Warning: This is a horror game! This is NOT a generic science fiction romp, this is NOT a basic “blast aliens” shooter game. This is a without question a horror game, based on a horror movie. In the game NPC’s (non-playable characters) can do direct harm to themselves and others. It is a core part of the gameplay. I will be explaining that game mechanic in detail, though no images will be shown of it. Therefore, if characters becoming directly mentally unstable bothers you, maybe don’t read this post or play this game.
Kern’s note: I’m adding this warning because this game isn’t as well known as other horror titles. The movie came out about forty years ago. The game itself came out about nineteen years ago. I don’t want gamers to think this is just a common science fiction shooter game. It’s a near “survival horror” game, plain and simple. You’ve been warned.
Hey everyone, it’s Kernook here. In gaming, we don’t often see good video games based off of movies. Many of them flop thanks to bad game design.
Messily cobbled together cash grabs were what we expected in the early days of gaming. Back in the day, licensed titles usually promised that a game was going to be absolute crap. This trend carried well into the 2000’s. Any possible way you looked at it, more times than not, games based almost entirely out of movie material ended up missing the mark.
However, there is one game from that early 00’s era that actually managed to be far greater than I think anyone could have expected. However, it isn’t your typical gaming fodder, either.
In 2002, gamers were given a very interesting title called “The Thing“, which was based on a 1982 movie of the same name. The reason I want to talk about this game today is because it stands as a solid horror experience. This is a very underrated horror gaming title in my personal opinion. Then again, it also only panders to a very niche audience.
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Basic Source Material
Sadly, not all gamers are movie buffs. I’m certainly not, and therein rests the biggest issue the game has. You really do need to have seen the movie, or know the events of the movie to really enjoy the game to the fullest.
If you like horror movies, you’re in real luck here. If you haven’t seen it, watch the 1982 movie first before getting your hands on the game. Do not watch the reboot, it won’t serve you well. Trust me, you will absolutely want that backstory of the original movie. If you don’t like horror movies at all, even slightly, this is a game you really might want to bypass.
Some gamers may disagree with me on this. That’s fine, but I think playing The thing is far more enjoyable after having watched the movie first. Now, as a quick warning, I’m going to have to spoil aspects of the movie just to talk about the game. This is why I decided not to make this a full on game review.
See, at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s fair to review The Thing as a standalone game. Its desperately needed source material comes from something outside of gaming media entirely. The Thing video game is a direct sequel based on the movie itself, and this cannot be overlooked.
So before we dive in too deeply, what is this game? Pure fear, that’s what. Pure damn fear!
The Thing is a third person horror game. It was developed by Computer Artworks and produced by Universal Interactive beneath their “Black Label Games” publishing label. Konami dealt with the console side of things, and so as you can see we have a solid line-up on that front. You can play this game on PC, PlayStation 2 or the Xbox.
As for the game itself, it doesn’t have all the typical trappings of the survival horror experience. If I’m being honest, I find it hard to really call it a “survival horror” game at all. At the same time though, you can’t really call it a “run-and-gun” horror based action game either.
The Thing is a game that meshes both of those elements very well, doing so in a way that is absolutely ruthless. The combat and enemy design is pretty spot on for its time. Even the weakest monsters can do insane damage if you let your guard down, and that’s one of many survival horror elements.
Most of the enemies are certainly bullet sponges, but even the ones that aren’t can move freakishly fast. As a result you need to be tactical and cunning to take down these “assimilated” foes.
On top of this, you’re in an inhospitable environment at best. You’re out in a frozen wasteland for some parts of the game. Venturing out into the cold for too long makes you lose health. Sometimes you have to be out there, other times it’s just worth the exploration. The rewards are sometimes really useful, but it is a risk and it makes for some great tactical decisions as a gamer.
See that blue bar above the red bar? If that blue bar reaches zero while you’re out in the cold, your health bar starts dwindling next. Plus, there are enemies to contend with out there.
Unfortunately because this game is so fast paced, there’s an auto lock-on feature. If an enemy gets close enough, your character will lock onto it automatically. It is a bit clunky though, this is a game from 2002. Let’s not forget that particular era of gaming had a lot of clunky crap in it. As gamers, we just didn’t care as much back then. Going back to play it now, this is one thing that certainly didn’t age well.
In fact, I’ll say this; it can be an absolute pain in the ass. I’m not even joking here. I’m love this game, but it can be a complete and total piece of crap when I lock onto enemies I don’t wish to be locked onto.
Then again, almost all survival horror at the time were a clunky mess, which was part of the charm. We can turn our noses up at it now, but back then this game played as smooth as butter to our understanding.
Unique Horror Experience
So first of all, since the video game acts as a direct sequel to the movie, it won’t be retelling or rehashing too many of the movie related events. It will expect that you already know them, and I’m not joking on this, either. This is actually a full-blown story all of it’s own. It’s based on the events in the movie that took place prior to it.
You’ll get bits and pieces, but this is not a retelling, you can’t pretend it is. That said, onto massive spoilers for the movie. If you want to watch the movie, stop here! I mean it, if you don’t want it spoiled, stop! Go find “The Thing” movie that was made in 1982, watch it, and then play the game if you wish.
You play the game as a member of the United States special forces team. Your deep in the heart of Antarctica. Your mission is to investigate a United States outpost a few days after it has been destroyed. Other teams have also been deployed, but they’ve gone missing. You’ve got to find them, and find out just what in the hell is going on.
Fairly soon after the group arrives, your character and his team are made aware of some of the dangers. Namely, you find out about “The Thing“.
The explosion in the movie didn’t kill the creature. The blast maimed it most assuredly, but now it’s back and with vengeance. Further proof that not everything was completely demolished during the blast.
The rest of the game is about finding survivors and doing battle with the titular monster that managed to survive the events from the movie, “The Thing” itself. If you’ve played survival horror games in the past, then this general set-up should come as no surprise… it’s right out of other great franchises such as Resident Evil. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we’ve got the T-shirt, so let’s move onto what makes this game so good.
One thing I really want to make note of, is the atmosphere. The game is very good at building tension through your preconceived notions. Since this particular outpost was in the movie, getting to explore the area really helps to ramp up tension.
You’ll notice key locations that scenes took place, and although the graphics are old by today’s standard, it won’t matter that much. You’ll still know where you are in relation to the the events that occurred prior. This game is even better for those who want to walk down memory lane. Huge fans of the movie will thoroughly enjoy the game for that reason alone. That’s not the only theme that holds true, either.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what you’re in for. You’ve got yourself a halfway decent supply of guns and ammunition, but that’s not what you really need, and movie fans know it.
You can’t just waltz in guns blazing and expect to always win. You actually need fire to take down bigger enemies. Bullets don’t land a finishing blow on these big boys. You’ve got to burn them to a crisp.
If that sounds particularly familiar for survival horror at the time, you’d be right. Resident Evil: Remake had it’s own obsession with fire in 2002 as well. That very same year, players had to burn zombies after downing them. Zombies that weren’t burned, returned to life became the much more deadly crimson heads.
Like almost all horror titles, you’ll find written entries and research notes to give you clues about what happened in the area at the time. The best addition to this is the same recording that R.J. MacReady from the movie left behind, which is a really smart tie-in to the movie and the lore itself.
You’ll also come across survivors too. Now, this is my highest praise for the game, but it deserves its own section, so let’s get into it.
Survivors: Comrades or Burdens?
To trust, or not to trust? That is the question at the forefront of this gameplay mechanic. Just like in the movie, trust is a major factor in the game. You need to treat NPC’s with care, or you’ll only make the game far more difficult for yourself.
When it comes to the survivors, they are your bread and butter. They’ll have different things they’re good at. The medic will heal you, the technician will repair electronics, and the soldier will be a real powerhouse to fight along side you.
All of the comrade types are assets, and they help you out during certain segments of the game. You’ll want your comrades repairing electronics and watching your back. There is just one tiny problem. The Thing is out there, and they know it. You’d better watch their backs too.
If you aren’t careful, your comrades will be your absolute greatest detriment to survival. If they get infected by The Thing, they’ll eventually turn on you. Even if they aren’t assimilated, if you’ve managed to lose their trust, they won’t follow your orders and they could become unstable.
Another aspect of survival horror shows itself in spades here, inventory management. You’ll have to manage their weaponry and their ammo, and the importance of that can’t be understated. These NPC’s can and will occasionally become emotionally unstable, just like in the movie. They just can’t handle being too stressed out.
If they get upset, you’re in for a world of trouble before you know it. These comrades can end up shooting blindly into the dark, having nervous breakdowns, and of course being assimilated as part of The Thing itself.
Your comrades just can’t handle unreasonable levels of monsters, gore and death. Just as a real person would begin to emotionally fracture under this sort of stress, so do your comrades. These NPC’s may end up killing themselves due to a complete and total emotional breakdown. Worse yet, they may end up shooting at you during their unhinged rampage.
This is one of the key places the game really sets a high bar. I just can’t praise it enough. It is true to the movie in this way, it’s almost astoundingly so. Trust was a huge theme in the 1982 movie. You could argue it was one of the core themes directly. I certainly do. Having that aspect brought over into gameplay was a masterful decision. Your comrades need to be able to trust you, and you also need to trust them.
Gaining trust is easy enough, give them some weaponry or aid them in battle. Help them, and they will happily return the favor. However, don’t get sloppy. Loosing trust is easy too, almost too easy, and this is a key factor in gameplay.
One of the biggest plot lines in the movie was that The Thing was able to replicate any living creature it killed. It was incredibly hard to tell that someone had been assimilated until it was too late. Once your teammates are infected, they will eventually turn on you. More often than not, this happens just when you’ve gotten too comfortable with them.
You can test if a teammate has been infected by using a bit of their blood, but by doing that, you risk losing their trust. One of the key gameplay tactics is to give yourself a blood test as well, to prove you aren’t a copy of The Thing hiding in plain sight.
Okay, look let’s be honest. The barrier for entry is steep on this thing. You’ve got to know about the movie at least a little. On top of that, the game is old now, the movie might as well be geriatric. If you don’t like dated horror, you might not like this game.
That is a very valid complaint to have, because how we understand horror games has changed significantly in the past few years alone.
Classics are classics for a reason, and both the movie and the game are classics in my opinion. They do stand the test of time… but, that’s not without notable flaws. If you haven’t experienced both pieces of media, you might really want to. On the other hand, you might just want to write it off, and that’s fine too.
There is a real horror experience to be found here. A grotesque one to be sure, but a truly horrifying experience regardless.
This is a solid game. It has a bit of that early 2000’s clunky design that’s very noticeable nowadays. Sadly that’s unavoidable. It doesn’t diminish the game though, at least not in my opinion.
The Thing stands as a unique horror title, only bolstered because of it’s 1982 movie counterpart. Does that make it perfect? Oh hell no. Do I think this game should stand as a beloved classic among gamers? Oh, hell yes I do.
To me this game is right up there with the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, it is an experience worth having.
This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest, and level grinds are par for the course. Don’t forget to check out some of our other great content.
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