No One Survives Alone
The John Carpenter movie has been the inspiration for a computer game (available for PS2 and XBox as well as the PC). The early stages are lovely, but I found it to get worse the further I got. It's not a bad game, but it's not a great masterpeice either. It would be a fine purchase if it was on a budget release, but as a full price game I think it misses the mark in a few places.
The game takes up after the movie, and has a US army squad getting dropped at the research station from the movie to investigate. Your four man team gets dropped at the US station while the rest get taken to the Norweigan camp. You scour the camp and then C-4 the place, and the main character, Blake, decides in true gung-ho style he will rescue the other team who have run into trouble on his own....
The early levels are very good, presumably trying to catch the feeling of the movie, having you suspect people of being aliens, get jumped frequently by monsters (it's a game, so there has to be a lot of action) and try to survive. The game lets you roam around with up to four companions, and you have to earn their trust, usually by giving them guns or proving you're not an alien with a blood test. This stuff is all good, but it falls to bits later as you can just give a big gun to someone and all your spare ammo and they do whatever you want happily - it's just a game of get the engineer to the power box. It's surprisingly easy to keep the NPCs happy with you, so you can go a whole game and not have anyone try to shoot you in the head for acting suspiciously.
The NPCs are the highlight of the game - they get scared, they get distrustful, they puke if they have to hang around a corpse, they turn into horrible monstrosities at random.... You can tell them to follow or stay, you can give them weapons and they will fight with you (or try to kill you if they think you're a thing), but watch out because if they freak out too much they'll start firing into the walls and floor and then commit suicide....
The downside is the NPCs are TOO essential. There's three kinds, the medic, who dishes out health to people all the time, the soldier, who shoots things, and the engineer, who can fix advanced junction boxes. This is the central problem - instead of finding the red key you just have to get an engineer to a junction box. Seems like a good compromise, right? Well, no. Even with a medic you will have to stand right on top of the engineer and feed him medkits in a fight, since if the only engineer on the level dies you have to reload a save game.
The other downside is that you don't keep NPCs for very long. There's one very tricky part of the game that you can keep your allies alive through only to have them commit suicide on the next level when they see a dead body - having just stalwartly fought through an endless wave of monsters. Another piece sees you beat off a whole horde of aliens just to have the lone NPC on the level fix a junction box. You then walk him through to the next room and, well, he turns into a monster as you go down a hall. It's easier to just take his head off with a rifle. If the NPCs stayed with you and stayed human for longer the impact of them flipping out or transforming would be that much scarier.
The Things are pretty boring after you see them for the first time. In a perfect world I'd have never seen any images from Resident Evil and then I'd have been surprised. One real problem is there's a bunch of monsters that don't have much that's identifiably human on them. There's some heads with legs, and NPCs who get exposed are suitably bizarre, but most of the generic monsters are just walking piles of viscera. As target dummies they suffice but on the whole it's just not as cool when you realise there are only four kinds of big monster and five small ones. The boss monsters have human components, and look truer to the horrors from the 1982 movie in style, but they are boss monsters, they are scary because they are boss monsters, not because some bizarre thing has popped up.
In fact the whole presence of boss monsters seems silly. Why are they there? Why are they glued to the floor? Why does out hero insist on staying in a tiny room to fight a twelve foot tall thing with a human torso attached to one arm and a dog head attached to the other? Why not back out the door and blast it from outside? Why not just lob a sackful of grenades at it and then set them off? Why in God's name does one part of the game consist of having to find an engineer so you can get a key so you can shoot two humans guarding a door to a boss monster? It makes no sense at all and seems to have been included purely so that there could be a boss fight....
Plot - Now with added spoilers!
Given that it's following on the end of the movie it should have a good plot. According the the walkthrough I used (I got lost. The game does not tell you where to find anything or give you a compass) lots of the first two levels are lifted from the movie, with references everywhere. The first level is just all exposition and no shooting, and is good. (Apart from the medic puking when he sees a corpse. I don't want him operating on me, he'll throw his lunch up into my wounds!). The plot moves on all fine and dandy but starts to show holes as people "burst out" at preset points.
Prior to the first boss fight the game is good, a mix of character tension as people freak out, creepy settings and the occasional battle against horrible monsters, but after that it starts to get very derivative and also bloody outlandish. The map on the load screens shows that you're in a nice inland spot in Antarctica, yet somehow there's a submerged laboratory. There is also a gigantic underground base and secret tests being done on people with the alien things and.... oh my god it's like Resident Evil with snow!
But wait, there's more!
Not only is your evil commander trying to smuggle alien things back to civilization he seems to think injecting himself with thing cells is a good idea. As you confront him at the end he says "I control every man on this continent" so presumably the thing lets him control other things. This is a plot element I recognise from Deus Ex (infect everyone with nanotechnology so you control everyone), and frankly it's even more stupid here. I get the impression they just wanted some kind of human villain rather than an inscrutable alien
Did I mention you get the standard "knocked out and locked up" routine? That's right, all your stuff gets taken and you have to escape. This has been done frequently in games, and in this case you're in a laboratory and there's things and soldiers to take on. It's a hodge-podge of enemies from here on, which is ridiculous for a game that's based on a horror movie.
This is the biggest hole in the plot - there's parts of the game where you fight a bunch of humans, then some things, then some more humans, and seldom do you see the bad guy soldiers freak out - There was one scene where they fought the monsters, but other than that you can find things like planes in hangars guarded by creepy monsters and guys with guns. There's also the "guard the boss monster" moment, which seems like the silliest ocurrence ever. Some more thought could have been put into the plotting of the second half of the game, as the battles and levels seem poorly thought out (the warehouse is just a maze for the maze's sake, it does not look like a real building) and the objectives become the usual jump-through-hoops stuff of games.
Surprisingly easy on the easy setting, as the difficulty determines the auto-aim arc. That's right, it aims for you. Combat comes down to a few things:
- Keep NPCs alive and not too close to the monsters (or they freak out)
- Shotgun the small things (it's like skeet shooting when they jump, teehee)
- Machinegun the big things into the red
- Burn them
- Kill the small things that come out of the big things corpse
It seems okay, but every encounter is a variation on a set strategy
, unlike other games where you can have a stack of weapons and you get to try out different tricks and strategies. Combat in The Thing gets repetitive because there is little room to improvise
or have fun (though you will get grim satisfaction
out of setting things on fire).
The Really Dissapointing Bits
It's a third person perspective game, not a first person game. The console market demands that horror games should be done in this way, but that doesn't mean it's the right way or the only way. In the developer discussion for Undying the team who made it mention they were told things like "But you can't do a horror game in first person!" and they proved it wrong (by panning to a third person view when the player dies you get to see the gore, but there's a good argument for not knowing what killed you too). The Thing would have benefitted from the tension the first person view creates. You can drop to first person to fire, but it's really hard to aim without being able to move....
The gamer's nightmare (after the one where the only game in the world is The Sims). There's one area where you have to backtrack through a level to the save station before running to the exit because in the next level you don't get to a save station until the end of the level. This is ridiculous and didn't add to tension, it just means you have to repeat long sections of the game until you get sick of it.
The box claims you can "Choose multiple paths to solve levels and accomplish goals" and this is a lie. What you can do is go and get a gun from somewhere before opening a door, or give people different weapons. In most cases where there is an obstacle you will be finding the key to open it or someone to fix the power box. there is no way for you to, say, move a barrel of fuel to a door and blast the door open, or find a back way into a room.
A minor one, but you punch up a log on a computer that says something like "I think some animal has gotten in the ducts." Now, this is inland Antarctica. There are no animals. The person who typed this is aware of the weird monsters, so what's up with this? It's just a shonky bit of flavouring. Game companies take note: Read up on the location you're setting your games in.
The game is short compared to lengthy epics like Deus Ex. However the plot got really convoluted in Deus Ex, and since the plot went weird in this game if it was longer it would get weirder.... You also get the feeling that it was rushed to release (if a games levels and missions get shorter or worse nearer the end of the game then this may be the case).
Extras That Aren't
"Featuring the hit song After Me by Saliva" yes, it plays during the credits, but why can't it be on the CD as a music track? Argh! Well I can fix this one for you: Break out WinZip, open mainui.pak and there's a file called creditsmusic.ogg for you to extract (make sure you leave the original in there).
The Cool Things
The cover art is great, suggesting a group of men struggling for their lives and running in fear. It sets you in the right mood for playing the game. Check out the official site for some wallpaper that looks great too.
A quote from John Carpenter on the packaging:
"This is one intense action/horror game. It is faithful to my 1982 movie and includes an incredibly cool and handsome character in Dr. Faraday. You gotta play this one, man - it'll blast you against the wall" - John Carpenter
Sounds like standard promotional rubbish, but then as I re-read it I realised Faraday was only in one small part of the game and didn't do much. So I loaded up imdb and checked the photos and yes, Faraday is meant to look like John Carpenter (who is in a lot of his own movies). This is pretty funny.
People who have played Alien vs Predator will notice some similar sounds. Well, the same company owns both games, and the movie, Saliva's music, and probably John Carpener so hey.... I don't know whether the alien sound effects detract from the mood or not, but it's always fun to spot something like this. There's also a bit of sightseeing to do for fans of the movie, and some sampling of Kurt Russel. You also find out what happened to the last two survivors....
Security cameras to look through, gun turrets to fire, computers to hack into, exploding barrels to shoot, crates to smash - great stuff to fiddle with. See the bottom for a list of the weapons and items you can get if you want to know more.
- There are no female characters, just a female voice telling you you need an access card for an elevator (the film only featured a female voice in a chess computer).
- A lot of the names of the NPCs in the game are the names of characters in the movie. This may be confusing if you've seen the film.
- Uses .ogg for sound, .png for textures (with .dds and .3df as well), and a variety of files I've never heard of for the rest of the game.
Developer: Computer Artworks - http://www.artworks.co.uk/index2.htm
They have a good page, better than the official page.
Publisher: Black Label Games - erm, can't find a proper site - msg if you know
Game Website: http://www.thethinggames.com/splash.html
Patches: Yes, two so far. Google Search for "The Thing" and "Patch" and pick a download site. The first is all bug fixes, the second adds a new feature. Maybe we will get a first-person view patch....
Cheats (PC): http://www.cheatportal.dk/cheats/files/2017.phtml
ATTENTION! REGISTRY EDITING REQUIRED! DO NOT MESS IT UP!
- 64MB RAM
- 400 MHz P2 CPU
- DirectX 8 compatible video card
- 8MB video memory
- DirectSound8 compatible audio card
- 600MB disc space (about 300 used in storing it, presumably the rest is swap file)
- 4x+ CD-ROM
- 64MB RAM
- 600 MHz P3 CPU
- DirectX 8 compatible video card
- 8MB Video Memory
- DirectSound 8 compatible audio card
- 600MB disc space (there really is no option on the type of install)
- 4x+ CD-ROM
- Tazer - Great for disarming humans
- Pistol - Very accurate but not that powerful
- Machine Gun - Good close up, and you feel safer for having one
- Shotgun - You can't fight evil without one.
- Flamethrower - The only way to kill the big ones. Burn, sucker!
- Blowtorch - Like a mini-flamer. Better than it sounds
- Grenade Launcher - Things that make you go "boom," in four flavours: Normal, Napalm, Stun or High Explosive
- Sniper Rifle - pretty crap but it takes humans heads clean off
- Flares - The light giving kind, not the pants
- Flashlight - It never runs out of power
- Fire Extinguisher - You'll be playing with fire, so keep one handy
- Adrenaline - Helps you calm people down (eh?)
- Blood Test - More high tech than in the movie, but the same basic idea. Aliens attack when discovered though....
- Medkits - For when you have no medic on hand
There's really only one site I referenced, and that was a fansite for the movie. It's really thorough, covering all aspects of the movie (the special effects section is fascinating), the soundtrack, the original film gets a mention, the story Who Goes There? is on the site, the Dark Horse comics get looked at, and there's even samples from the movie. So for all things Thing (I just wanted to say that) have a look at: