Ever since Universal Interactive first announced its plans to publish a game based on John Carpenter's classic 1982 horror film The Thing, everyone has been wondering how the game will turn out. We finally got our hands on a nearly completed version of the game and have spent a considerable amount of time playing it. Ultimately, The Thing is best described as a survival horror title with some very interesting and unique gameplay mechanics.
If you're unfamiliar with the premise behind the game, it's basically a sequel to the film. The movie followed the unpleasant adventures of a team of scientists in Antarctica who crossed paths with an alien that could perfectly imitate other forms of life. Unfortunately, the alien was less than friendly, and the movie had a grim ending and a high body count. The game picks up three months after the events in the movie have transpired. You control the captain of a rescue team that's sent in to investigate why communication with Antarctic research facility, where the most of the film took place, has ceased.
The game begins at the research facility. Three other team members--a medic, an engineer, and a soldier--accompany you. You'll quickly see that the base has been almost destroyed. Needless to say, your commanding officer instructs you and your team to try to find out what happened. Here's where we'll leave you hanging in suspense, since detailing any more of the game's storyline would spoil it, since the single greatest motivation to play The Thing is the prospect of uncovering more of the game's intriguing story.
While The Thing's story is undeniably interesting, its gameplay mechanics are even more intriguing. The gameplay revolves around three elements: standard survival horror puzzle solving, third- and first-person shooting, and team management. The Thing's gameplay also includes a new and very unique gameplay element based on trust and fear. You'll have to keep an eye on your team members' mental states in order to manage their performance. You can tell what their mental status is by listening to what they say, paying attention to how they act, and monitoring the fear/trust display in the game's menu system. Your fellow team members may get freaked out for several reasons, including everything from encountering a horribly disfigured body to seeing you not fighting an alien foe as hard as they think you should. Seeing these things will cause several reactions. For instance, if one of your team members is terribly frightened by something, he or she may begin to vomit uncontrollably or even lose control of his or her bladder in the heat of battle. If you don't make good decisions or fight diligently against alien attacks, they may begin to disobey your orders and act independently--even going as far as destroying the base. To counteract this fear and loss of trust, you'll have to literally win back your team members by performing several different tasks depending on the severity of their mental state. For example, if one of your guys gets a little freaked out because he saw a grotesque corpse, you can give him a shot of adrenaline. Team members who start to distrust your actions can be dealt with by giving them weapons as a sign of trust. The action in the game comes in the form of third- and first-person shooting. You can run around in third-person while firing your weapons, and you can also change to a first-person targeting mode, but this firing mode limits your character's movement to just leaning. You can also pick up weapons, ammo, items, and clues left throughout the locations in the game.
Follow the Leader
Actually playing the game feels just like playing a survival horror game with some squad-based management duties. In an early part of the build we played, you move around the empty base looking for specific clues as to what happened and maintain constant radio communication with your commander, who gives you objectives. You'll have to tell members of the team to open doors, repair electrical conduits to restore the lights, and heal one another. We moved from one area of the base to the next, discovered some weird stuff that fans of the film will recognize, and were ordered to plant some explosive charges.
The game seems to control very well, and the game seemed to function perfectly as a shooter. The aspect of telling the non-player characters what to do and keeping their mental states in check seems to be a unique element that suits the game's theme very well. Additionally, the voice-over work for the team members seems very natural, and it really makes you feel as though you're going through the game with several other people.
Graphically, the game is coming together very well. The graphics engine makes ample use of the Xbox's polygon-pushing muscle. The environments are very detailed and feature varied textures that are complemented by lighting. The characters are well modeled and feature expressive faces that help reflect their state of mind. The alien creatures you'll encounter are suitably grotesque, as are the transformations of seemingly normal people into creatures.
From the time we spent playing the game, it's easy to see that a lot of thought and work has gone into making The Thing. The game's unique blend of action, puzzle solving, and team management seems to work quite well. Keep checking back for more details on The Thing as its September ship date approaches.