she can float in water) inspires her to reinvent herself as a super hero. There's even a bit of cute social commentary in the form of James, the "inverted" block who falls upward instead of down and fears other blocks will ostracize him because of his "weirdness."
The narrative builds on two fronts; as the blocks grow closer together, the player can start to piece together the larger story from the text extracts at the beginning of each chapter, until it peaks at the end of the second act. Tears were shed at this point.
The only misstep Thomas Was Alone makes is the third act, which feels like an unduly drawn-out epilogue. There's some new puzzles and a last minute villain thrown into the mix, but it becomes abundantly clear that the game has said everything its needs to and has started playing for time. The soundtrack, however, is excellent throughout.
In summary, Mike Bithell has single-handedly out-written every other dev in the business, and that's why he's taken our number one spot.
You may now disagree.