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The Thing Review
publisher: Vivendi Games
developer: Computer Artworks
PII-300, 32MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 500MB HD
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Aug 20, 02 (released)
|» All About The Thing on ActionTrip|
The movies of John Carpenter, from his first breakthrough picture The Fog (1980) to his recent achievement Ghosts of Mars (2001), have had a lasting appeal to audiences worldwide. The dark and eerie ambiance, accompanied that special feeling of fear and suspense - the distinct Carpenter style! His successful horror-sci-fi thriller The Thing (1982 - staring Kurt Russell) was also one of the most popular flicks of its time. Now, the time has come for you to enter the bone-chilling story once again in Computer Artwork's reincarnation of that very same movie.
Throw a few more shrimps on the camp fire...
Let's torch these suckers.
The game's story continues sometime after the film. You are placed in role of Blake; an admirable and highly skilled military squad leader, who receives a reconnaissance mission somewhere in the frozen wastelands of the Antarctic. Naturally, you are sent to investigate these chilly premises with a group of competent companions that are going to aid you along the way. You were instructed to follow up on a unit that failed to report back. Dropped in the middle of nowhere and pretty much freezing your butt off, you're going to have to do your best to survey the nearby area and locate any survivors. Many unexpected things are going to happen as the plot develops. By the time you discover what's really going on, you will be overwhelmed and puzzled, with a one thing on your mind - how to stay alive.
Once you're deeply immersed in the story, you'll immediately notice how smooth the game actually is. If you ask me, absolutely everything in the game was made to ease the gameplay. In the beginning of the game, the gameplay focuses on controlling one character; his actions are going to be your primary concern. While it's very unlikely that you'll last long without the help of your squad members, one of the most praiseworthy moments in the game is that instead of having to bother with individual character selection and movement, most of the time you can actually rely your team's AI. However, this doesn't mean they'll be doing everything automatically. Your job is to make sure your crew members remain well-equipped, uninjured, and uncontaminated by the alien species. The stress factor is also present and it denotes that each crew member can have paranoia and anxiety attacks. So, that's one more thing you'll be looking after. Still, this is not a meddlesome task; it simply proves that the developers have done a great job on the in-game realism. For example, if you do keep an eye on your team, you'll soon see them flipping out, throwing up, and eventually killing themselves one by one. And believe me they do not need weapons to do that. One of my medics completely freaked out because I took his gun away and after quivering for a few minutes he found a loose electric cord and electrocuted himself to death - not a very pleasant sight mind you.
The control system is another commendable aspect, which also contributes to that excellent smoothness of gameplay I mentioned earlier. On the whole, you can assume the standard FPS-style keyboard position - grabbing the mouse in one hand and the WASD keys in the other. Apart from that it is very easy to activate items on the screen (like electronic keycard control panels, computer terminals, various security systems, etc.).
The friendly AI is one of the key gameplay components here. When you come into a situation where you're completely out of ammo, you can have confidence in the friendly AI to protect you from oncoming aliens. Actually at times I was a pitiful marksman, while my engineer and medic showed off great skill in providing cover fire (even though they aren't fully trained soldiers). The enemy AI is one of the most advanced I've ever witnessed in a game. The disgusting creatures have many ways of attacking you and most of them will refuse to rush blindly into death. When they are single-handed they will lay in ambush or retreat and search for help; and if they are in great numbers they will use a strategy that seems most appropriate to them. Perhaps the only noticeable flaw here is that the enemies can be too much for an average player to handle. The game features a difficulty parameter, which can be set to easy, normal, and hard. Still, the problem is that 'easy' is too easy, while 'normal' is too tough. Even so, I stress that this only occurred to me a couple of times, and it's not that big a deal. But, it may bother some gamers.
The variety of weapons gives you numerous possibilities in terms of battle tactics. Properly handling the flamethrower can save your skin numerous times; it is sometimes the only effective weapon against the humongous alien mutations. It allows you to create a temporary perimeter around your team. This is the perfect moment to employ other weapons from your arsenal, such as the shotgun, grenades, machine gun, etc. First you torch 'em, and then you finish 'em off with a shotgun. It's easy.
Duh, I forgot the key card...
To conclude the bit about the gameplay, I'd like to address the saving game issue. The principal of saving your status goes rather well with the whole game and doesn't represent a drawback. The basic concept is fairly similar to what we've seen in Resident Evil and Dyno Crisis series. Now, I'm sure some of you may imply that this ruins the whole experience because the gameplay becomes too repetitive if you keep dying like crazy. What more can I say that to put some thought into your actions and quit whining.
The eye-candy deserves compliments in almost every aspect... Hm, yep, almost. The models are rich in detail and vividly animated. And, thanks to those nifty shadow and light effects the game maintains a movie-like atmosphere. Well, I guess that I cannot offer much praise to the variety of outdoor environments since your assignments are mostly restricted to the snowy regions of the Antarctic. To some of you who are use to more open spaces after playing those wide open FPS's like Halo, MoH: AA, etc., you might find the areas in The Thing a bit claustrophobic. However, I think that the developer's had precisely that in mind - to create scary and curbed areas the likes of which can be seen in Carpenter's film. They succeeded in conveying a sense of dread and horror, and the level design is original and an essential part of such an atmosphere.
Another important issue is the camera angling. At times you'll find that it's pretty well placed and can easily be shifted. Then again, when you're using certain weapons, aiming becomes somewhat difficult. The good thing is that you can use the free-look mode which makes targeting a bit easier; but unfortunately the free-look mode has a slight zoom, which means you'll have difficulties dealing with enemies at closer range. Plus, once you shift to free-look mode, you won't be able to move and Blake becomes a sitting duck. Although he can lean sideways to peek around corners, it still doesn't make aiming an easy task.
The sound effects are good and the music assimilates nicely with the chilling ambiance. One small flaw decreases the score here. The sound possess a few really annoying bugs which tended to spoil the fun on several occasions. For instance, in some of the cut-scenes voiceovers could not be heard at all and I didn't have the faintest idea what my next task was all about and I completely lost track of the plot. Bummer!
At the very end, I was sort of disappointed to find out that the game is fairly short. The overall impression was also reduced with those sound bugs and camera issues I mentioned. Still, the excellent visuals and squad-based gameplay compensate for all of that and they make The Thing a truly entertaining product.
8.0 Very Good
Good visuals (shadow and light effects), nice and life-like models, the squad-based gameplay, the creepy atmosphere;
The game could've been a bit longer. Really irritating sound bugs. The controls are simple, but they may take some getting use to.
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