Game Over Online ~ The Thing

GameOver Game Reviews - The Thing (c) Black Label Games, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher The Thing (c) Black Label Games
System Requirements Xbox
Overall Rating 85%
Date Published Thursday, September 26th, 2002 at 01:00 AM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

When my editor and I talked about Ghosts of Mars last year, we both agreed that John Carpenter films have the habit of being easily turned into games. The fundamentals work for the game. His movies are usually platonic, featuring lots of action and dramatic last stands that could make for gripping gaming experiences. So it's not surprising that someone has gone back to one of the best Carpenter films and made a direct-to-game sequel out of it.

In this day and age of Resident Evil clones, The Thing doesn't seem so original. Even Resident Evil itself has made it on the silver screen, so you only need to guess how many survival horror games have been made to generate enough of a fan base for that cross-proliferation to happen. Survival horror, in general, tends to pit you or a small group of protagonists against overwhelming odds that number in the dozens if not hundreds. Any and all friendly individuals (who usually happen to be the best armed too) are designated as fodder for gruesome mangling, decapitations, so on and so forth. That's how the survival part comes in. It's the protagonist's sense of loneliness that brings the onset of fear and that translates into horror.

Remarkably, The Thing works the other way around. There are a lot of characters in the Antarctic research station. But the numbers, ironically, don't give any comfort at all because The Thing features an antagonist that can possess any living thing it kills, including human beings. Fear, thus, comes from the paranoia in you and your fellow human comrades as both parties constantly look behind their backs. It's not only a good plot device to avert survival horror's tendencies to be solitary but it also works in the game because if you earn the trust of characters, they're able to help you. Scattered across the Antarctic are soldiers, engineers and scientists. Some may be injured and if you have resources to spare for them, you get a spare gun watching your back or someone to hack into computers and open doors. Officially it's called the Trust Fear NPC management system. Whatever it's called, the designers were definitely on the ball with this one because it's an intriguing plot device that doubles into an effective gameplay device.

In this day and age of movies, television and the Internet, the horror genre, by definition, is to horrify people with grisly sights. Good horror can terrify with sounds. Great horror terrifies you with what you cannot see or hear. All the fear comes from your mind. The Thing finds a niche between good horror and great horror. Being released on three platforms doesn't help the game any, although the Xbox version is able to draw upon the strengths of the PC. I'm assuming there was less porting done with the PC and Xbox than between the Xbox and PlayStation 2. The architecture and textures are deliberately bland, perhaps owing to the fact that, for all intents and purposes, we are in Antarctica. It does its job well but it's hardly as visceral like the snapshots we see of what can be done with horror in forthcoming projects like Doom III.

Sound effects on the Xbox are ultimately dependent on the effort the developers put into it. You can always claim a title has 5.1 encoding or get the Dolby seal but neither of those guarantees a game has great audio. The Thing, perhaps benefiting from its huge publishing arm, has got its aural cues right. The piercing screech of the tiny alien antagonists and the twisted whale-like moans of the larger ones help set the mood. While the game doesn't feature any significant Hollywood talent (Kurt Russell, for example, doesn't make a showing) the dialogue is acceptable if you're expecting a direct-to-video type quality. Just don't expect any screenwriting awards here but then again, Carpenter films are not exactly known for their deep philosophical discussions.

Being an exclusive single-player adventure, The Thing has nothing to extend its rather short lifespan. You can go through it in hours and it's not much longer than two or three feature films. In the final analysis, it's hard to blame the developers for that. The Thing works so well because the plot, design and setup all execute in complete harmony. Pull one of those aspects out into a random mission generator or a gauntlet-style deathmatch and it would actually detract from the package holistically. The trip to Antarctica may be short but The Thing's excellent technical qualities, great action sequences, and tense environs will keep you on the edge of your seat during the entire duration of the game. Once you think of it that way, doesn't it seem like all the other Carpenter movies?

 

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Rating
85%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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