Who’s ready for a bunch of obscure horror oddities for Halloween?!?! Well, too bad. I’m doing it anyway!
The Thing came out on PC, PS2, and XBox back in 2002. The PC version is what I had so that’s what I played. I mention this only because this game seems to be pretty much impossible to get running on modern Windows and I could only finally get it going by installing it in Windows XP inside VMWare. I probably should have just bought a damn PS2 copy instead of going through all this hassle, but oh well.
Anyway, The Thing is basically a sequel to the John Carpenter movie, starting with a squad of military tough guys that are sent in to investigate the arctic research base. You quickly learn that thing went horribly wrong and get wrapped up in an intense adventure that’s part survival horror, part action shooter. The game kind of shifts back and forth between areas where you have very limited resources and have to carefully and conservatively make your way through some nasty situations to ones where you and your team are just unloading clip after clip into the many waves of a deadly thing siege.
Back in 2002 this was an amazing looking game with some really innovative features, but how does it all hold up now? Well, visually it holds up well enough. The creatures and their transformation animations look pretty good for their age, and I still like the visual effect of your reticle auto-snapping onto the nearest enemy and representing it’s health by changing from green to orange to red.
Gameplay-wise it can be a mixed bag. The developers did try very hard to be creative here, most notably with the trust/infection team mechanics. You can find survivors and try to recruit them, usually by healing them or giving them a weapon as a sign of trust, and they each have a trust bar that rises or falls depending on things like seeing you gun down things, giving or taking away their items, or accidentally damaging them. Team members can also start panicking if they see too many gruesome scenes like a room full of corpses, in which case they’ll start vomiting and going into shock, sometimes needing you to give them a shot of adrenaline to get them moving again. There’s also the possibility that any given recruit might be infected, in which case they can transform and turn on you at any moment. There are even little blood test syringes you can find that you can use to test your team or prove yourself to them.
Unfortunately, much of this doesn’t always work how it should. The blood tests, as cool as they sound, aren’t really that helpful because even if you test everyone and they all check out, you’ll still almost certainly hit a point in the story that’ll force one or more of your team to turn out to be things anyway. So really you might as well not bother and just let your team members be useful for as long as they can until you hit such a point, because they’ll still be an active, occasionally helpful member of your team unless you out them.
There are also three different types of recruits: soldiers, medics, and engineers. You can probably figure out what soldiers and medics do, but engineers are extra important because only they can repair broken advanced access panels that you’ll need to progress, or sometimes just to open a bonus supply room. You’ll want to keep these guys alive at all costs, and in fact the game will just end if you let one die when there’s a mandatory panel repair still undone in a level.
The combat is pretty interesting too. While lesser enemies can simply be gunned down in a typical fashion, the larger things can’t be killed without hitting them with a healthy blast of fire when their health is low. You can either try to handle both the gunning and flamethrowing yourself or risk handing the flamethrower over to a recruit, but either way you need to start spraying some flames. This results in some pretty intense battles, as you’re scrambling to avoid attacks, do enough damage, get those flames in there at the right time, and then try not to hurt yourself or your team with all the flames that are now all over the place (luckily you also get fire extinguishers).
While the game shows its age sometimes through a few clunkier mechanics like occasionally unclear objectives, pretty but awkward boss fights, and bizarre lack of a load game feature unless you’re at the main menu, it still holds up remarkably well as a classic action horror game that had some ideas that were very ahead of their time. If you’re at all into PS2 era horror games, The Thing is a must play.