Reviewed: October 11, 2002
Released: September 3, 2002
We all know that movie-based games can, and usually do, have that special taste of complete crap. That said, we can say the opposite for The Thing. Originally a 1950's thriller, remade by John Carpenter in 1982, the game picks up where the movie left off.
Dubbed as part of the survival-horror genre, it actually innovates in its field. I was really happy to see the generic Resident Evil formula broken. The most noteable new-to-the-table feature is the integration of teamwork: throughout The Thing you come across three types of comrades to help you in your journey. Engineers that can fix things, Medics that fix you and your squad mates, and Soldiers that fix the enemy's attitude.
You can have up to four people tagging along at any time, though seldom will you want more than two of the little bastards to manage. It's not that handling your team is boring or a pain in the neck, but it's really more of a danger issue, you see. The Thing brings yet another new feature to the table: trust and fear among your group.
Upon meeting a new face you need help from, you have gain their trust in order for them to follow you. Give them a weapon, give them medical aid, give them a lollipop, they really don't care as long as they get something. Once they believe you're not out to shoot them in the eye, they'll be more than happy to bow down to your every whim, and even address you as "sir".
Only problem with this is that since you are in a horror game, and the enemy is a huge load of genetically engineered (and sometimes former-human) monsters, people walking behind you with a gun tend to get a little paranoid. They see one too many disembowled corpses and they start to lose self control. Unless you can calm them down, they'll start to crack up...and eventually have a nervous breakdown rendering them virtually useless. Let's have a more in depth look at this type of thing.
I've got my new friend Pace, here. Pace is an engineer. I found Pace in a watch tower, and upon walking towards the building he began to bombard me with grenades, mistaking me for one of "them thar things". Pace sees that I'm just as human as he is, and he calms down a little. Well, think of Pace as the Private Pile of my little unit here. Pace is slow, dumb, and diffucult to work with. I really don't mind at first, it's hysterical in the beginning. Now we learn that Pace is a little squeemish. Doesn't take very much to freak him out.
Skip ahead thirty minutes game time, and I'm standing in a room with Pace and a Medic dispersing ammuniton from a stash I found. Well, a new type of monster we hadn't yet encountered enters the room, and Pace vomits. All over my shoes, like a drunken hillbilly on the way back from the state fair. I kill the creature, and try to calm pace down a little bit, because he's borderline insane right now.
What does Pace do next? Pace shoots our medic in the face, takes his weapons, and begins shooting at me, a lamp, and an air vent. I am left with no choice but to execute Private Pile. Pulled out my nine and capped him right in the forehead. Now I'm by myself again, fantastic. He started it though, I swear.
What you can gather from this is that characters are actually pretty cool - they all have their own personalities and quirks and defining attributes. Neat, I know. What else you can gather from that is you shouldn't get attached to anyone in particular...people die quickly. As fast as you gain a new buddy, another one gets shot, turns into a fruitcake, or worse - a monster.
A final overview note my friends, is that this game truly earned it's Mature rating. Extreme profanities and top-shelf violence makes this game a little obscene at times, even for yours truly. Early in the game you witness a neurotic buddy splatter his own brains across the wall in sharp, rich three-dimensional rendering. Other times you hear top qaulity voice acting shout the top ten things you're not allowed to say in a nursing home. Gruesome and vulgar, but still entertaining in a Virgin-Mobile commercial kind of way.
Gameplay is tight - fluid controls and fast menus make for enjoyable gameplay. Item and weapon management is on-the-fly (another break from the Resident Evil style), and when menus are necessary, they're designed very well and they're easy to navigate, even the first time through. Once you master the system it becomes second nature to do it in the middle of a firefight without feeling like a break in play.
Weapons and items were well planned, too. For the choices in weapons you have your basic arsenal of monster-killing tools: handgun, machine gun, shotgun, etc. It's the special weapons that make it interesting - the grenade launcher is just plain tasty - you can load it with any one of a variety of grenade types, including incindiery rounds. The sniper rifle you'll use primarily as a pair of binoculars, it offers a huge advantage when you can scope out the area ahead.
The thing about the weapons is that they usually have to be used in cooperation with each other. For instance, after encountering creatures that walk upright and have more violent, intrusive attacks on your person, you have to soften it up with conventional bullets...and then use the flamethrower (or butane torch, depending on what you found in that room back there) to burn his silly infected ass to a crisp.
Developers really pushed the item inventory - you've got everything from fire extinguishers to adrenaline shots, blood test kits, including flares and flashlights. They work this stuff into the story, yes they do: in one scene you have to give yourself a blood test in front of a squad member to prove you're clean of the virus, and if you can give a cracked up buddy an adrenaline shot he'll calm down and pull it together.
Now, everybody is asking about controlling your team. Say you've got a fuse box on the wall over there that needs to be fixed, after all it does control the only door leading out, right? If your engineer is close, a little cartoon bubble will pop up above him with a wrench in it. By pressing a button, you order him to repair said fuse box. If he isn't paying attention, you just tap your menu button, select the desired character, and then select the desired action. Easy as already-sliced pie.
Yes, you heard me right back there when I said "cartoon bubble". These things can be excruciating at times...you're playing a horror game, you want to be scared. It sort of kills the mood when you're fighting a group of relentless things, and Pace over there has a word ballon above him asking for ammo. It's amusing at first, and then it's just annoying. They don't make it unbearable, just a little less realistic at times.
I recall the game at times making little or no sense. At times it was unsequenced...one time I was in a sub-marine, and the next level I was outside in the snow. How did I get there? Why didn't it tell me? Was it part of a conspiracy to infect me with the virus? No, it really wasn't, it was just left out a little. It jumped and skipped and pranced around, like Peter Pan hadn't urinated in about three days.
Visuals are crisp and crunchy for the most part in The Thing. The real eye-candy is the monster design...some of the creatures bring to mind the likes of H.R. Giger. Bosses are sleek, streamlined and fun to stare at. Grotesque, sickening abnormalites are brought turned into pure artwork. I like it.
Character and squad member models are decent, but nothing extravagant. There aren't any harsh defects that make you cringe, but there aren't a lot of stunning facial expressions, either. Animations are all fluent, special effects are nice, and the only thing that wasn't any good was the fire...it looked a little neglected.
However! The dynamic lighting is of a good note. The unrealistic flames casted some cool shadow effects, and the path markers outside glowed nicely. Even the sparks on the flares were nice. Deep shadows and brilliant highlights are the glue of this game, and I'll even mention the interior halogen and flourescent light fixtures. Warehouses are dark and dank...muggy in a way, and when you find the switch on the wall you feel only joy and have a song in your heart. Even if Pace did just shoot you in the arm.
Let's talk about the weather outside. Antarctica is a cold, windy place. I hear there is some snow, and sometimes there is ice. You've got roughly ten feet in front of you that is actually visible because of the pitch-black and snow flurried atmosphere, and to find your way around outside you need to follow trails of lights and even your own footprints back and forth between buildings. The snow impressed me, it really did. In some places you would expect to sink a little more, and you do just that.
Oooh, the sound. Let's talk about the sound. Little or no music wasn't really a dissappointment, or anything that involved negative feelings...because, well, let's face it: survival-horror games that have soundtracks are usually really, really lame.
In place of music, we have things that go bump in the night. Creatures make these skittering noises when they move, bigger ones moan and gasp, obviously from emotional distress and self-induced torment from seeing their own reflections. Things click and grind, and chains rattle and clank. It's a nice little effect they have on you, where you jump whenever you hear something scuttle across the metal grate behind you.
With the high quality voice acting this game brings, you'd think the characters might be able to just say what they feel...not declare their undying love for you via the in game equivelent of email. Back to the voices, though. You might even recognize the "Smoking Man" from the X-Files...ironically his part is quite similar to his place on the show. That's right, real actors did the vocals. Black Label Games gets bonus points for that.
If you like shooting things and taking inventory at the same time, this one is for you. I'd go so far as to say it's a cool experience for just about any gamer, but because the game time will only run you about thirteen hours or so, it might be a good weekend rental.
A lack of any replay-ability sort of downs the value a bit, as I seriously doubt you'd want to run through the experience twice, especially when the last third of the game can seem a little monotonous. It's Resident Evil on crack, in the snow. It's fun, amusing, sick, twisted, and it's worth a look. Check it out one way or another.
It's different, really different. Survival-horror mixed with a feeling of real time strategy in deploying your team, and action-packed shooter blended with puzzle solving creates a two-for-one game that sucks you in for an hour at a time, and then draws you back after a short break. The Thing is truly a gaming experience to relish...at least parts of it.