One can tell from far away that The Thin Silence is no Super Mario Bros. Every facet of the game’s purpose, mechanics, and appearance are a stark contrast to the high-energy, colorful mustached-man’s adventures. When going into this, one may need to realign their perspectives to question what a video game is and what formula it has to follow to earn its title. In layman’s terms, The Thin Silence is not exactly what is traditionally thought of as a “video game.”
While not as outside the boundaries as, say, Zero North Zero West, there is a notable lack of player-friendly mechanics. To some extent, this is a red flag to many a gamer’s mindset, yet there’s something almost soothing about a game that dedicates itself to being whatever it wishes to be. What it lacks in interactivity it makes up for in atmosphere. Linearity and all, it sticks to its light puzzle roots and builds with the scope of narrative intricacy. Like a story, splendidly within its time, it touches upon the empathetic nerves of the spirit and the soul; fun is fun, but it’s not the only solution.
The Thin Silence is available to purchase on Steam for your regional pricing. Here’s the game’s trailer:
Revealing the more critical aspects of the game’s story would only ruin the journey one could have experiencing it themselves, so I’ll be general from here on out.
The Thin Silence is a very gloomy game. Its purpose is to inspire hope, but in order to achieve it, one must travel through the seemingly endless darkness. Through this, a number of different gameplay elements are altered to better represent the depressed mind, though I’ll elaborate on that later. A world not entirely ours, but similar enough to treat it like ours, has been brought to a state of misery on all fronts. Darkness consumes, humanity is limited, war and violence reigns. A lone man, Ezra, wanders the world for a specific purpose, one the player is treated to as the game continues from room to room. Split into four parts, each “chapter” in a sense details specific events related to Ezra, his life, and the lives of those affected by his person.
For a game that’s narrative-driven, its most prominent proponents of enjoyment lie within said narrative. While the game presents story elements as the player continues, one is given the opportunity to acquire additional sources of the world’s history through notes and pages found throughout specific areas. While initially I found myself somewhat taken aback by how little was given to me as the game began—only a warning that the game dealt with negative emotional trauma—the more I played, the more I grew fond of wanting to know more about Ezra and the (limited) people around him. This is as direct a compliment as I can give to the game’s writing for pulling me in with its written word and world-building.
The attention given to mental health is also an admirable focus for a game created in this time. With a global culture more and more impacted by daily cases of depression and mental instability, it’s heartwarming to see a game try to provide some honest aid in pursuit of developing health. The inner cynic in me felt my apathy melting during the later portions of the game’s story, especially when concerning the voices of those wishing for a better life
While more input is yet to come, the story truly is what makes The Thin Silence recommendable to those especially keen on narrative-driven games. Short in content it may be, the impact set by those five or so hours is one I’ll always recall when I look back on my game-reviewing career. Its memorability and heart are reason enough to cheer for its inception.
So the debate about what is and isn’t a game comes into play when the gameplay mechanics are introduced. To get it out of the way upfront, there is one thing I unabashedly loathe about The Thin Silence: it is very, and intentionally, slow. Ezra walks slowly everywhere, with no button that I’m aware of that improves his lethargically-casual pace. I made the analogy to my siblings that if Ezra were to move at his pace within a straightforward room that Samus Aran could run through in two seconds, it would take him close to ten seconds. The rooms feel bigger, the puzzles take more time, the begrudged mood of Ezra’s temperament is improved; a cynical mind would cry, “Padding!” Unfortunate as it is, this snail’s pace essentially acted as a weight for the potential enjoyment I could’ve had playing this game.
Combine this with the puzzle aspect of the game’s mechanics and one finds the risk of walking slowly around, wondering what to do in case they mess up. It also makes going back for noticeable notes explaining more of the story less convenient as it, at times, requires redoing an entire room’s puzzle over again only to end it a different way—all the while still slow-going. I enjoyed the pacing of the story and the way it was told through flashbacks and notes. I didn’t enjoy getting to all those flashbacks and notes, though I can’t say it was entirely redundant. Only once did I find myself stuck on a certain puzzle, walking around and messing with my inventory for some semblance of innovation. The elation of solving a puzzle is worth the hassle of trying to figure out its means. The slowness affected my overall enjoyment of exploration and desire to do so, though not much else.
The Thin Silence consists of four things: walking, talking, puzzle-solving, and crafting. Three of the four are self-explanatory, but “crafting” is something not mentioned in this review until now. Throughout the game, the player can acquire major items that aid in progressing through the game. Items like a boot, a hook, and a board make up some of what one can find and piece together to create items to ease progression. Using these items are as easy as going to a giant cursor noted on the screen and pressing a single button, though figuring out what can affect what is a tad more complicated, but nothing mind-bending. Crafting also includes the combining of these items, with a specific combination even earning the player an achievement on Steam. This is a small yet noteworthy aspect of the game that I somewhat wish they made a little more essential throughout the game. The possibilities are nearly endless.
As the game is primarily narrative-driven, much of its core impact lies within its narrative, as simple as that is to assume. Make no mistake, however. The Thin Silence has a majority of its time having the player maneuver and sweep through puzzles to get to those emotionally-charged cutscenes and sequences. While my words may have given some the impression that this game is more words than action, the balance is really more tilted to the exploration aspects (aided by the slow pace). While the cutscenes come up of their own volition in scripted areas, it is, for the most part, the player controlling the events and choosing how much story they wish to inject within themselves. The game doesn’t have to be as narrative-driven as it can be, though I think for the purpose of receiving all that this game can give, it should be encouraged.
Graphics and Sound
With most games, graphics and audio are something of a “second-tier” priority, with gameplay and, to some extent, story taking center stage. Narrative-driven games, however, tend to take these aspects and amplify them for the sake of benefiting (most often) the story of the game. The Thin Silence is one notable example of this. Its pixel-art graphics are what initially drew me in to the game, with everything else being icing on the coded cake. As fond of pixel art as I am, I can’t say The Thin Silence has top of the line material, though for what it accomplishes particularly with its environments, it’s definitely something to be praised. A good portion of the game is dark, isolated, mysterious. The lack of distinct detail actually does a better job of creating an immersive effect of entrapment, on top of curiosity. Characters, however, aren’t as great. Nothing worth horrid venom, the character detail seems a tad too avant-garde to make it last the definition of “memorable.” At first I thought I was playing as ghostly stick-figures. Maybe that, too, was intentional.
Some attention to more minute detail in the human characters’ actions through still images also create an unintended consequence. For traumatic events of extreme violence appearing onscreen at various points, it almost felt silly to see these stick figures firing weapons at each other. It shouldn’t, but for whatever reason it did for me. Perhaps it’s the disconnect of the pixel-art, or perhaps the lack of detail with what’s clearly being presented, but I almost felt a snicker come out of me. I should not be snickering at this game if taken seriously (as I was).
The soundtrack to the game is also very good and creating an environment of loss, despair, and hope. While essentially nothing outside the realm of immersion and atmosphere-building, one can fully appreciate it while playing. It makes the lower moments all the more, though I think its intentions of lifting up spirits feel a tad too bittersweet.