Back in 1982 John Carpenter remade “The Thing From Another World” and arguably produced a superior version of the film in the form of “The Thing” starring the underrated Kurt Russell. Despite being only 5 years old in 1982 “The Thing” manages to remain my favourite film ever even to this very day.
Carpenter's remake tells the story of a team of scientists doing research out in the depths of Antarctica, along the way they find out that a group of Norwegian scientists have discovered an alien who's been frozen in the snow for thousands of years. The alien thawed and the rest well is history. So what is “The Thing”, well it is an alien creature mixed in with human genes, It can infect people, they won’t know they have been infected unless they take a blood test or unless they turn into “The Thing” over time.
Last year when Universal announced that they were planning to create a computer game based on the movie I was very excited by the prospect, the movie leaves open a lot of potential for a computer game, fear, action, good dialogue and some great set pieces. When I heard that Computer Artworks were behind the title I was even more excited, their last release – Evolva, managed to be a bit different to a lot of other titles released at the time, and kind of had a hint of “The Thing” going on with DNA and character manipulation.
Computer Artworks have tried something a little different with “The Thing” compared to other third person survival horror titles that have come out recently, like the excellent Silent Hill 2 and the brilliant new Resident Evil on the Gamecube. They have tried to add a trust/fear interface to this game, supposedly to determine whether or not Non-Player Characters will cooperate with you depending on things you do such as, not shooting at “The Thing” while others do work, how scared they get at seeing dead bodies and how they react if they are not given a weapon to use.
This idea is great in theory, assuming it works as it should do. We are led to believe that any one of the NPC’s that we have around us in the game can be “The Thing”, this means that at any point in the game they could change from human into “The Thing”, so for instance I could be walking down a corridor and then suddenly my friendly guy on the right of me could change into “The Thing” and start to attack me. This part works, well it does assuming you haven’t played through the game a few times, because the NPC’s seem to change into “The Thing” at set points in the game and you don’t seem to have any control over when they do.
You are given blood test kits to use on yourself and the other NPC’s in the game, this could really add to the games atmosphere (and does to an extent if you haven’t played through it once or got a long way into the game), but this is where one of the problems with the game arises – If say I test one of the NPC’s blood and it shows up as being clean, 10 seconds later they can still, for no apparent reason, without any chance of the character being infected as there were no creatures around, turn into “The Thing”, this brings down the idea that the game’s NPC’s could change into the alien at any time in the game, not at a set time during a set piece.
The rest of the trust/fear interface actually works very well, your NPC’s can get scared when you shine a flare or torch over a dead body, or if they see aliens attacking around them, they complain about the cold, they complain that they feel unsafe and they also lose their cool if you take a weapon away from them in fear that they could go mad with it. But I can’t say that I ever felt scared that one of my NPC’s would go so mad that he would kill me, yeah they go around firing off rounds of ammo when they start to lose it, but I have never been in the situation while playing in which I am actually attacked so much that I could die.
Some NPC’s tell you to stay away from them, but going near them doesn’t cause them to attack you at all, a let down in an otherwise pretty good game. You can tell how an NPC is reacting by checking out icons that appear above them or via the in-game interface. There icons let you know when they are worried, don’t trust you or when they would like more ammunition for the weapon that they are carrying.
So now after all these complaints what do I like about the game (I am an avid fan of the movie so please understand that I feel I may be critical). The game has a very good atmosphere, resembling being there in the movie; it manages to show off the settings of the film pretty well, the story is good, and the action can be intense. The action side of the game is well done, when creatures start to attack you, you face towards them and a crosshair goes round the nearest enemy, this allows you to shoot them with ease depending on what difficulty level you are playing at.
While the smaller creatures can be taken out with basic gunfire – larger bosses can only be taken out via a flamethrower or some similar fire-like weapon. This means bosses are much harder to kill. The flamethrower is very reminiscent of the ones used in the movie because as a default attack – the flamethrower fires at the ground to cover the floor in flames to protect you from the oncoming creature. You have to switch to the static first person mode to actually fire the flamethrower directly at the creature in question.
The game play is in my view close to that of Max Payne more than any survival horror title – it plays in 3rd person view most of the time, although you do need to switch to a static FPS perspective sometimes to take out creatures and to destroy vents to get into. Another problem (I’m sorry), why can’t we look up and down in the 3rd person view, it couldn’t have been that hard to add this option.
So why does it play like Max Payne? Well after the first few levels there is far more action than I expected there would be, I expected more fear and tense locations, more adventure than action, instead we get wave after wave of little aliens similar to those face huggers seen in the Alien films – since when did we see that in “The Thing”? I can forgive this fact though as I know the majority of people who will buy the game will be expecting more action than adventure – but as someone who thrives on atmosphere in a game I expected something more.
I know I’ve complained lots but I have to say the settings in the game do ooze atmosphere, there is the right amount of darkness, flickering lights and snow and when a creatures popping up from behind a smashed table or off a roof directly in from of you to give people a fright. The story is well written and flows quite well with the action in the game.
The cutscenes are also well done – they are all done in the in-game engine and don’t slow down the actual gameplay for too long, although I would have liked a little more interaction with the people around me than what we have here. The adventure aspects are not really very advanced though – they are really just walk up to a broken switch and either fix it yourself by pressing a key or use the NPC interface to get one of them to fix it if you can’t (which is why I guess most of the characters turn into “The Thing” at set points in the game otherwise you would be stuck). There are also keys to be found and barrels to be blown up.
Graphics & Sound
Graphically “The Thing” is very good – it’s not on the level of other FPS coming out soon such as Unreal Tournament 2003 or perhaps even that of Max Payne a year ago (although the characters here are far more detailed) but it does do the job of showing off the atmosphere that the movie excelled in. There is some good use of textures in places, bumpmapping and some pretty good lighting (again not all the time); torches shining in the dark, flares look impressive – but sometimes your torch can look a little feeble and is fiddly to use as you have to switch to the static first person mode to move it around to look into different areas. If this could have been done with you staying in 3rd person mode like Silent Hill, it would have been much better.
The designs of the creatures in the game are excellent and they really do look similar to those used in the film, there are of course some new and original designs used in the game and these again are very well done and are almost as good as the ones Rob Bottin produced for the movie.
One problem is that I am stuck with either 1280x1024 or 1600x1280 display modes with the game, yeah I have a fast PC with a GeForce 4 card – but I still prefer to play most games in 1024x768 to maintain speed and a good refresh rate with my monitor. I assume this is a bug in the game as it seems to have quite a few of those, and on that note – onto the sound
The sound in the game is very good, the various creatures you come across in the game sound exactly like they did in the movie, and the voice overs are well done with a few “Well known” actors doing some of the voice work in the game. The best sound effect in the game though has to be the crunching of snow when you are walking or running over it. The only downside is that the musical score by Ennio Morricone was not used in the game, it was one of the main parts in the film that added that eerie atmosphere.
When the game first shipped the other week it shipped with a pretty bad bug for a lot of users – after level 3 most of us would lose ALL speech in the game, quite a bug to get past those testers I would say – so on launch we have a patch for the game which fixes the sound problem and a few other bugs that have been noticed in the retail release.
Don’t get me wrong from this review – I did enjoy the game, If I didn’t love the movie so much I would still like the game, but because I did love the movie I have to complain about the aspects of the game that didn’t go well with the way the movie was. The Trust/Fear interface doesn’t work as well as hoped, there is probably too much action over atmosphere and adventure for my liking too. But the action that is there is very good, if a little on the short side. If you are an action adventure gamer then get “The Thing”, if you are a fan of the movie then get “The Thing”, just don’t expect it to be as perfect as the film was.