One of my all time favourite horror movies ever made is John Carpenter’s The Thing. It captured that feeling of isolation and distrust perfectly, mixing it with gory nightmare-fuel to build up a work of art for the horror movie genre. The prequel movie may not have been quite as good, but that wasn’t the only canon expansion to The Thing’s storyline.
In August of 2002, a full 20 years after the release of the movie, developer Computer Artworks released The Thing for PlayStation 2, published by Konami. As the 2011 movie was a prequel, this PS2 Survival Horror game remains the only canon sequel to the movie to this day. At release, it garnered positive reviews, typically scoring between 7 to 8 out of 10. it was also a commercial success, selling over one million copies around the world. However, that doesn’t really help you to know whether it is actually a good game. So, let’s take a look at this Survival Horror sequel, shall we?
The Thing for PlayStation 2 picks up shortly after the cliffhanger ending of the movie as two teams of U.S Special Forces land at both the American and Norwegian research stations featured in the movie. The lead character, Blake (captain of Bravo team) takes his team to investigate the American research station to determine what has happened to the researchers and the team itself. Upon finding the small spacecraft that the Blair-Thing was constructing in the movie, the team quickly finds themselves pulled into the psychological horror of The Thing.
The game manages to capture the paranoia of the movie brilliantly, with every character showcasing their own ways to deal with the fact that you don’t know who could be The Thing. Computer Artworks did a great job with the storyline in this sense, as every character interaction feels believable considering the situation that they have found themselves in.
However, in the second half of the game, the plot does devolve into a pretty generic Survival Horror plotline involving government conspiracy theories and genetic experimentation. This feels like a sudden swerve away from the previous uncertainty that permeated the plot of the movie and game. It was this uncertainty about The Thing and its intentions that helped add to the paranoia and sense of fear. By taking this away and focusing on government conspiracies instead, the game does lose some of its storyline prowess.
The Thing plays like a typical third-person shooter, as many Survival Horror games do. The controls are exactly as you would expect them to be, with the ability to run, strafe and crouch, as well as interact with the world and other characters. However, you also have the ability to switch into a first-person mode when aiming, in order to make combat easier for you. In terms of enemies, there are actually only three varieties, of a sort; the common Scuttlers, the stronger Walkers and then the boss monsters. Whilst this lack of variety for general enemies may seem to be a bad thing, the fact that they won’t die unless you burn them gives a nice tactical element to the game.
However, despite being a Survival Horror game, the enemies and combat aren’t really the main focus when it comes to gameplay. This is because, like in the movie, psychology and paranoia are the driving forces for The Thing. For example, every single NPC in the game has a Fear and a Trust scale that changes the way they act based upon events in the game and the way you handle yourself. The Trust scale features four levels; 100%, green, yellow and red. If an NPC has 100% trust in Blake, then they will follow your orders no matter they are. When in the Green level, they will follow most of your orders, but won’t attack another NPC. At the Yellow level, they have doubts about whether Blake is The Thing and won’t follow orders, and if they get into the Red level, they will believe you are The Thing and attack you.
On the other hand, when it comes to the Fear scale, there are just three levels; normal, scared and the so-called “crack up” level. When scared, their performance is hindered – soldiers won’t be able to aim properly and medics won’t heal as well. However, the worst comes into effect when they enter the “crack up” status. In this state, you have a very small window to calm them down again before they give in to their fear and kill themselves.
As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, whilst some NPCs are scripted to be turned into The Thing at specific points of the game, a hidden infection system within the game means that they can become “infected” at any time. For example, whenever you are in combat, the game uses a probability score to determine whether one of the NPCs gets infected. You won’t know that this has happened, though, as their behaviour won’t change. Then, after a set period of time, they will transform into a Walker enemy and attack the team.
This creates a constant feeling of distrust within you as you never truly know who in your team is human and who is The Thing. Because of this mechanic, the game doesn’t need to have a huge variety of enemies – the biggest enemy is your own mind as you start to second guess your teammates and try to work out who is infected.
There really isn’t that much to say about the graphical presentation of The Thing. It looks like a game that was released in 2002 should do. The user interface is pretty common for the time, and the game doesn’t really offer anything that stands out for the time. The animation is relatively smooth, even if your right arm appears to be locked in place when holding a gun and running.
When it comes to the environments, they manage to recreate the research facilities very well, capturing the claustrophobic and isolated style of the movie. You also get to see the remains and aftermath of the events from the movie as well, which adds a great touch to the immersion of the game.
Overall, the graphics are adequate, not really adding anything to the game, but not taking anything away either. To me, this is the right balance for The Thing. It didn’t need to be a AAA, unlimited-budget project that looks outstanding. It needed to focus on the gameplay and atmosphere, and that is exactly what the developers have done.
And That’s All Folks
The Thing is an amazing PlayStation 2 game that works on psychological horror and paranoia to scare you, rather than jump scares and excessive amounts of body horror. Graphically, it hasn’t aged particularly well (but doesn’t look ugly) and the gameplay is outstanding. If you’re looking for a new Survival Horror game to play on your PS2, this is definitely one you need to get your hands on!
Have you played The Thing? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!