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September 2002



- Excellent use of ambient sound
- Great homage to the movie
- Straightforward control
- Good team AI
- Buckets and buckets of gore
- Keeping your AI buddies sane and trust adds another element
- Loads of action



- Some strange bugs
- Fairly linear limiting replay value
- Some strange stuttering



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The Thing

Score: 8.6 / 10


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William B. Davis has been turning up everywhere lately – at least in my neck of the woods. He’s probably most famous for his turn as the Cigarette Smoking Man on the X-Files, but recently I’ve heard him on radio dramas and now The Thing.

As The Thing opens, your character, Blake, is dropped off to investigate the infamous research station and the disappearance of Alpha team – the opening banter features William B. Davis and should immediately set the tone for X-Files fans. Things quickly go all pear shaped, as things usually do when research stations in Antarctica go off-line and investigating teams vanish. Blake finds himself knee-deep in eviscerated corpses and a horrific plot that tasks him with (ultimately) saving the planet using an arsenal of real-world weapons and the assistance of other team members. So, the story isn’t quite earth shattering and there are several recognizable elements from other games (most notably Half-Life) but it’s at




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the very least logical and full of tension.

As with most other action games, The Thing showcases a copious amount of bloody action. But it’s not violence just for the sake of violence. Most often, you’re fighting for your life and never knowing for sure if your squad mate is suddenly going to transform into one of those… things.

To battle the things – the results of some kind of alien viral mutagen –


Blake has a healthy assortment of real-world weapons at his disposal: the ever-present machine gun, the handy-dandy flamethrower, the tazer, the pistol, the sniper rifle, the grenade launcher, and the “Best for Killing Aliens and Zombies” shotgun. (Supported by a range of hand grenades.) There is also a variety of equipment to use including med-kits, fire extinguishers, blood-test hypos, and flares. Basically, anything you could ever hope to be carrying while battling an alien menace. But even with all this firepower, Blake can’t do everything by himself.

Squad members encountered along the way become Blake’s most powerful weapon and most versatile tool. The fact they can succumb to their fear and fry Blake up like a barbequed steak also makes them dangerous. The AI squad members are a real highlight of The Thing. If you walk into a particularly disturbing scene – say, someone is splashed all over a wall and you’ve just stepped on their large intestine – your squad mates can grow apprehensive of the situation. (It’s not uncommon to see one of them throw up.) Keeping them calm is the only way you’ll make it off Antarctica alive. Then you also have to worry about their trust level. If they don’t trust you, they won’t do anything you ask them. One crucial element to progress throughout the game is repairing junction boxes to restore power, etc. Blake can hobble some boxes back to working condition but there are many boxes that can only be repaired by an engineer. So if they don’t trust you, you’re hooped. Giving them a gun and lots of ammo or eliminating all the things in the area or performing a blood test on yourself in front of them, often results in their “trust meter” rising. Trust can be so strong that when another squad mate loses it and starts firing at you, the trusted mate will fire on your attacker.

There are three different classes of squad-mate: medic, soldier, and engineer. As expected, the classes behave differently. The medic has an endless supply of med-kits making him a much sought teammate, but if a horde of things is crashing through windows you definitely want a soldier covering your six. Regardless of class, I never once experienced an AI squad-mate shoot me – at least, due to their actions. Ducking into the line of fire will get you hit, but the team members usually find a good spot beside or in front of you to lay down suppressing fire. Managing your squad is fairly straightforward with quite a few options – follow me, stay here, take weapon, give ammo, etc. – compressed into the Xbox controller.


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Actually, the overall control scheme is quite good and doesn’t take too long to get a complete handle on. Movement is handled with the sticks – the left one, general movement and the right one, strafing (instead of free-look, which is accessed separately and welds you to one spot to look around). Each works well, and because there’s a general lock-on feature you don’t have to worry too much about losing your aim. (Some of this depends on the difficulty setting chosen at the outset of a new game.) Accessing and equipping weapons and equipment is also executed quite well considering the buttons available on the controller. Switching weapons on the fly is easy and especially welcome when you’re trying to fill a hallway with fire to prevent any big things lunging at you then zapping over to the machine gun and liquefying small ones trying to flank you.

There are a few downsides to The Thing. The first, is that the Exposure Meter (which pops up when you’re running around outside in the balmy –40C weather) seems to err on the generous side. For most, this aspect might not be noticed by anyone not looking for nits to pick. Not once was I ever in danger of having the meter drop to zero. And the cold doesn’t seem to affect team members either, even though they make comments to the contrary. Then there are a few odd occurrences – bugs that appear from time to time but mostly related to squad-mates when/if they transform into things. If they aren’t in the right place, they’ll just stand there ready to be slaughtered. (Some will appreciate this bug.) Another flaw is the frame-rate stutter that’s encountered in a few areas – whether in the default 3rd Person view or in 1st Person as you look around. This happens most when there’s lots of gore. During the outside levels, because of the unrelenting storm, the draw distance is short, so these always move smoothly. A final downside is that The Thing has a fairly limited replay value and the puzzles generally boil down to finding keys.

Counterbalance to those detractions, are the liberal amount of save points scattered throughout and the story (even though it doesn’t start with that much promise). I was never left pulling my hair out because I missed a save point or didn’t get to the next level. For the majority of cases, save points (in the form of tape recorders) are easily accessible and in reasonable locations. (Level design is very good.) The story drives the game from mission to mission and moves logically through the arrival of government shock troops right up to the helicopter climax.

Of special mention is the sound design. There’s almost a complete absence of soundtrack and it really works in creating a sense of dread. (Coupled with the sporadic nature of the thing attacks, at least in the early going.) This is especially effective when windows shatter or a door clangs open in the distance. The best example of this is when a constant onslaught of medium-sized things pins down Blake and two squad members. It’s tense but it’s also very satisfying.

The Thing is a good game that isn’t ground-breaking; however, it does add some interesting considerations with the Trust and Fear of your squad-mates and it creates a terrific atmosphere. It could have used a bit more polish to eliminate some of the stuttering framerate in areas and the changed teammates that stand still. Once you’ve beaten The Thing, you may not have the desire to revisit it (if you're a chicken), but it’s certainly a fun ride while it lasts.

- Omni
(September 29, 2002)


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