The Thing Review
Normally, when a movie's released in theaters, there's a license-based video game not too far behind hoping to cash in on the familiarity that's fresh in our minds. The Thing is a total exception. It's based on John Carpenter's cult classic of the same name that came out in 1982, twenty years ago. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it took place in Antarctica, where a hideously deformed body was discovered in a Norwegian base and brought back to a US base for observation. A dog was also chased to the US base by a Norwegian helicopter. Both the body and the dog were carriers of an alien virus that assimilated its victims and imitated them. Trust, morale and sanity all went out the window as people were being taken over by this ‘thing'.
You can tell that game intimates the movie through the visuals. You'll see key references of the movie, such as the ice block the ‘thing' was thawed in, and the guy who cut his own throat so that he wouldn't be taken over. When you step outside, you can see how cold and desolate Antarctica really is. Snow blows across your face as you look for the faintest glow of light poles to help guide your way. Once inside, you'll notice that the environments are textured decently, but hardly impressive. The monsters are interestingly designed and well built, but they animate a little roughly. This also pertains to your character and NPC's, and it is most noticeable through the cutscenes, as the lip-synching is completely atrocious. The lighting effects are utilized nicely, with fire giving off shadows and gunfire lighting up dark corridors. However, there are some serious glitches like polygonal clipping and doors being swung through characters like they're not even there. The graphics are actually a bar over those most commonly associated with movie-based video games.
The game takes place in Antarctica a few months after the events of the movie. A rescue team has been assigned to fly in, investigate the situation and find any survivors. The original occupants may all be dead, but the ‘thing' is very much alive. Early in the game, a virus is discovered that can take over humans or animals by assimilating them and using them for vessels. This begins to frighten members of the team who witness these horrific acts, and trust is once again thrown out the window. As captain of your rescue squad, you must ensure the trust of your team by performing blood tests on yourself as well as other members to prove there's no infection, give weapons to those who need them, and demonstrate your worth in combat. Now the real question is this: can you trust them?
You start the game out with a squad of four: a medic (he'll heal you and other members), a soldier (most effective in combat), an engineer (use him to repair junction boxes you can't), and yourself. During the path of the game, you'll loose and meet new team members. Each member has its own level of trust and fear. Trust can be affected in several ways. If you're acting suspicious—like taking weapons from them—they might think you've been infected. They also will start loosing trust if they see you're not helping them in combat. If they loose all trust in you, then they believe that you are the enemy and they will open fire on you, so it is imperative that you work on maintaining their trust. You can raise their trust by giving them a weapon and any ammo they might need. Kill monsters in front of them, and they will be reassured that you're on their side. Sometimes you will meet a character that won't budge from their position unless you perform a blood test on yourself and your team to show that there's been no infection. There will be an icon in the shape of a handshake with an arrow pointed up or down that will show you the amount of trust gained or lost from the action you just did. Also, a team member will be completely uncooperative if his trust in you is too low.
Your character may not be afraid of his surroundings, but his team sure is. Fear can be lost by simply being in an uncomfortable situation, such as a room splattered with blood. They also might come afraid when a certain type of monster enters the room. Kill the creature(s) that's scaring them, or remove them from the area that's producing their fear before they loose it completely. You don't want that to happen, because they'll begin firing their weapons out of paranoia and will eventually commit suicide. You can monitor their fear by how fidgety they are in the squad command menu. If they're looking from side to side very frequently, they're scared. If they look like they're throwing spasms, they're about to crack up. The only way to get them out of this state is to give them an adrenaline shot. Then, get them out of that situation before the effects of the adrenaline wear off. As with trust, if a member is too afraid, he'll be uncooperative. Also like trust, there will be icons indicating the amount of fear each teammate has.
Unlike most survival horror-type games, The Thing is combat-heavy. There is a plethora of weapons that compose your arsenal including pistols, machine guns, shotguns, flame throwers, grenades and even sniper rifles. When you get extra weapons, it's best that you give one to each of your squad members not only so they can help you in combat, but also to raise their trust. Your common enemies are small, quick ‘things' called scuttlers. They go down with a few shots, but there are several enemies that take much more than that. If you approach a large ‘thing', the only way to dispatch it is to immolate it. But first, you have to wear it down so that the target line over the monster is red. Then, pull out the flame throwers and roast some marshmallows! A major flaw in the game is that, when in third-person, the flame thrower shoots down in front of you, and it is very easy to set fire to yourself. This was done so that you could set up rows of fire to pen in enemies, but when you're trying to light one up, it's best to go first-person so you can actually aim it. When you have a behemoth charging at you, you don't want to just stand there thinking he's going to let you toast him. The best tactic is to give a flame thrower to a squad member and let him ignite the enemy while you wear its health down.
Audio wise, the game sounds almost like the movie with the movie-inspired soundtrack. Those that remember the opening theme of the movie will have their skin riddled with goose bumps as they hear the same theme in the game. For the majority of the game, there is no music, which is perfect because silence helps establish the mood. The voice acting is also bearable, far superior to most acting done in other movie-based titles. Now if only they could get that ridiculous lip-synching fixed. The sound effects are done admirably, inviting you to turn up the speakers and let the multitudes of gunshots disturb your neighbors. Screeches from the monsters will also send chills up your spine and send your baby siblings ducking under their covers. Explosions are loud, and the Antarctic winds sound cold enough to make you throw on an extra blanket. There are only a couple of noticeable flaws. One of them is the questionable footsteps. They sound accurate on wood or metal, but sound very off in the snow. The second flaw is that good listeners will sense the low amount of effort put into making the creatures' yells sound completely alien. You can tell that growls were derived from dogs and that roars were recycled from large felines. The audio package is not shabby at all; it just could have used an extra coating of wax.
The game has a mildly difficult learning curve when it comes to the controls. They are actually quite complex, and you will find yourself coming back to the instruction manual frequently regardless of the number of tutorials in the game. Selecting weapons and items is a bit cumbersome, and practice is suggested before you step into combat so you don't end up with the wrong gun at the wrong time. Moving around is easy enough, but it's the camera that will most likely give you motion sickness. There will be a few instances where you'll be standing still, and the camera will zoom back slowly while the foreground will appear closer. It can perplex you at times, making you wonder if you didn't down a fifth before you began playing. Perhaps the greatest saving grace of the controls is the auto-aiming. When you begin the game, you can select whether you want easy, medium or difficult aiming, so beginners can fire without worrying too much about missing and veterans can work on fine-tuning their skills. However, yet another flaw arises in the form of friendly fire. Regardless of the auto-aiming, it doesn't help when your members constantly get in the way of your shots. It can be fixed by simply moving to a different position, but that's often critical time you don't have. This is one of those games where practice makes perfect.
Overall, The Thing is a good action game, but it's even better if you happen to be a fan of the two-decade old Carpenter classic. The game's long enough to where it can't be beaten in one sitting, and compelling enough to play from beginning to end (again, if you're a major fan). Everything from the graphics, to the sound, to the gameplay and control, are done well enough in this title so as not to classify it as another pathetic and demeaning video game conceived only to cash in from its associated movie title. There are several flaws, such as irksome controls, questionable enemy and squad AI, and several instances of trial-and-error deaths that prevent this title from being a must-buy. Also, know that to save this game takes nearly three megs and when you die, you have to exit the game in order to resume from the last save point (the save points are abundant, though). Buy it if you're a big fan of The Thing but rent it if you need to play a good action title.
10/10/2002 Lucas Stephens