When John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing hit the movie theaters back in the early 80’s, most critics wrote it off as just another gore-fest and this perception was understandable since the special effects tended to get most of the attention. Almost twenty years later, the movie’s gore is no longer a big deal, which is good since it brings the backbone of the movie (the element of fear) to the surface. With the unknown element of any base member being possibly infected with the alien virus, the film made for some suspenseful cinema.So I was rather intrigued when I heard that Vivendi Universal was going to make a video game based on the remake. The alien creatures and special effects made perfect sense but I always questioned the ability of any game developer to properly execute the fear and trust factor of the film. Well, my questions have been answered as the developer, Computer Artworks has done a great job of making the fear/trust aspect central to the gameplay of The Thing. In the game, squad members have an emotion that reflects their current psychological state during the game. There are verbal cues (character’s remarks or screams), visual cues (on-screen actions and head movements shown in the character’s inventory screen) and a Fear/Trust meter (pops up above their head or can be accessed within the character’s inventory screen).It’s your responsibility to make sure your fellow squad members don’t crack up. You can prevent this by supplying them weapons, ammunition, or a shot of adrenaline. If they start freaking out, hand them some ammo and it acts like a chill-pill. Besides making sure they don’t become a useless head-case, there’s a more practical reason for calming them down. Squad members have specialized skills (engineer, medic, etc.) that you’ll need to utilize in order to progress through the game. So if a squad member doesn’t trust you (i.e. has a high fear level), it’s likely they’ll refuse to work for you. An example of this would be a mechanic refusing to open a locked door for you since he doesn’t trust you since he thinks you might be infected with the alien virus. This unique feature produces some rather compelling gameplay since you can’t advance in the game unless your mates have a certain level of trust in you.The other area that’s worth noting is the AI of the creatures, which is pretty impressive. The creatures will retreat as soon as you gain the upper hand with a flame-thrower, a barrage of gunfire, or a combination of both. Once you stop your attack, they will come right back at you. This type of AI behavior is quality stuff that reminds me of the enemies in Half-Life. Since the creatures in the game fear fire, you’ll learn to lay down a path of fire to hold the creatures at bay so you can pepper them with bullets. This combination is critical for successfully defeating enemies. The only drawback to this combo approach is that you have to switch from the flame-thrower to a conventional weapon since you can only use one hand for firing weapons. Too bad the AI of the squad members isn’t as consistent. There are times when the squad members do a decent job of defending themselves and helping out in firefights but there are other times when they just plain get in your way or refuse to follow you. There is a command structure for issuing orders, which is limited to “hold position” and “follow,” but unfortunately this doesn’t provide enough control of your squad members. A more structured command system, similar to tactical shooters such as Rainbow Six would have worked out much better.Gameplay tends to be on the linear side with plenty of key searching along with other puzzle-solving objectives required to advance. If you’re a pure action gamer, you might want to invest in a game guide or find one online since patience is a virtue when it comes to solving some of the game’s puzzles and finding items. They’re not impossible to solve but a guide will help to keep things flowing especially considering the suspense that’s inherent in the game’s storyline. The skirmishes with the creatures will definitely help to take your mind away from the tedium of searching for keys or solving puzzles.If you’re trying to decide between the PC and Xbox versions of the game, the control system on the PC has a much lower learning curve than the console setup. The keyboard has the standard WASD movement scheme with the only difference from other standard action game setups being the absence of turning left and right (it’s left and right strafe only) and jumping. Using strafe for turning is not a big deal with the third-person perspective but not being able to jump seems a little strange at first but you’ll forget about it rather quickly. One really nice feature is the ability to go into first-person view for shooting but it does come with a caveat – you’re in a set position and can’t move in any direction. This is sort of a bummer but makes sense since it prevents the player from ditching the third-person perspective and just playing the game in first-person mode only.The graphics won’t overwhelm you but are adequate enough to satisfy most action gamers. The visuals are a tad on the vanilla side with mostly standard grays and whites dominating the environments but what else would you expect in a game set in Antarctica? The one area that does stand out visually is the rendering of creatures. They almost look like they came out of a game based on the Quake 3 engine. I found myself wanting to get a closer look at these fiends but this was tough since most of them were trying to bite my face off. One thing the visuals don’t lack is the presence of blood, which seems to be everywhere as it’s used to show the outcome of attacks made on the original base members as well as the battles that you’ll struggle through. The bottom line is that the red stuff helps to capture the creepiness that was so characteristic of the movie.The game’s sound is first-rate whether it’s from the audible scampering of the small aliens to the constant howling of the Antarctic winds. One recommendation is to turn up the volume since there are a lot of subtle sounds that can be missed if the volume is set too low.The Thing does a great job of balancing a cinematic storyline with strong action gameplay. The puzzles and key searching might frustrate some but it isn’t enough to ruin the experience. If you’re looking for an action game with cinematic flair in its storyline then go out and get The Thing.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.