The Thing

Review by Old Rooster
October 2002

"Who Goes There?"

One of the classic novellas of science-fiction literature was penned in 1938 by John Campbell, Jr. The fairly innocuous-sounding title, Who Goes There, led stunned readers into one of the most horrifying and original scares they had ever experienced. Set in the Antarctic, the original tale centers on the ability of the awakened alien "Thing" to change form, shape-shift, and assume new identities. The tension, then, revolves as much around wondering who can be trusted as it does directly encountering and trying to destroy the "monster."

In 1950, the premise of Who Goes There was brought to the screen, in chilling black and white, as The Thing from Another Planet. Although departing from the original story as regards the "alien chameleon" nature of the Thing, the film still made a great impact on this writer during my freshman year in high school, likely beginning my hair loss.

Then, in 1982, the master director John Carpenter created an instant classic—simply entitled The Thing. Returning to Campbell's original concept of trust versus suspicion, Carpenter wove a gripping story of survival, desperation, paranoia, freezing cold, and sheer terror! Prior to playing the wonderful game, you are "required" to rent or buy, then view, this memorable video. Let me share some salient quotes from the film that help set the tone for the game—a game that, by the way, follows up the 1982 film's narrative and theme very closely and is set four months after the film concludes:

  • "We're a thousand miles from nowhere, man, and it's gonna get a hell of a lot worse before it gets better!"
  • "I don't know what's in there [with the dogs], but it's weird and pissed off!"
  • "It's an organism that imitates life forms, and imitates them perfectly."
  • "How long were you alone with that dog?"
  • "I don't know who to trust; watch Clark, watch him close."
  • "Are you gonna listen to Gary? He could be one of those Things, and it doesn't want to show itself."
  • "How do we know who's human?"
  • "Nobody trusts anybody now, and we're all very tired."
  • "It just wants to go to sleep in the cold till a rescue team finds and reawakens it."
  • "We'll just wait here for a little while and see what happens."

Where the Movie Ends, Your Mission Begins

Three years ago, Computer Artworks created one of my favorite non-bestselling games, Evolva. Using gorgeous graphics and a very inventive, even a bit weird, storyline, the developer introduced a team of four Genohunters who were designed to "genetically adapt to deal with whatever they were confronted with." Instantly absorbing genetic materials from its foe, the Genohunter can mutate its abilities and be sent into combat situations too hazardous for humans. Sound like a familiar theme? Indeed, likely without overtly realizing it, Computer Artworks was almost creating a set of four "Things" as heroes! What better studio, then, to accept the challenge and responsibility of developing a video game sequel to Carpenter's classic film?

"The Base Is Gone, Colonel!" —Blake

To the whoosh of helicopter blades fading into the black Antarctic night, you (Blake) and your team of three are deposited just outside the station, which has been strangely quiet for the past four months. The weather is deteriorating, and it's unlikely you can count on support, let alone rescue, for the next few days. Of course, with your teammate specialists including an ace soldier, a sophisticated engineer, and an invaluable medic, you feel quite confident to deal with whatever "arises," so to speak!

From the fine paper manual to the interface and in-game field manual, The Thing smoothly introduces you to one of the most tension-producing games I have ever experienced—a most worthy followup to the film. The first few of the 19 levels include helpful tutorial pop-ups. What initially appears to be rather daunting as regards team management quickly becomes integrated into your gameplay.

While initially glancing about after landing and before entering a facility, you soon notice a blue health bar moving downward due to the 40-below conditions. This circumstance continues until entering the relative warmth of housing and is an overall factor pervading the entire game. You may temporarily evade the monsters, perform a task, or find an item by going outside, but you can't stay out for long.

The Thing is primarily a third-person action/shooter/adventure game, with terrific and unique twists! You'll have short-term and overall mission statements throughout the levels; inventory items, weapons and other materials to find; doors to open; computers to access; blood testing; and a ton of shooting, grenade-hurling, and flame-throwing to do! On the face of it, the game seems like a Resident Evil clone. Far from it! Let's take a look at what separates The Thing from the rest of the pack.

"How Do We Know Who's Human?"

Recall that line from the film? This anxiety-producing theme has been beautifully carried over to the game, and it has to do with your squad mates and others you encounter in your perusal of the base.

The particular specialties of your squad are required at various points throughout the game. Although you, as Blake, are a "jack of all trades," there will be times you'll need the Engineer to open an advanced junction box, the Medic to back the team up in a nasty firefight, the Soldier to use his expert marksmanship in unusual situations. Although you only play as Blake, the leader, simple "follow, stay, go to" orders can be given to the team members as individuals or as a group, and you do have the responsibility of disbursing found weapons, ammunition, medical supplies, etc. to appropriate members. Which brings us to paranoia.

You may recall that our alien monster, both in whole and little parts, is uniquely adept at taking human form as a disguise. If a team member, or another, has been left alone, you can't be sure whether or not he has been "occupied." Indeed, sometimes your team isn't especially sure of you! Therefore, interface icons include an element completely unique to any game—Trust and Fear factors. Although there are some rough edges, this component of the game adds to the overall tension and anxiety. From direct comments to actual icon indications, your squad mates indicate degrees of trust and fear that range from mild concern to outright losing it—including vomiting! As leader, you need to keep them together (remember, you need that Engineer to open certain locks, etc.) and also keep them from turning against you. You'll be wasted going it alone—I know, I tried! Sometimes giving a wary mate, who's looking about anxiously, extra ammunition, a weapon, or a healing potion will bring him around; while on other occasions you may need to perform a blood test on him, or yourself, to prove "humanity." Be careful, though! If the teammate is inhabited, giving a weapon may lead to it being turned on you, and giving a blood test can lead to all Hell breaking loose!

Antarctic Atmosphere

The Thing is beautifully rendered, both in terms of graphics and sound. It works on a fairly wide range of systems; I found flawless performance on my PC. From the blinding snow conditions outside to the shadowy building interiors, environments were convincingly portrayed. The sense of desolation is very real. Human models are not clones, and they show a good deal of individualization. The monster, in its various forms, is hideously realistic.

Sound and music are among the best I've experienced for this kind of game. Voice acting is outstanding. Conversations and expressions of fear are realistic and of movie quality. Weapon effects vary and are as expected. Music is reminiscent of the film soundtrack and perfectly helps set the overall tone of suspense and impending terror.

A Touch of Consolitis

I suppose we have to get used to multiplatform productions and, relatedly, the limitations imposed on PC gaming equipment. My only real gripe about The Thing relates to this "disorder." The save-game system is of the limited, Resident Evil-type variety, requiring sometimes frequent repeats of sections in order to reach the save tape recorder. Mouse control is very limited, allowing free look but not movement while in that mode. Only the horizontal axis is available for view, although the vertical is not often needed. However, I must be getting a bit immune to Consolitis, since this condition did not seriously impact my enjoyment of the game. It might, though, for others.

Warning—Expectoration, Evisceration and Dismemberment!

This is not a game to play with your grandchildren! The Thing is mature-rated, and appropriately so. From vomiting to severed heads, to the creature breaking out of or into humans, to the bloody shooting and flame throwing, to the language, The Thing is a game for peculiar, strong-stomached, horror-loving adults only.

Man Is the Warmest Place to Hide

The Thing is the finest game sequel to a movie ever created! On its own, it's a compelling, tension-building, heart-pounding tale of "haunted science station" exploration. There's not only a monster to be dealt with and a narrative and mystery to resolve (with a satisfying conclusion), but also a need to constantly be aware of the mental state of your associates, on whom you depend. In relation to the film, the story line continues without a hitch, and there are subtle references to Carpenter's work scattered throughout. Indeed, the Director himself has given his blessing to the "faithfulness" of the game to his masterwork. Both as a work on its own and in relation to the film, the design and execution of The Thing earns a Gold Star from this reviewer.

So see the film, take a little break, then turn down the lights, put on headphones, and prepare yourself for the atmosphere, anticipation, apprehension, anxiety and action of The Thing. If you're of my generation, you may want to have an extra set of Depends and the blood pressure kit nearby!

Games of Which the Thing Reminds Me

  • Aliens vs. Predator 1 and 2—Although The Thing is more subtle and rich in story, the premise of an alien that inhabits humans, as well as the related gory killing, is very evident.
  • Project Eden and Evolva—Both games involve team speciality and control; although, unlike The Thing, they do allow transferring the player to different characters.
  • Resident Evil and its successors—Ridding a mansion, spaceship, or Antarctic station of foul monsters is a theme of many survival/horror games. However, although there are some Consolitis control components in The Thing, this game is at a wholly different level. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Computer Artworks
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
Release Date: August 2002

Available for: PlayStation 2 Windows Xbox

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System Requirements

PIII 500 (PIII 700 recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
16 MB video card (32 MB recommended)

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