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The Thing
Review By:  Christopher Coey
Developer:  Computer Artworks/ Konami
Publisher:  Black Label Games (Universal)
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Survival Horror
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  11-27-02

If youíve heard anything, or read anything about this game then you probably know about the fear/trust gameplay elements. If you havenít, hereís the jist: the game claims to emulate real life emotional responses from the non-player characters; Rather than the usual AI seen in most other games that strictly attempt to emulate actions. Letís face it, in real life, even if weíre talking about hardened soldiers, when someone ends up being hunted by weird man-eating aliens they are going to freak out. They are going to freak out over strange sounds, or by being in a grotesque environment. Some of you teammates may even lose it at the sight of too much blood and start puking all over the place. Well, that happens in the game.

That explains the Ďfearí aspect of the game, what about the ítrustí? To best explain that you should know a little about the background behind The Thing. The game is, of course, based on a movie by the same name by John Carpenter. Without going into too much detail, an alien craft landed on Earth near the Arctic Circle. The aliens within have the ability to completely mimic any person they come in contact with. What that means is that the person you think is your old friend may in fact be a vicious alien. How can you know for sure until itís too late? Who can you trust? Within the game, thatís exactly what your teammates are thinking. And if they donít trust you, then they wonít follow your orders. In order to survive, you need them to follow your orders; therefore you need them to trust you.

Characters on you team are divided into three categories: medic, engineer, or soldier. Certain areas of the game require specific teammate to perform certain functions (such as the engineer rewiring a console, or the soldier guarding your ass from hordes of approaching enemies.) If they donít trust you, or are too scared to continue you may not be able to proceed. The solution is to either prove to them that you are who you are, give them a bigger gun, or do something heroic to earn their respect. If you fail to assure them, they may snap and turn on you or other team members. If they are left alone in a scary place, they might blow their own brains out. An unarmed man left to swell in his own fear and anxiety will even have a heart attack if the stress becomes too great. Have you ever seen a game try to emulate something like that before? They claim this game is innovative, and I would tend to agree.

Although the aspect that separates this game from the rest is the fear/trust elements, the concept does wear thin after a while. Once that novelty has worn away, whatís left? A pretty solid survival horror game. Not one of my personal favorite genres, but the story and environments were enough to keep a jaded gamer like me interested most of the time. I say most of the time because as with most games in this genre, I find they tend to drag on as I run back and front throughout the levels looking for certain items, or a hidden entrance. The levels tend to be rather repetitive, and yet the game goes on seemingly forever. Now, donít get me wrong, this is no Veronica X (Iím still recovering from the boredom I experienced trudging all the way through that game.) But The Thing does tend to grow a little long in the teeth towards the end.

This game is a survival horror game. So letís get the formality out of the way by comparing it to the granddaddy of horror games: the Resident Evil series. Basically, this is what RE should be. It has everything RE has, or tries to have, with the addition of good controls, and 3D environments.

The cut-scenes are okay, not great. Is it me or are all PS2 titles starting to look the same? Sort of generic, dark, often grainy scenes of someone sneaking into a room, or a plane dropping off a strike team. Like any scene from say MGS2, RE:V, SoCom etc. could be exchanged for any of the others. Little 10 second clips that all seem to have the same director. I know Iím jaded, and that might be a ridiculous statement, maybe Iím just not playing enough cell-shaded games.

Iím going to go off here on a little group of people I refer to as the Ďidiot programmers.í Now, I have nothing but respect for these guys most of the time. But occasionally (and most of this blame can be equally shared with the developer executives) they release titles with such glaring flaws that it is inconceivable that they thought these were acceptable inclusions into their game. The first glaring flaw with The Thing? When you initially load up the game, before youíve even started, the game looks for space on a memory card, and then promptly writes a new 2.1mb file! And as if thatís not bad enough, the Ďidiot programmersí didnít bother putting in a function to search out slot 2. What are you thinking? If you donít have 2.1mb of free space on the card in slot 1, then you donít get to save a game (I know, of course you can just switch cards, but come on.)

There is an In-game manual, which is a nice addition. Saves me the effort of actually reading something. Seriously though, the help menus during the beginning levels, or whenever a new concept is thrown in, are really well done, and makes what could have been some difficult gameplay issues, or controls a breeze.

Overall, the challenge is done well. I usually prefer more intellectual puzzles in my games, but there are not many Ďbrain teasersí in this one. Thereís a good amount of action to balance the overall feel of the game. As the game progresses, the difficulty of the action levels increases just right. To the point where the final couple of levels are difficult, but satisfyingly so. Boss battles are a bit of a let down. They are certainly more brutal than most of the other Things in the game, but in general not very exciting, and the final boss is a joke. Similar to many games these days, as you move on and save your progress your Ďgameplay timeí is tracked. Although the time spent repeating levels after dying, or reloading older saved games is obviously not included, the entire game time from start to finish is about 6 or 7 hours. This may not seem like a lot, but it actually is just about exactly how long I wanted to play this game before it probably would have gotten really boring.

Believe it or not but the enemy AI is pretty good. By the end of the game every player will more than likely developed a knack for figuring out ways to outsmart the enemies, but the reactions and responses are realistic. Iíve talked a bit about the graphics already, so I should mention the sound and music. Both are kind of lacking, especially in the music department. I assume that the developers excluded it on purpose, and I suppose it works. Instead of, as with most games of this genre, using music to build suspense and fill audio voids, The Things has no music. The only in game sound are effects, and ambience. It does give the game an added sense of realism.

There is a song associated with the closing credits. Some band named Saliva. Now, other than video games, do these guys actually have a name? Maybe Iím out of the loop. But I must say, they arenít bad. I particularly liked their Spy Hunter album. Oh, wait, that was a game too.

HIGHS:

  • Survival horror done right; 3D environments, good controls
  • Fear/Trust concept a great addition
  • Great story and good character development

LOWS:

  • Relies a little too heavily on novelty
  • Not a great deal of variation in play and zero replay value
  • Accuracy and aiming can be off at times

FINAL VERDICT:

In the end, this game is a good use of an interesting movie license. Rather than going for the obvious hot item blockbuster, Computer Artworks developed a game based on a more obscure storyline. Itís a great idea really. Use a proven design for the plot, but create a new, innovative game engine to showcase it. In my opinion this game far outshines any of the Resident Evil games. The graphics are in full 3D, and the controls are superb. The fear/trust concept is interesting, but a little underused really. If you like survival horror, you could do a lot worse. Iíd consider renting it though. If you stick with it, it might take only a couple nights to clear. There are no bonuses to unlock, or extras added. Which in my mind means absolutely zero replay value.

Overall Score: 7.6

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