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The Thing

Developer: Computer Artworks | Publisher: VU Games
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 09/09/02 | Genre: Action

In 1982, John Carpenter unleashed up on the world a creation so hideous, so vile that it could only be appropriately described as the Thing. Picking up where the cult classic movie left off, the Thing and its minions are trashing an Antarctica base laboratory in Universal Interactive's The Thing. A sequel story worthy of its predecessor, gloomy-convincing graphics, and smooth gameplay make The Thing a solid sci-fi action thriller.

What is so dangerous about a creature called the Thing? Well like any horror monster, it hunts and destroys humans. This experiment gone awry, though, has the ability to infest and mimic human behavior. You assume the role of Captain Blake and your original task was simple recon until you start catching partial emergency calls from a nearby team. With communications cut between you and HQ because of a heavy blizzard, your new job is to lead your team of up to four NPC's (soldier, medic, engineer, and/or scientist) through a series of unique missions to uncover what is behind the mysterious activities in the Antarctic base. These missions range from restoring power to finding specific items and people and can get rather frustrating at times. Though you can reread mission objectives, they are short on description. Blake and other characters drop verbal clues and, at times, the camera will reveal visual hints, but you'll still find yourself wandering around levels in bewilderment.

Survival is impossible without a little help from your friends who have specific abilities necessary to progress through the games' suspenseful story. Though the early stages serve as a tutorial, which can be a bit overwhelming, once you get playing, controlling Blake, your team, and interacting with the environment isn't all that complicated. The Thing features a trust/fear system incorporated with team management, so gaining your team's trust and keeping them sane, as well as alive, is essential. It is possible for members of your unit to become infected by the Thing, and will require a merciful shot to the head. Or you yourself may need to prove your humanity to gain your crew's trust. Giving them items, taking blood tests, and/or blasting nasties are few ways to increase your team's loyalty, and, consequently, they will be more apt to follow your orders.

Team status is displayed in overhead icons and in the team communication screen where their animated heads look around calmly, jerk quickly, and jitter and shake uncontrollably depending on how close they are to cracking. Arming them and moving them away from certain situations can quickly set their heads straight. Unfortunately there will be times where a team member may not agreeably follow the assigned task, and you will be required to put a gun to their head and coerce them to obey. Obviously your unit won't look too fondly at you for doing this, but you're the boss and you gotta do what you gotta do. There are also standard stay and follow commands for controlling your troop.

With all this team management, don't get the impression that Blake is a "stand by the waysid" babysitter. Sporting a shotgun, automatic rifle, blowtorch, flamethrower, grenade launcher, and sniper rifle, the Captain can dish out some serious pain to these gruesome creatures. During gameplay, your current weapon of choice is displayed on the right side of your screen. Pressing the D-pad up and down scrolls through other available firearms. Blake can also carry up to seven unique items such as med kits, an assortment of grenades, and adrenaline needles. Access each item by pressing the D-pad left or right.

Blasting these ugly beasts is generally auto-aimed, and the targeting range can be widened or narrowed according to difficulty. Free-look mode and crouching increases your accuracy and, consequently, saves on precious ammo. What is difficult and frequently life-costing is that once in free-look you can't move easily. While this view may look like a first-person shooter, Blake is more or less stuck in one spot, forcing you to flip in and out of this mode quickly and often. But, if you've got the cover, this mode turns the strafe buttons into lean buttons, allowing Blake to shoot and hide.

The small creatures, referred to as Thing beasts, attack in packs and can easily be dispatched with normal gunfire and/or grenades. Large manifestations require a two-step killing process. First, their health- indicated by colored brackets surrounding the beast- must be depleted. Then use the blowtorch, flamethrower, and/or fire grenades to finish them off.

The graphics of The Thing are extremely detailed. This game is not for the weak of stomach. Mutilated cadavers are strewn about blood-spattered rooms. The cutscenes and in-game cinematics are well done, and the transitions and frame rate do not stutter at all. Loading between levels are quick, and real-time shadows and lighting bring the detailed environments to life, whether it is indoors or outside in a blustery snow storm. Both monster and human models are unique and distinguishable.

Subdued and creepy music track accompany the game's feel perfectly, and, at times, makes things quiet... too quiet. Painful screams and gurgles are heard from dieing creatures. Character voicing is unique for each person though often muffled and unintelligible.

The game is difficult as is, but with no real "difficulty" settings--only the auto-aim area is shrunk--or multiplayer function, replaying The Thing doesn't offer any new experience. Still, once you know the story and how to beat each mission and boss, there is always some satisfaction in sending those abominations to a fiery grave.

Overall, The Thing is a dark, scary, and fun game. An engaging story, detailed environment, and smooth gameplay suck you instantaneously into its tense atmosphere. Though missions are misleading and you can't take on the Thing and its minions with a buddy, John Carpenter and fans of the movie can now rest at night. The Thing is back hunting and eating people as it should be.

By Peter Humpton - 09/20/02
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Violence
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Screenshots for The Thing

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