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Have You Played... The Thing?

Cold comfort

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favourite films. The physical effects are more convincing and grotesque than any computer-generated monstrosities I’ve seen, the cast are on fine form, and the setting is expansive yet claustrophobic, with some of the qualities of a locked-room mystery. When friends and critics claimed that a game had been made that used the license to portray the paranoia and horror of the whole thing, I was very excited indeed. But The Thing fell flat for me and I’ve never revisited to figure out exactly why.

Perhaps it was a game ahead of its time. A scenario in which the NPC cast may or may not be alien doppelgangers seems ripe for the kind of procedurally generated emergent narratives that are such a force in games today, but in 2002 we were treated to a fairly traditional third-person survival horror game, which toyed with the fear of not knowing where threats might be coming from without fully engaging.

My memory of the game is of a setting already gone to hell, a base in ruins and monsters skittering in the darkness. That there were so many creatures to fight and kill – more on-screen in the opening hour than at any point in the film – dulled the fear of encountering them, making them little more than zombies and headcrabs. For every clever idea, there seemed to be ten or twenty minutes of trudging and slaughtering.

If The Thing were going to hew closer to survival horror tropes, I’d like to see something like The Thing: Isolation, with one key enemy to avoid, but my ideal interpretation of the license would be more like Space Station 13 or Rimworld. A game about managing and maintaining a group of people in a hostile environment, knowing that terrible things were in hiding. And, as the film’s tagline tells us, man is the warmest place to hide.

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