The Thing is a videogame sequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror flick of the same name. It is an action game that sports team-based gameplay and lots of hardcore maiming. If SOCOM and Max Payne had a baby, it would be The Thing. The story on which this game is based is about a team of scientists in the volatile wastelands of Antarctica that come across an equally hostile alien who has the powers to infect, attack, and mimic human life forms. The result of this unfriendly congregation was the untimely death of most of the scientists. The game picks up roughly three months after the events in the film and you’ll play the part of the leader of a military rescue team that was sent to Antarctica to investigate the carnage that was caused in the movie.
The characters in the game have no idea of what they are in store for and what went down with the original team, only that communication with the team of scientists has ceased. The game feels quite a bit like the movie in the sense that it purports a creepy, hold-your-breath and crap-your-pants kind of experience. Like the ill-fated scientists, you and your team soon discover that the enemy, or the ‘thing’ as it is so commonly referred to, has the ability to infect people without knowing until it is too late. This leads to the coolest aspect of the story, which is that you never fully know who is friend and who is foe; nobody trusts anybody and the weak-of-wit personalities easily fold under the pressure.
While the basic mechanics of The Thing are not unlike other third person shooters and survival/horror themed games, there are a few dynamics that really set it apart from the crowd. As you begin the game, you’ll become acquainted with these elements via text pop-up messages that inform you about the variables of what will lead your teammates to panic, and what to do to calm them down. Also, considering that the temperature in Antarctica is negative forty, you’ll often need to find shelter in order to prevent deadly exposure to the elements.
Your original squad consists of a soldier, a medic, and an engineer. Each provides a very important function; the medic can heal the team, the engineer can bypass locked doors and operate complicated electrical devices, and the soldier can watch everyone’s back as they do their business. Your character is sort of a jack-of-all-trades, he can fix some electrical devices, use med-packs, and kick alien ass. There will be occasional puzzles introduced throughout the game and most require that you utilize your team members. For example, in the warehouse area you’ll need to cover your engineer’s back as he fixes a junction box. It should be noted though, that regardless of team-member profession, they can always efficiently handle firearms, which prevents NPCs from becoming unneeded baggage. It is also possible to issue orders to your teammates, and gamers who are easily discouraged from these kinds of complications should not worry, they are nowhere near as complicated as most team-based games such as SOCOM or the Tom Clancy franchises. About the only issues you can order to your team is to follow, stay, or fix something.
You will need to constantly check the trust and fear levels of your team since their performance is almost completely reliant on their level of sanity. When a character is starting to freak out, he will look around erratically, vomit, and/or make comments about how he isn’t liking the current situation. If there are lots of dead bodies around or crazy-looking aliens, the weaker willed characters will almost assuredly start to flip out. Also, if you act suspiciously, either by taking your teammates’ weapon from him or if you seem to not be fighting the aliens as fiercely as they think you should, they’ll begin to lose trust in you. While it is important to always retain as much trust as possible from your team, it is also important to keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t too suspicious either. The best way to verify that a teammate isn’t The Thing, or to prove to them that you’re not infected, is to perform a blood test, though the blood test devices are scarce and should be used only in dire situations.
Other less desperate measures can be taken in order to gain back the trust of your team, such as giving them a powerful weapon so they can better protect themselves, giving them a shot of adrenaline to lessen their fear, or ordering them to follow you to another, less scary, area. Usually the members in your team will stick with you to the bitter end, but occasionally you’ll run across an abandoned military soldier whose distrust towards you is so severe that the only way to get him to believe that you aren’t The Thing is to accomplish tasks that he specifically asks you to complete. These special circumstances consist of different things. For example, the first soldier requests that you search out a blood test kit and perform the test in front of him before he believes you aren’t the enemy. Another requests that you clean out an area of aliens before he joins your team.
While the team management aspect of the game is incredibly enthralling, the game does not disappoint in the visceral shooting mayhem regard either. The main perspective, as you traverse areas and partake in shoot-outs, will be an auto-aiming Max Payne-esque third person perspective. You’ll have the option of changing your perspective to first-person mode by holding the R1 button. The first-person perspective doesn’t allow you to auto-aim but it does give you the ability to target specific areas of larger monsters and carefully kill them by dousing them with fire via a blow-torch or flame-thrower. The various Thing Beasts, as they are called in the game, seem to be classified into one of three categories: monster spider-shaped baddies, human-sized monsters, and bosses, whicih are huge and sinister Things that are comprised of multiple body components. The smaller beasties can be easily killed off with any assortment of weaponry but the larger enemies must first be chipped away at with artillery or grenades, and doused with fire in order to be killed.
The weapons and devices that are available to you are numerous and range from a standard issue pistol, incendiary grenades, sniper rifle, night-vision goggles, machine gun, shotgun, tazer, and more. These items will be scattered throughout the game’s many areas and are usually pretty easy to find.
Graphically, The Thing looks great. Environments are realistic, replete with erratic hills, scattered debris, and vision impairing snow-filled wind. The character models never look similar to each other and are detailed with a variety of emotions being expressed via facial gestures. Weapons fire convincingly, and the enemy’s reactions to being shot varies depending on how and where they are shot. The camera angles are intuitive and rarely get in the way, though it would have been appreciated if the developers allowed you to rotate the perspective in certain areas. The music in the game is reminiscent of the film and actually features a few orchestrations that were used in the film. The soundtrack is comprised of slow, creepy tracks that successfully adds to the overall appreciation of the game. The voice-actors’ performances are first-rate and gives each character an incredibly believable personality. The inclusion of foul-language may turn some people off but it is my opinion that the developers only used invective language in circumstances where it beneficially served the game’s storyline. Sound effects are widely assorted and no two weapons emit the exact same bang.
Overall, The Thing proves itself as a movie-based game that not only defies the unwritten rule of sucking, but also manages to be incredibly inventive, intuitive, unique, and entertaining. Somehow, Computer Artworks was able to blend the puzzle-solving elements of the survival/horror genre, the team-based play of SOCOM, and visceral thrill of Max Payne into one cohesive package. The trust/fear aspect of the game is interesting and can lead to useful spoils, but what is even more surprising is that you need not take heed of these aspects in order to succeed. In fact, nearly every scenario in the game can be tackled in multiple ways. The game never forces you to take a linear approach to an objective except in cases where it is necessary to advance the story. Whether you enjoyed the movie – or even watched it for that matter, you’ll find that The Thing is an exceptional title that is worth checking out regardless of genre preference. Quite simply, The Thing is a rare exception in a genre where movie-to-game titles rarely succeed.