The Thing

3_1Games based on movies seem to be jinxed. Maybe it’s the rush for quick cash, but they almost always hold a bleak reputation for being some of the most broken, buggy, or (at best) average games out there. It’s difficult to pin exactly where The Thing fits, a game-to-movie adaptation based on the John Carpenter flick from the 1980s. The movie was and still is a cult classic. What made it gruesome is the notion that anyone can be infiltrated and taken over by a grotesque enemy, one that you cannot detect until it is too late, and which you don’t know how to defeat.

The action in the game takes place just after the events of the movie. You’re Captain Blake, leading a military rescue team to an American scientific installation in the Antarctic wastelands. Something has gone wrong, and your job is to find out what. It eventually turns out that the former inhabitants of the base were all transformed into bloodthirsty monsters, and you and your team must figure out how to survive and put an end to the infestation.

Gameplay is a crossbreed of survival horror and menial puzzle solving (switching switches, finding keys, entering computer codes, etc). But there’s also a team element to spice things up – you initially command a soldier who fights aliens, a medic who heals people, and an engineer who fixes machines. You must selectively switch and use each character like you’re in a Lost Vikings game. New characters present themselves and you can change your team slightly, and their psyche gradually shifts over the course of the story.

There’s an interesting morale system which tracks the well being of your comrades. They constantly let you know how they feel. They fight alongside you in combat, and each reacts to challenges differently. One of the most original aspects of the AI is that the attitude of team members change as the game progresses. so while they may follow orders initially, later on they may refuse or even attack you. This is done by keeping track of their fear and trust levels.

5_1The biggest downer in The Thing is that it’s ripped straight out of console land. While it is playable without a gamepad using the keyboard and mouse, you can only look from side to side. Although a first-person free-look system allows you to look up and down while standing still, this is not enough; you are frequently attacked below your range of vision by little creatures, and thus are unable to respond effectively. The other craptastic frustration is derived from the Resident Evil-based save system where you have to find and use scattered tape recorders.

The Thing is a strange mix of genius and frustration, of annoying console conventions and bursts of originality. It does hit the atmosphere of the movie in some respects, and it could have been excellent were it more polished. If you can tolerate the multitude of smaller errors and porting quirks, then it can still yet offer a passable horror experience.

System Requirements: Pentium III 750 MHz, 256 MB RAM, WinXP

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