The Thin Silence review
An emotional tale of a developer and their character.
Before you read this review, I want you to watch the trailer above. Headphones on, volume up. I want you to feel the same way I did when I first played, experienced and finished this game. This is a personal journey for both yourself and the character you journey with. You will face many challenges, emotional barriers and puzzles along the way, but one thing is a constant and that is the haunting yet comforting Thin Silence.
“I would still be okay if I said things aren’t okay. That’s The Thin Silence”. That quote is from one of the developers from TwoPM Studios, Ricky James, whose previous battles with mental health are conveyed through the story of Ezra Westmark and his journey from his self-imposed exile to forgiveness and hope. It’s a game of enduring your worst moment and facing the next one directly afterwards. Overcoming your problems, coping with your imperfections and dealing with failure is something both you and Ezra will feel throughout the game and it makes you better for it.
The Thin Silence is a cinematic narrative-driven puzzle game with sprinkles of Metroidvania exploration thrown in as well. Split up into four chapters of Murmurs, Echoes, Doubt and Proof, the game brings you to a variety of locations such as a mineshaft, forests, mountains and even more areas that I don’t want to spoil. The story is told through a mixture of flashbacks to previous traumatic events or personal heartfelt moments along with the present day, as Ezra returns to these locations or explores new areas after tragedies have unfolded. These give you the ability to understand what has happened in this world and also where Ezra’s story takes place amongst all of this.
Despite all of this, however, the highlight for me besides the quality of story is the gameplay. You are given a variety of items, all of which play a unique role in how you manoeuvre Ezra around the environment. A hook, piece of rope, boots and even a piece of a road sign are all used in the fantastic crafting system. This is simple and easy to get the hang of, but also with a bit of complexity mixed in. The game teaches you very early on that if you can’t progress in the current area you should double check all of the tools you are have been given to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Most of the time there was always one item I was missing in my inventory that I hadn’t crafted yet.
In some cases, puzzles can be vast and complicated and allow you to sit down with Ezra at the very start of them. Here, the camera pans around the entire level giving you some idea of how to traverse the area so you can plan to overcome it. Some need you to go in other rooms to backtrack and get to an area previously unavailable to you, or in some cases you need to obtain a ID badge or key card in order to get to an elevator or gain access to a door. Some puzzles in the latter half of the game may be confusing at first, as it isn’t made clear what the player should be doing, but I think that was intentional.
Every puzzle I solved and every mistake made gave me the same feeling each time. This is exactly how Ezra feels and I think that how the gameplay, story and the emotional connection you have with Ezra plays a massive role in how you get around each obstacle, whether a puzzle or an emotional barrier in the story. At one point near the end, a cinematic plays as Ezra climbs onto a tree on the edge of a cliff and speaks about how nothing is worth it. Here the game fades to black and my game crashed. Whether that was something that was supposed to foreshadow that Ezra was done with everything and couldn’t go on anymore or just a coincidence, it was the best possible thing that could’ve happened in that scenario. I applaud TwoPM Studios if it was a subtle nod to the emotional build-up Ezra had inside of him and how he just couldn’t take it anymore. If not then that was the only performance problem I had with the game.
The 8-bit and 16-bit era has somewhat of a soft spot for me. Some of my favourite games like Mega Man, Super Mario World and even more modern indie titles such as Stardew Valley and Shovel Knight have, in my opinion, some of the greatest visual designs in the industry: simplistic yet beautiful. The Thin Silence has just been added to that list. Entangling the fantastic art design and gameplay together while also being able to tell a story through its environments, The Thin Silence has it all. Everywhere you go has a distinct and individual feeling.
With some independent titles, music can be a hard thing to get right. This can be due to limitations in resources in some cases, or issues with outsourcing to an freelance artist who may not understand the tone or surrounding context of the game. I was extremely pleased that The Thin Silence was able to grab a freelance music artist who understood the tone and feel TwoPM Studios was aiming for in this game. Lightfrequency did a great job of creating a mixture of tracks to suit every environment, cinematic and interaction you had whilst also creating a unique theme for the game which forever is now stuck in my head.
All in all, The Thin Silence is already my favourite independent title this year. Everything in this game worked beautifully and it actively made want to help Ezra through his journey to self-recovery and acceptance. Gameplay is solid and is extremely easy to get the grasp of whilst also having a great sense of challenge in each area. The argument as to whether or not games can be art is often discussed amongst non-gamers and gamers alike. But when I think of this title and continue to have thoughts about it going forward I will remember this statement very clearly: this game is simply art.