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The Thing
Review By:  Jared Black
Developer:  Computer Artworks/ Konami
Publisher:  Black Label Games (Universal)
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Survival Horror
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  9-30-02

On the whole, the survival horror genre has been extremely stagnant of late. Dominated by Resident Evil and its clones, little in the way of actual innovation has been made. Unfortunately The Thing isn't that different from what we're used to, but at least it's largely mimicking a different survival horror game this time: Silent Hill. Silent Hill's approach (more psychology than "jump horror") has always been the better way to go in my view, and that holds true here as well.

That's not to say that The Thing is totally devoid of innovation, because at the core of its gameplay is the unique Trust/Fear interface. In a nutshell the player's actions and the environment around him or her determine the spirit of each squad member. As Blake the player will need to keep them away from particularly gruesome scenes and continually back them up, and they'll follow and accept your orders. Constantly exposing them to danger, failing to give them ammunition, etc. will eventually lead them to turn on the player or simply freak out and curl into a fetal position. Being stranded on an abandoned installation in the middle of a driving storm, no less with numerous hideous things running around killing everyone, doesn't exactly lend itself to mental stability. All of this is handled through an easy to recognize icon system. As gimmicky as all of this may seem, it really does have a profound effect on gameplay. It's not often that we see unit management in a survival horror game, and it's a welcome change here.

Speaking of squad members, they're divided up into several different types including medics, engineers, and soldiers. Medics aren't great with weapons, but prove to be invaluable due to their ability to heal the other squad members without using Blake's medical kits. Engineers are OK fighters, but their real value lies in their ability to open up doors and grant access to other areas in a level. Soldiers are pure fighters, and will often take the point. Thus they deflect damage away from Blake, who's obviously the most important character in the game (if he dies, you die).

There are a number of different weapons at their disposal, ranging from simple pistols to flame-throwers. Fire-based weapons are particularly important, because the only way larger "things" can be killed is by fire after they've been weakened. Items are also aplenty, including things like medical kits, flashlights, and blood test kits (used to determine if a squad mate is infected with the virus).

The control scheme is usually a problem in most games like this, but The Thing conquers this area sufficiently. The left analog stick is used for moving, with left and right turning Blake and forward/back moving him. Triangle brings up the squad menu, square uses the currently equipped item, circle is used to interact, and X fires the current weapon. L2 & R2 are used to strafe, while the L1 & R1 buttons are used for the weapon/item menus and first person view respectively. It can take a while to get used to all of the different sub-menus used for controlling the squad and inventory management, but actually playing the game is a breeze.

In Silent Hill the graphics are used to set a mood of fear and foreboding, and The Thing copies that style very well. The outdoors is foggy and sight is limited, and indoors is generally cramped and twisting. Lighting effects are excellent, with each weapon and light source lighting up the area around it realistically. Monster design is right out of Silent Hill's playbook with hideous half-human/half-monster hybrids to go along with tiny, pesky things.

The sound is also well done. The music is tense, and ramps up as the player nears danger. The sound effects are nice, with decent use of surround sound to help the player determine where danger is located. Monster sounds are sufficiently scary. Voice acting is nice, as every character's voice reflects how they look on-screen and the lines aren't delivered with the cheesiness found in the RE series. Blake sounds a bit too much like Solid Snake for my tastes (cheapens the Blake character, and makes him seem more of a knock-off of other tough heroes to me), but other than that it's very well done.

One word of warning for anyone looking to pick this up: the box explains the Mature rating as being due to Blood & Gore and Violence and mentions nothing about the cursing. Make no mistake that there's a lot of it, but it's nothing we haven't already seen in other Mature titles. To many parents though this may be the difference between letting their teenagers buy it or not.

HIGHS:

  • Intense graphic style and various far-off sound effects do a good job of providing an environment of fear and terror.
  • The storyline is good enough to keep the player motivated, and fans of the movie should get a kick out of it.
  • At least this game borrows from the better (and less copied) standard in the genre.
  • The Trust/Fear interface adds a layer of strategy to the game, and helps keep it from being just another standard scare fest.

LOWS:

  • Once you finish it, you're probably finished with it for good.
  • Sometimes characters seem to swear just because they can, not because they have a valid reason to. It's kinda annoying and cheesy in a "yeah, we already know this is a mature title" way.
  • Other than the Trust/Fear thing, this game merely follows other established precedents in the genre.

FINAL VERDICT:

It may borrow a lot from Silent Hill, but The Thing also has enough unique elements to warrant a playthrough from most fans of the genre and movie.

Overall Score: 8.6

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