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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Survival Horror

 

Publisher

Black Label Games

 

Developer

Computer Artworks

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

September 2002

 

 

- Plays like a sequel to a truly

cool film

- Squad members exhibit

lifelike A.I.

- Critters are scary and well designed

 

 

- Bullet conservation becomes

a bore

- Puzzles steal from the gameís tension and overall mood

 

 

Review: Max Payne (XBox)

Review: Enclave (XBox)

 

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The Thing

Score: 8.1 / 10

 

The Thing is a breath of fresh air with just a tinge of something stagnant.  It adds multiple innovations to the survival horror formula and improves on that genre immensely.  Unfortunately, The Thing also holds on to some of the most annoying conventions of the genre.  Even with those problems, The Thing is the best straightforward horror game on the PC so far this year.  

 

the-thing-pc-1.jpg (96239 bytes)         the-thing-pc-2.jpg (160514 bytes)

 

Some elements of The Thing work especially well.  The graphics are sharp.  The frame rate is smooth.  The character models and the creature designs are top of the line (especially facial expressions).  The story picks up where a very well-done horror film leaves off, so no complaints there.  Still, it is the game play innovations (in relationship to the genre) that really stand out.

 

I imagine most of our readers are familiar with the prototypical survival horror game, so Iíll ignore that description.  The Thing adds quite a bit to the basic model.  The most obvious tweak to the formula is that The Thing features some squad-based strategy.  Throughout the game, the player has the ability to give instructions to his team.  Each team member has specific strengths.  Handiest of the 

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three types is the medic, who has a never-ending supply of health power ups to fix what ails you.  The mechanic also comes in pretty handy when the main character encounters a broken item that he canít fix himself.

When not following the orders given them, the team behaves in a believably life-like manner.  The Thing is the first console-style game Iíve played that 

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allowed any kind of squad-based control that I didnít feel like my teammates were idiots.  Other than occasionally shooting my character in the back (surely my fault in most cases), the A.I. is really solid.  I actually had the scary feeling about half way through the game that if I left the game running when I went off to work, the team might go ahead and finish it for me.  Maybe that was the gameís paranoia rubbing off on me.

 

And thanks to another innovation, paranoia is rampant.  The level of trust exhibited by your team changes during the course of the game.  You can increase their trust of your character by giving them weapons and ammo.  This aspect of the game mimics the movie quite well and is not nearly as annoying as I felt it could be (unless you accidentally shoot a teammate, which causes all kinds of turmoil).

 

For all of the good that is present in The Thing, the gameís stubborn adherence to the survival-horror genreís most long-in-the-tooth conventions almost ruin the game.  Iím talking about, of course, ammo conservation and puzzle solving.  The ammo collecting is as annoying here as it was in the original Resident Evil.  There just doesnít seem to be enough ammo to go around.  This is especially true since you are forced to keep giving guns and ammo to your teammates to keep their trust bar filled.  Things are worse in the middle of the game.  Later on, the ammo economy sees an upswing, but almost too late for my tastes.  

 

the-thing-pc-3.jpg (157321 bytes)          the-thing-pc-4.jpg (111883 bytes)

 

The puzzles are equally annoying.  Here, they involve little more than finding a key and then finding the lock it fits.  They never rise above the moderately difficult level (and rarely approach even that), but the process of solving the mundane puzzles nearly kills the tension that the game needs desperately to maintain its appeal.

 

In the end, the puzzle and bullet conservation elements werenít enough to cause me not to seriously enjoy the game.  They are enough however to keep the game out of the top five or so best survival horror games of all time.

 

- Tolen Dante

(October 16, 2002)

 

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