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Review: The Thin Silence’s Mental Health Message Lost in Purple Prose and Sluggish Gameplay

Image courtesy Two PM

The Thin Silence developed by Two PM is a little difficult to talk about. It’s not because its themes are hard, though it does carry some weighty subject matter–it’s the actual game itself. A slow, contemplative puzzle platformer with beautiful pixel art and smooth animation, The Thin Silence follows the formula to be an indie darling, but it never ends up being compelling or even very emotional.

Image courtesy Two PM

You play as Ezra, someone fighting through some obvious past trauma while trying to escape his predicament. There are a few disclaimers about the subject matter and themes The Thin Silence will explore, such as depression, suicide, etc.  The purpose is noble, certainly. Games like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice succeeded at bringing attention to mental health issues, and others like Debris have made similar attempts. The Thin Silence attempts to add weight with slow, contemplative scenes of background, or long conversations with family members that express grief or regret. These scenes add a weight all right, and end up dragging everything down. The heavy themes that The Thin Silence deals with are handled somewhat clumsily, with the whole theme feeling like a tacked-on thought. Perhaps even one used to artificially extend the already short playtime.

Image courtesy Two PM

The Thin Silence can be described as contemplative, sure. But I’d prefer “slow as molasses” as one of the more polite terms. Ezra moves too slowly, and his actions are taken out of your control too often. Even at the very beginning, as you are waking up on the bottom of a mine shaft, the game takes control of Ezra and has him walk slowly forward as golden light shines down. This is supposed to be a dramatic moment, perhaps, but it’s really a sign of things to come. Not only does it sometimes take over 30 seconds for Ezra just to walk across the screen, there are many dialogues and other cutscenes that can’t be skipped over. There’s only so much contemplation I can do!

Image courtesy Two PM

Perhaps the best thing about The Thin Silence is the actual puzzle platforming. Despite Ezra’s slow gait, the puzzle mechanics are sometimes fun, if not repetitive. First of all, you gain items through a crafting system. It’s an interesting, and unique mechanic that combines old school point and click inventory sensibilities with item combining like you’d see in a survival game. Unfortunately, you only really get to craft new items a couple of times. Each new item is made by combining already existing inventory items. Every chance I got, I just sat and exhausted each possibility until I had every item I could make. Each item you make must be individually equipped to actually do anything with it. You can push rocks by kicking them with your kicking boots, or climb ladders by putting on your climbing boots. There are also tethers, and grapples that allow you to grab and pull things, or tightrope walk across obstacles.

Image courtesy Two PM

Instead of easing you into this strange item crafting and inventory system, it’s sort of thrown onto you. Time and care could have been taken to ease the player into each one of the new inventory items that are made, making increasingly difficult and clever puzzles, culminating with the player having to use several inventory items to succeed. This never really happens. Instead, in each area you simply try to find the path to the next—most of the time by employing the same few techniques over and over.

Image courtesy Two PM

If you fall in a puzzle, or get stuck, the screen resets. This sucks so much. I don’t usually mind it, but man, does The Thin Silence like to punish you for a simple misclick. I attempted a puzzle that forced me to walk for over one minute before I could even attempt to start it again. That’s not a loading screen, just an idle walk across the same two screens before I could even start to play the game again.

Image courtesy Two PM

Not only is the pace glacial, but I encountered numerous bugs on my playthrough, one of which was game breaking and required a complete restart. About halfway through the game, while I was exploring an underground base I decided to take a break. I reloaded the game to my character endlessly falling. When I finally got Ezra to stop falling, I was stuck in an area I could not get out of. After that, I was terrified of losing my progress, so I completed the entire game in one, long sitting. But that gave me an advantage of trying to piece together the bits of the story I didn’t understand.

Image courtesy Two PM

Despite my best efforts, and two playthroughs, I found The Thin Silence’s story is mostly incoherent. I really gave it a chance, since not only did I want to know what was actually happening, I wanted to know how The Thin Silence handles these heavy themes it purports to contain. It handles them clumsily, at best. Interspersed with dialogue and one of many contemplative scenes are pixel art pictures of people being brutally killed. I understand the impact that imagery was supposed to have, but it all felt so strangely out of place, and so ham-fisted that I couldn’t take it seriously. It was like playing through a depiction of war and suffering by those who only read comic books.

Image courtesy Two PM

The Thin Silence does have some great art. The animations, though smooth, as somewhat wonky. Ezra walks by only moving one leg forward. The environments and backgrounds are great, though, and I did get some enjoyment just exploring the pixel art world to discover more of the lore that is lying around in documents and on puzzle-locked computers. The sound design left a lot to be desired though: The Thin Silence could have benefitted from a real foley artist. The soundtrack suffered the same fate– while there were some decent tracks, most of the ambient soundtrack gets downright annoying after a while.

Image courtesy Two PM

There is so much potential with The Thin Silence, but it never reaches it. Perhaps the developers will patch the game based on user feedback, or use their talents to create something better. Meanwhile, The Thin Silence depresses me, and it’s not for the reasons the developers were going for. It probably has a great message buried in all the slow contemplation, but I’m just not compelled enough to find out.

The Thin Silence is available now on Steam, Humble Bundle, and itch.io today.

 

 

A copy of this game was provided to us for review purposes.

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