The Thing: One of the Greatest Film-to-Game Adaptations Ever Made
Few may know that John Carpenter's horror classic The Thing, released in 1982, received a direct sequel -- in the form of a video game. Developed by the now defunct Computer Artworks and published by Konami and Vivendi Universal, The Thing was released on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2. Despite being well-received both critically and commercially, the game has not been made available on any other platform since.
My first introduction to the game was around early 2002, when I read about it in a magazine. Being a huge horror fan, I was immediately attracted to The Thing, even though I knew nothing about the movie at the time; I vividly remember a promotional screenshot in which the main character, Blake, is wielding two weapons and engaging a heavily disfigured monstrosity in combat. I was eager to play this game and got it shortly after release, a game I had no business playing in my early teens (the game is rated M). Luckily my mom didn't mind (thanks, mom). I loved The Thing back then, but fast-forward over 15 years -- does it do the movie justice?
Where Were You Childs?
The story picks up shortly after the events of the 1982 movie, as a small team of U.S. Special Forces arrives at the remains of Outpost 31. With Captain Blake at the forefront, whom you will control throughout the game, the team is sent to survey the camp in search of potential survivors and clues as to what might have caused the camp's downfall. The story doesn't offer much in terms of substance, but it does a good job of leading you through many desolate locations, both familiar and new, including Outpost 31 and Thule Station. Many characters, events, and objects from the movie are also referenced, forming a strong bond between both the film and the game, and masterfully creating the impression of a singular, coherent universe.
The Thing is a third-person shooter mixed with some very basic squad-command capabilities. Your squad is, aside from Blake himself, composed of morons; three kinds of moron -- the soldier, the engineer, and the medic. Soldiers will, for the most part, pretend that they are inflicting damage on enemies while you do all the hard work. Engineers can unlock door mechanisms and hack terminals. Medics can heal either Blake or another squad member, but they can't heal themselves (the irony) and will quickly go into a mental breakdown if presented with even a minor threat. All of them are susceptible to fear and have a certain sanity threshold. If you don't address their mental well-being for too long, they may pose a threat to their comrades or even commit suicide. Many of these events, however, are scripted, so don't expect to save them all. Commands can be issued based on their abilities, alongside some simple ones like stay or follow. However, they won't do anything unless they trust you. Trust can be earned by giving squad members weapons or ammo, and also ... providing proof that you're still human.
Nobody Trusts Anybody Now
Relatively early in the game, you will acquire what is known as the Blood Test Kit. With it, you can check whether or not a squad member has been taken over by an extraterrestrial entity. If the syringe explodes, prepare for battle, as it will trigger whomever was being tested to change into a Walker -- a mutilated alien form roughly resembling a human -- and attack anyone in sight. You can also use the kit on yourself to prove that you are still human and gain your squad's trust as a result.
Combat makes up a large portion of gameplay and is decent, albeit flawed. The main problem comes from the inability to aim; once an enemy is in vicinity, a target reticle will appear around them, and all you need to do is point in that direction and shoot. Some bullets will hit, some won't; shooting in short bursts seems to be more accurate. You can aim properly only when in first-person mode, to kill hard-to-reach enemies, but you can't move in this mode and thus become vulnerable. All of this, thankfully, does not impede progression as most enemies, aside from bosses, are quite easy to deal with. However, there are the already mentioned Walkers, and they are slightly more complex. They come in several differing types, each more disfigured than the last, and generally require the same strategy. The goal is to bring their health low enough with gunfire, indicated by the target reticle turning red, and then finish them off with an incendiary weapon -- a flamethrower will do nicely. All of that considered, combat isn't bad, it isn't boring, it's just very simplistic and unlikely to challenge you or bring the satisfaction of victory.
So combat is mediocre, and the story serves mostly as an opportunity to revisit some familiar locations and, to a certain degree, experience the movie's atmosphere through an interactive medium. What makes the game stand out, even today, is the trust mechanic, which is a core principle in John Carpenter's story. You can never know for sure if the guy you just gave a flamethrower to is not intent on ripping you apart once the opportunity presents itself. In addition, each ally's fluctuating sanity means that they can become a liability in a crucial moment, and you must always remain aware of that. These mechanics, along with its dedication to the source material, are what places The Thing among the best movie-based video games ever made.
Perhaps somewhat unfortunately, The Thing is only available in physical format on the same platforms for which it was originally released. The good news is that a used copy, for either platform, shouldn't set back your budget by too much. The game also provides a greater closure to the overall plot, should you wish for it, and despite some of its shortcomings, I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the movie.
Have you watched the movie or played the game? Let us know about your impressions in the comments below!