Released in 2002 by Black Label Games, The Thing is a shoot-em-up game which is based upon the mythology of John Carpenter's 1982 film of the same name, but follows on from the point at which the film ended. As well as including all of the mistrust and fear involved in the film, the game also uses poetic licence to create a range of bizarre enemies which are quite handy with their claws/teeth/tentacles, making the game very much a fight for survival. Meanwhile, the player must find a balance between keeping everyone's trust by arming them and handing too much weaponry to insane or infected team members.
Please note that this Entry contains spoilers.
To recap the events of the film, a group of Norwegians discover an alien lifeform on Antarctica which is capable of replacing the cells of other creatures and imitating them perfectly. This 'thing' then travels to the American Outpost 31 in the form of a dog, which they keep well-fed until it starts wreaking chaos and destruction. Eventually the camp is destroyed by the few remaining crew, and soon only MacReady and Childs remain alive. The film then ends, and it is likely that at least a day passes before the storyline of the game begins.
The game follows the adventures of Captain Blake, a US soldier sent to Outpost 31 to investigate events. After destroying the remaining wreckage with C4 charges, Blake heads off to the Norwegian base to search for the other US soldiers, who had mysteriously broken off transmission. As Blake works his way across the pole, he discovers a variety of 'thing' monsters along with various dirty secrets involving scientific research on the 'thing'. Meanwhile, he encounters many characters and is often the only survivor after his teammates become infected or have bullets put through their heads.
Gameplay and Atmosphere
The game has a minimalistic yet tense atmosphere to it; it incorporates the sights and sounds of the film as well as adding gusto to the creatures in order to make combat a little more challenging. Having said this, the game has a different feel to the film, and is far from being the same thing. Blake must always survive his ordeals, but it is usually inadvisable to use engineers and medics as cannon fodder as they often play vital roles. Before finally dying, other characters will give up hope and end up slumped on the floor, begging for help. Others will start losing their minds or demanding weapons or blood tests to be carried out, and Blake must gain their trust before they lose all rationality. To add another sadistic twist to the game, players can only save the game using tape recorders scattered throughout the game, some of which require their power to be restored before use.
The game uses an auto-aiming system which can be adjusted to make the game playable by both beginners and video game veterans. Aliens and other enemies all come with convenient health status indicators, with the camera zooming to produce an effect similar to Hitchcock's 'trombone shot' when an enemy is in the player's sights. Although the smaller creatures simply attack whenever they can, other enemies show more intelligence and will avoid the player if they take too much damage.
The 'thing' creatures encountered during the game come in various shapes and sizes, including boss creatures found at the climax of certain levels. The most basic monster is the spider-like crawler, which is based roughly upon the scene in the film in which an infected head grows arachnoid legs. Walkers have a more familiar biped form and are much tougher, requiring more than just a couple of shotgun rounds and a lick of flame to finish them off. Other monsters come in the form of huge dogs which spray acid and then pummel the player at speed, tentacle creatures which hang from the walls, and acid-spraying spider creatures. There are also larger monsters, some of which consist partly of previously human body parts. The most difficult of all are the boss creatures, which bear more than a passing resemblance to the amalgamations of flesh seen in the film. Many of the larger monsters have a habit of producing smaller ones, making it difficult for the player to focus all their energy against the greatest threats.
While pistols, machine guns and shotguns are available, most creatures require more permanent damage to prevent them from repairing themselves repeatedly. The game therefore features blowtorches and flamethrowers, both of which are capable of laying down a wall of fire and barbecuing the 'things', although only the flamethrower really excels when it comes to giving them a proper flame roasting. Meanwhile, regular, incendiary and explosive grenades are available, although these do have a habit of accidentally destroying your team members as well as the monsters that are trying to eat them.
As in real life, the characters in the game find the freezing cold of Antarctica rather unpleasant, and will start getting upset if exposed for too long. A handy exposure metre informs the player how much longer Blake can survive without finding shelter, while the other characters will begin to moan if they start getting cold.
As proven in the film, the blood from infected team members will react violently when threatened by heat or chemical insult, and so blood tests are found throughout the game with which the player may test either themselves or others. Whilst testing can reduce tension between teammates, the tests are found only rarely and will prompt the infected characters to defend themselves by transforming into 'thing' monsters. Also, the tests aren't always accurate, with teammates suddenly becoming infected at specific points in the game, often to help keep numbers down.
Trust and Fear Systems
Each character in the game has both trust and fear indicators which display how much they trust Blake and how terrified they are, with icons appearing over their heads when major shifts occur. Characters will only follow orders if they trust Blake and may even become hostile if they are given reason to be, while those who become too scared may be driven to empty their clips at anything that moves or simply commit suicide. Trust is gained through simple steps such as handing characters' weapons and using blood tests in order to prove that Blake is still human, but is lost if Blake uses his gun against them or fails to join in fights against the 'things'. Meanwhile, fear is increased by just about everything, though encounters with creatures that have more teeth than the entire Osmond family are most likely to cause your team to start cracking up. Fortunately, team members can be given adrenaline shots to encourage bravery, and taking them away from the danger zone will also help considerably.
As a captain, Blake can generally give orders to other characters, trust issues notwithstanding. Control is provided via a menu which depicts each of the nearby team members, and shows the fear level of each character. Characters can be seen to shake with fear as conditions worsen.
Unhappy team members will probably refuse to perform vital tasks, and tension will often become so great that the characters fail to work together. At this point, the player may choose to use coercion, a technique commonly known as holding someone at gunpoint. In doing so, the player may order otherwise uncooperative characters around, although this will inevitably lead to greater friction and even all-out war.
References To The Film
Naturally, the game tries to tie itself quite strongly to the film, generally being seen as a sort of sequel to the original. Although similar in many aspects, the game is after all a shoot-em-up with a variety of monsters, and so ties to Carpenter's film are made wherever possible. These include:
At Outpost 31, Blake encounters the dead body of Childs, who at the end of the film is seen to be alive but just a tad chilly.
While searching the underground ruins of Outpost 31, Blake discovers both Blair's half-built spaceship and the message which MacReady recorded and hid during the film.
Before testing his blood in front of the others, Blake says 'Now I'm going to show you what I already know', just as MacReady does in the film when in the same situation.
At one point, an engineer refers to the Norwegians as 'the Swedes' and Blake corrects him, just as Copper does when MacReady makes the same mistake in the film.