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PC Review - The Thing

by Rainier on Aug. 21, 2002 @ 12:58 a.m. PDT

After the enigmatic disappearance of an American scientific expedition in the uncharted and frozen wastelands of the Antarctic, a military rescue team is sent in to investigate. Within these inhospitable surroundings the team encounters a strange shape-shifting alien life-form that assumes the appearance of people that it kills. The game brings fear and suspense to unimaginable levels, with a compelling plot and unique gameplay elements based upon action, evasion, trust and fear. Forget everything you ever learned about obliterating alien species with a simple barrage of violent ammunition - this monster is difficult to see, hard to kill, and seemingly impossible to evade. And when you actually see The Thing, it's often too late…

The Thing returns and the game continues where we left the off way back in the early 80's, Kurt Russell (MacReady) and Keith David (Childs) had just stumbled out of the flaming wreckage of their Antarctic base after an encounter with The Thing, a terrifying alien lifeform able to imitate any living creature it touched. "Why don't we just wait here for a while, see what happens", MacReady suggests in the closing shot. And so the game begins ...

British developer Computer Artworks (known for their previous title Evolva) teamed up with Vivendi Universal for their second project and has been hard at work to recreate the atmosphere and creepiness of John Carpenter's classic movie. Now you are back in the freezing Arctic, and you are send to stage a rescue team to get you, your team AND any survivors out alive. But how you do you know who can you trust? Lets get right to it !

As you play the game you will be given objectives, which ofcourse you have to complete to advance to the next level. Your objectives appear in the top left hand corner of the screen, green text shows that an objective is still active and orange text means an objective has been completed. You can check the status of all your objectives by pressing the F button to enter the Keys, Documents and Objectives menu. But have no fear (at least not YET), you are not alone on your journey and can count (at least for now) on your "Squad". Your squad is made up of three different character classes that you can tell apart by their headgear. The 'soldier' (always have a tough camouflaged helmet on), 'engineers' (doesnt go anywhere without their trusty cap) and the medics (likes to keep warm in a beanie with a red cross on the front).

As this in general is a rescue mission you have to look for any survivors and pull them out, but as you move from one location to the next you get assigned additional goals to make it to the next level. The game leads you around from the frosty Artic landscape, inside the base's buildings and outside again. As you move from one location to the next you will come across many many doors. Some are open and yes, you guessed it, some are locked. As far as i could count there are 4 ways to unlock them.

Next to most of the doors you will notice a Junction Box, which ofcourse is short circuited and you have to get it fixed. When you walk right up to it a message will appear in the center of the screen to tell you the name of the junction box. You will also see a picture of a hand and a yellow bar at the bottom of the screen. This tells you that you can fix this junction box yourself. So far so good, and that was the easy part . Not all doors will require you to fix a Junction Box - some of them are just plain locked and require a key and you'll need to find the key in order to open it, the key could be nearby or far away, on a table or in the hand of a corpse. Whenever you find the key for a Locked Door, simply return to it and it will automatically open. Then we have the 'Advanced Junction Box' and only your Engineer can fix these. To get your Engineer to fix an Advanced Junction Box you need to first identify the Junction Box by walking up to it until it's name appears as you would for a basic junction box. There are two ways that you can ask your Engineer to fix it. First, if your Engineer is close enough to the junction box the 'I Can Fix It' icon will automatically appear over his head. This allows you to walk right up to him and press the E button, which tells him to fix the Junction Box. The second way to have your Engineer fix a Junction Box is to bring up the Squad Menu (press Q), select your Engineer, then select the Go To option (the command on the left), and lastly select the Junction Box you want him to fix. He will then go fix it. Last but not least there are doors that require an Access Code before it will open. Access Codes can be found written down and as part of computer terminal messages. You do not have to make a note of these codes as they are automatically stored. When you've found the Access Code for a door, go up to the Access Panel next to the door and press the E button to open it. Look for the Access Code to this door and return when you've found it.

Now that we covered the engineers job, how about the medic?

It's 40 degrees below zero in the Antarctic and so whenever you're outside, you'll suffer from the cold. An Exposure Meter (blue) at the bottom of the screen will
show you how much time you have until temperatures begin to actually harm you and take away from your health. As soon as you find shelter or go inside a building your exposure meter will reset itself (eventual damage done to your health will have to be fixed by either a medic or a med pack).

Whenever you've got low enough health, or any of your Squad-Members are hurt bad enough that they go into the 'man down' state (kneeling on the floor, be careful when a member of your squad is in this state as it is only a matter of time until they die unless they are healed), bring your Medic within close proximity to the injured person and he will automatically heal them. The Medics you meet throughout the game can heal any member of your squad with the exception of themselves so you will need to keep an eye on your Medic's health and heal him yourself when he is injured.

If you or a Squad-Member is injured and no Medic is available, you do have the ability to heal him on your own using Medical Kits. Squad-Members will indicate their need for health by showing the 'I Need Health' icon over their head. When this is visible, you can automatically use a Medical Kit on the injured Squad-Member by approaching him and pressing the E button. Alternately, if you equip a Medical Kit you can heal an NPC by approaching him and pressing the right mouse button (or whatever you configured as your secondary item) or use it on yourself when there are no other squad members close to you. To see how much health a Squad-Member has at any time, activate the Squad Menu. At the bottom of his particular panel is a red meter - the fullness of it tells you how much health he has. It's also important to know that your Squad-Members are in 'Man Down' state when they're knelt down and bleeding - move quickly to heal them when they're in this condition or they'll eventually bleed to death.

As you can probably guess by now the members of your squad are very much alive, they blink, they fidget when they are bored and they actually think for themselves (some of the most impressive AI you have ever seen). Which brings us to 2 of the main features in the game, Trust & Fear.


If your Squad-Members don't trust you, they won't do anything for you, and if they lose all trust in you... they just might send you to hell. Your Squad-Members are not mindless robots. They've just found themselves in the midst of an alien encounter and their own lives depend on whether or not they can spot a monster that looks, acts, talks, walks, and smells entirely human. Because of this, they will watch your actions closely and react to anything stupid that you might do. They'll also force you to prove yourself and won't cooperate with you until they're certain you're one of the good guys. You'll have to manage their Trust
in order to keep them cooperative.As has already been explained your squad mates are intelligent people and they will react to your actions based on how much they trust you. When you enter the Squad Menu (Q) you will see a bar above the names of each squad member that shows their current level of Trust. For any squad member, if his level of trust is in the Green Section, it means he trusts you and will take orders and help you throughout your mission. If his level of trust is in the Orange Section, it means he doesn't trust you and won't help you, but he isn't yet convinced you're an enemy, so he won't attack you either. If his level of trust is in the Red Section, it means he doesn't trust you at all, and sees you as an enemy.

You can lose a small amount of Trust if you shoot one of your Squad-Members during combat. You can lose a small amount of Trust from Squad-Members if the group is attacked and you don't take part in combat. You can lose a medium amount of Trust from a Squad-Members if you force him to undertake an action by pointing a gun at his head (coercion). You can lose a medium amount of Trust if you take a weapon away from one of your Squad-Members. You can lose a large amount of Trust by shooting one of your Squad-Members outside of combat. You can lose a large amount of Trust from Squad-Members if they witness you kill one of your men outside of combat.

On the other hand you can gain a small amount of Trust from a Squad-Member if you heal him. You can gain a small amount of Trust from a Squad-Member by giving him some ammo. You can gain a small amount of Trust from Squad-Members if they witness you attacking Things. You can gain different degrees of Trust from a Squad-Member by giving him a weapon (the amount you gain depends on the weapon - bigger guns earn more Trust). You can gain a large amount of Trust from Squad-Members if they witness you killing an infected Squad-Member or larger Thing Beast. You can gain a large amount of Trust from Squad-Members by blood-testing yourself in front of them.


When your Squad-Members get scared, they won't perform well, and if they lose it entirely and crack up... they just might call it quits and paint the wall with their own brains. Your Squad-Members are living men, and they're entirely aware of the circumstance they're in. Dark places will make them cringe, odd sounds will
steal their breath, and the sight of those Things will absolutely freak them out. You'll have to manage their Fear in order to keep them stable. To see how a Squad-Member is handling his situation, activate the Squad Menu by pressing Q and pay attention to his picture. If he's doing okay, he'll casually be looking from left to right. If he's noticeably frightened, he'll be looking all around at a panicked speed. If he's close to outright losing it and cracking up, he'll be shaking uncontrollably.

You can calm Squad-Members to a small degree by giving them some ammo. You can calm Squad-Members to different degrees by giving them a weapon (the amount of Fear they lose depends on the weapon - bigger guns earn more confidence). You can calm Squad-Members to different degrees by killing The Things that are causing their Fear. You can calm Squad-Members temporarily by using an Adrenaline Hypo on them. You can calm Squad-Members to a large degree by taking them away from the area that's causing their Fear.

Squad-Members will suffer a small amount of Fear from strange sounds they hear. Squad-Members will suffer different degrees of Fear from the environment around them (the degree they suffer depends on the intensity - the more banged up and grotesque an area (such as massive pools of blood or decapitated bodies), the more Fear it inspires). Squad-Members will suffer different degrees of Fear from seeing The Thing (the degree they suffer depends on the type - bigger Things cause more Fear).

So now we are down to "The Thing". There are two sort's of Thing's you will encounter. The small one's (spider looking creatures, weird heads on feet and a few other creepy crawlers) and, yes, 'bigger' Things. The small Thing beasts can easily be dealt with using normal weaponry. However, any other form of the Thing requires a two stage attack. Firstly you will need to use normal weapons to reduce its health (the Thing's health is shown by the color of the auto aiming target with Red representing the lowest level of health). Once the Thing beast is on minimal health move in with a Flamethrower to finish it off. Only fire can actually kill these Thing beasts so make sure to look out for incendiary weapons and keep a good stock on you at all times.

To accomplish all of these tasks you are given a vast variety of weapons to use. Really a very nice arsenal

  • The Stun Gun (Capable of administering a 5000-volt charge, the Stun Gun will temporarily disable a target and cause them to drop their weapon. Great as an alternative to killing a potential Squad-Member who is behaving in a hostile manner. Be warned a medium trust down will occur if the Stun Gun is used on a Squad-Member. The Stun Gun cannot be given to a Squad-Member.)
  • The Pistol (the most accurate of all the weapons when used in motion. It fires rapidly and is a good weapon for killing smaller enemies.)
  • The Machine Gun (standard firearm for you and your Squad - a rapid-fire weapon that can make light work of smaller enemies and slow the advances of larger enemies.)
  • The Shotgun (fires powerful rounds that can push enemy targets back. Deadly at close range but inaccurate at long range.)
  • The Blowtorch (extremely short-range flame weapon. Although it can be used to kill the larger alien entities, a hit and run strategy is recommended. The Blowtorch can also be used to lay burning fuel patches on the floor.)
  • The Flame Thrower (don't attempt to take on any self-repairing alien entity without the ability to cook them. Flame weaponry is the only way to kill a large enemy. When attacking a target be sure to administer enough fuel to ignite them but be aware that the environment and Squad-Members could become part of the barbeque.)
  • The Grenade Launcher (allows you to prime and launch all grenade types from the launcher. Using grenades in this way will cause them to detonate when impacting with any surface. The Grenade launcher has low accuracy when used in motion and cannot be given to Squad-Members.)
  • The Sniper Rifle (can only be used effectively in first person mode due to its large inaccuracy rating. Luckily it fires high velocity rounds that can take a human entity down with a carefully placed headshot.)
  • Standard Grenades (come in two flavors. Regular and High explosive. When using them, the longer the button is held down the farther the Grenade is thrown. Grenades have a fuse time so be aware that hesitation can cause the grenade to go off in the hand. Standard grenades can be used as a final kill strike for the larger Alien entities.)
  • Flame Grenades (can be used as a final kill strike for the larger Alien entities and will dispense burning fuel.)
  • Stun Grenades (will not cause any health damage they will cause human targets to drop their weapons and temporarily confuse alien entities.)

Other random items that can be picked up and used (for various reasons/purposes) are : flares (used to illuminate the darker areas the squad may encounter. Flares can be used to ignite fuel patches also), flashlight, fire extinguisher, medical kits, blood-test hypos (once blood is extracted, an agent in the holding tank burns the blood when the two combine. If the subject is infected, the Blood-Test will expose him although on occasions squad members i had previously tested turned into weirdo's later on anyhow), adrenaline hypos (gives a temporary courage boost to a Squad-Member who is suffering from fear. This can be especially useful when a Squad-Member looks like he might flip out)

How about the graphics and sound you say? Well boy, let me tell you...

With highly detailed lighting systems, real-time morphing animations (you can see infected squad members and humans transform into "thing" creatures), decapitated bodies, big pools of blood everywhere, excellent level designs, and various types of Things crawling around you will be left in a graphical awe. Quite often will you find yourself shooting off squad members on purpose just to see the reaction, effects and bloodwork. If you care to keep track of things you will also notice that no characters are generic, they all have different faces/skins and their own typical voice. The Thing mixes horror, adventure, puzzles and first person shooter genre all in beautiful game.You venture outside in the cold, you will leave footprints everywhere you go, snow is falling, you see your breath from the icy cold outside and blue lightpoles leading you the way to the next building or you can use colored flares to light dark areas. Junction boxes will spark and actually look and sound like their are out of order. NPC character's voices will change when they are scared, you will not only SEE but also HEAR them throw up (and it will sound familiar). The Things make some of the creepiest noises you have ever heard and jump at you from angles and places you do not expect them to be. And even when nothing is around, the silence will STILL give you chills and goosebumps!

The game has a default auto aim option that is enabled in 3rd person view with 3 possible degrees of efficiency that you can manually predefine (being easy normal and hard, changing your angle/line of sight). You can switch to first person perspective quite easily by pressing the shift keep which then disables the auto aim and you are in full control (especially effective when using the flamerthrower giving you the ability to aim up). The first person view also gives you the possibility to lean left and right allowing you to "peek" around corners and take out Things. The only gripe here is that you can not move around while being in first person view mode.

Our conclusion?

This is simply one of the best HORROR/ACTION games we have ever played! The biggest question about this game was wether or not Computer Artworks would/could manage to properly implement the innovative fear/trust system, and we can safely say "they pulled it off". The AI for the NPC's is quite incredible and far from predictable. The right atmosphere for a "killer" game is present, so if you run out to purchase this game later this week, bring your flaslight because you never know what Things might be waiting for you when the lights go out!

Score 8.7/10

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