Have You Played… The Thing?

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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  1. klops says:

    By the way, if you’re both a fan of The Thing and werewolf/mafia social deduction (not computer) games, there’s still 10 hours backing time left for this game:
    link to kickstarter.com

    Disclaimer: I backed the game.

    • Rizlar says:

      Actually yeah, the best Thing game is something like the Battlestar Galactica board game, where you desperately try to deduce who the cylon is while convincing others you aren’t it, then shout at everyone for the rest of the game and watch it all go to hell when they throw you in the brig.

  2. TeePee says:

    Remember playing this on the PS2 and finding it ok. Felt like ‘Resident Evil goes to the Arctic’, nothing more, nothing less. Didn’t really do the license as much justice as I’d hoped, but it didn’t crap all over it either, and considering the era, that could well be higher praise than I’d first thought.

    I’ve always loved the concept of The Thing, and I love that idea of being unsure of who you can trust in a game, but nothing’s quite realized it yet.

    There’s a game on Steam by the name of Unfortunate Spacemen that looks like it’s got the right idea, but it’s very early days, and apparently there’s almost no community at all at the moment, so I’m reluctant to throw money at it for the time being.

    • TeePee says:

      Linkylink to the store page for those wondering. As I said, it’s very early alpha, so take from that what you will, but it feels like the idea is right and that they’re moving in the right direction, albeit a little slowly.

    • ACE454 says:

      Unfortunate Spacemen, no community… That’s probably because it’s made by the same team behind the failed Kickstarter,The Dead Linger.

      • TeePee says:

        Yeah, I picked up on a few bits and pieces of that when I first started looking at the game, but it’s so difficult these days to work out what’s a genuine cause for concern re: questionable devs, and what’s usual internet griping from people who failed to read the Ts and Cs properly before handing over their money (and I say this as someone who has The Stomping Land in their Steam Inventory!).

        If Unfortunate Spacemen was something I’d seriously considered purchasing at the time, I’d have looked into it a little more, but as it was, the community was too dead either way, so I decided to hold off, as I’m still doing now.

  3. GWOP says:

    Talking of John Carpenter and video games, the man composed the OST for Sentinel Returns, which were all great.

    • Simon_Scott says:

      Speaking of Sentinel, there’s a VR game called Koth which is a very straightforward recreation of it. Bought it now in case IP issues further down the line.

    • chris1479 says:

      Hah Sentinel… Not many PS1 games from that time really stick out in my mind as a kid but Sentinel, Disruptor and this weird Egyption FPS called Exhumed were right up there. I believe Sentinel came on a Demo disc and I must’ve played this weird ass demo fifty times, the novelty of ‘talking’ to 3rd rendered npc’s (even if they were ugly and said nothing of interest) was incredible at the time. I believe the demo ended when the space station blew up for reasons I don’t recall. Weird the things that you remember and equally those you forget.

  4. GWOP says:

    John Carpenters’s The Thing and Die Hard are two movies I somehow end up watching at least once every year.

  5. CartonofMilk says:

    i was about 5 hours in rimworld when i started thinking this would really benefit from a Thing mod. Not sure how this could be done though since in rimworld you never lose sight of your colonists.

  6. Kefren says:

    I love that film. Was lucky enough to see it at the cinema a few years ago too. Still great. Who Goes There is also one of my favourite short stories.

    I think I completed the game twice. I really enjoyed it, even if it gets a bit weird later (underwater bases and so on). The snowy tunnels at the end that involve sniping were annoying, but at points the game was brilliantly scary, even if it weakens the “even one cell can take you over” idea (I got sliced about a thousand times to no effect). The idea of trust and blood tests was great but badly implemented – ruined by sometimes having scripted elements where someone tested a moment ago would suddenly transform.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Thulsa Hex says:

    I also love the film (who doesn’t?), and bought this game right up after reading some decent reviews. Aaaand… I didn’t take to it at all. It felt immediately janky and tedious, rather than the tense, B-movie-ish experience that I was promised by IGN or whatever crap I was still reading back then. I don’t remember any of the “cool bits” — just endless, boring killing.

  8. Simon_Scott says:

    Can picture this as a multiplayer game. Been a while since I’ve seen the original film – do the infected know they’re infected?

  9. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    When I played this game I enjoyed it, it wasn’t perfect and as has been said the story and setting were made to fit a 3rd person shooter rather than vice versa but it was still pretty good. However I don’t think a Thing game would have to be quite as different as Adam suggests to work. The idea of a squad based game where you inherently can’t trust the medic won’t infect you instead of heal you has a lot of potential.

    One of the game’s biggest flaws was that you had testing kits to see if someone was infected but that person could test clean and then a moment later you’d pass a trigger and they’d turn into a monster. That its arbitrariness was so annoying shows how much potential a better implemented system could have.

    Also obligatory recommendation for a short story written from the Thing’s point of view: link to clarkesworldmagazine.com

    • Premium User Badge

      Thulsa Hex says:

      “…can’t trust the medic won’t infect you instead of heal you…”

      This would make for an interesting game mechanic, but wouldn’t work for the Thing. I’m sorry to be a pedant, but nobody gets infected in that movie! The alien thing kills/consumes its victims in secret, so that it can create a copy of that creature/person without raising suspicion. I think in a squad shooter, or what have you, the trust element could be manifested in who you allow to pair up, if you need to split up, or who you choose to go with you to the shed to “fix the generator”.

      • Kefren says:

        I’m not sure about that. For example, the dog brushes past someone who winces. The implication is that the dog injects a few cells via some unseen stinger or whatever. That’s all it takes – the cells will multiply, replicating the host cells as they are gradually taken over form within. By the time CNS cells are being replaced, The Thing is in charge.

        A medic thing could easily shed cells into a wound unnoticed.

      • interfior says:

        It was shown the scene of Blair’s simulation that one cell of The Thing could eventually replace another organism, although it is not clear in the movie is this actually a completely accurate explanation of the replacement process (Blair could have been replaced already, or they could just be an incorrect theory). Every assimilation seemingly did take place off screen and when the characters are alone so there is really no way to know how exactly The Thing functions. Ambiguity is easily one of the films greatest strengths.

        • ReV_VAdAUL says:

          Definitely agree ambiguity is one of its greatest strengths.

          The one assimilation that might’ve taken place on screen is Windows. After MacReady has exploded Palmer he returns to the rec room to see Windows writhing on the floor and the three other survivors screaming for him to flamethrow Windows. It’s possible Windows is just badly injured and messily dying but it does seem he’s being taken over without being fully consumed by the Thing.

          Ironically, if Blair’s model is accurate Windows infected everyone during the blood test just prior to this by only wiping the scalpel on his trousers. Since we can be all but certain he was still human at that point (some of the more out there fan theories suggest the Thing is tricking the humans during the blood test) Windows must just be really dumb. Even if everyone were human such unsanitary actions would likely give everyone infections or blood poisoning.

          • Monggerel says:

            I thought the Thing, which isn’t clearly a “single” creature with one mind, but separate instances, like earthworms, kinda forgot who was and wasn’t a Thing – leading to the ending of the movie becoming one of the darkest jokes ever told on film.

          • poliovaccine says:

            @ Monggerel – Took me a second to realize what you mean, but earthworms dont actually turn into two worms if you cut them in half haha. I mean certain life forms like flatworms, cnidarians, can reproduce themselves by basically cloning/”budding”/etc, but that takes time and just slicing it in half just does the same thing as what happens when you slice any other living thing in half haha… including earthworms. So uh, please dont encourage some kid of yours to try that someday hahaha

  10. klops says:

    Speaking of Rimworld and The Thing… How do vampires work out in Dwarf Fortress nowadays? I have only played the game before they were added. Can they be an Alien/Thingesque perilr or are they just a little extra fun?

    • nairb121 says:

      I thought of Dwarf Fortress vampires too. They kill your dwarves while you’re not looking, so you can’t easily tell who is the vampire. You have to deduce it from various indicators, like who hasn’t eaten, drank, or slept recently (or ever), or if you’re lucky they’re caught in the act.

      • Sin Vega says:

        Or you can lock everyone in a single room until a couple of them die, then when you open the door the survivors will all rush to report the same dwarf as a vampire. Then you can chain the vampire to a post outside the entrance and let the next goblin wave take care of it.

  11. Maxheadroom says:

    I remember watching a bootleg copy of The Thing my brother brought home when it was first released and he let me watch it. I was only a nipper of about 7 or 8 at the time but I loved it! So much so I wrote about it in school the following Monday in my “How I spent my weekend” book, complete with crayon drawing of the chest-teeth scene.

    I think my parents we called in for a ‘chat’ shortly after :)

  12. crowleyhammer says:

    Great opening half hour but rest of the game didn’t live up to that.

    So many fuse boxes to fix! i felt like a repair man.

  13. w0bbl3r says:

    I loved this game from start to (almost) finish.
    The last half hour or hour weren’t very good, but up to then I loved it.
    I wish they had expanded on the fear and paranoia of having squad-mates with you who could be infected, or be afraid that you are infected. It worked pretty well but was a bit limited.
    The base was well realised, a joy to explore, the save system was a fun throwback to other games, having to go and find a tape recorder system to record your notes, and the enemy were fun and varied (for the time).

    A new “remake” of this would be awesome, that stayed true to the original but also expanded on some of it’s better idea’s, like different “class” team-mates that could do different things, or do things faster/better was a good one.

  14. Alien says:

    I loved the atmosphere; there was a strong feeling of isolation, especially the changes between outdoor/indoor environments where great!

  15. Grim Rainbow says:

    Surprised no one has mentioned how difficult this game is.

  16. Renegade says:

    Never really played it though I’ve watched Spoony’s review more times then I can count. One of the most hilarious game reviews I’ve ever watched.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Up until now, it was one of the games that I might want to check out someday, but wasn’t too sure about how good it would be. That review really helped and was also great fun.

      • Sin Vega says:

        That’s actually one of Spoony’s weaker reviews, but I believe it’s the first one he scripted instead of ad-libbing, and thus marked the start of his really coming into his own as a critic. He’s one of few game people whose videos I bother with, although he sadly stopped doing video games completely a few years ago.

        I highly recommend his videos on the Ultima series. Excellent stuff.

        • Maxheadroom says:

          More or less stopped making videos altogether now save for the odd few wrestling clips. Think he’s made maybe 4 this year. Shame, he was one of the better ones and yeah, the Ultima reviews were excellent

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Haha, that was funny, cheers for the link

  17. Bobtree says:

    The Thing has my favorite “you’re captured and lose all your gear” sequence ever, as a series of puzzle traps you can observe and reason your way through in the right sequence. It’s also one of the best movie-to-game tie-ins (albeit two decades later), and follows a sequel plot. The villain was voiced by the X-Files’ Smoking Man.

    DayZ always made me want a multiplayer Thing game in that vein.

    Any fan of The Thing should read Peter Watts’ short story, The Things: link to clarkesworldmagazine.com

    • Czrly says:

      Ja, I remember loving the Thing. It was tough as old boots, tense and a load of shooty fun in good level design with good sound and voices. Also, it is the only game I remember that ever gave me nightmares – not something that’s easy. (The only film ever to give me nightmares was Alien and all I cared about in that was whether the cat survived.)

      The Thing is one of those horror games where the horror comes from the scenario and the adversity, not from the simple incompetence or incapacity of the player-character. Not knowing whether my squad members are infected is not something that is artificially “my fault” and is genuinely scary. Similarly, in Aliens-the-movie and AvP-the-games, the horror comes from the sheer speed of the enemy and the was conveyed perfectly.

  18. Neurotic says:

    Loved The Thing. It was the last PS2 game I ever bought too. :D

  19. Zach Fett says:

    Loved it, The THING is one of my favorite movies and the game was a lot of fun. I wish they had been able to make a sequel, the leaked footage from the second one they were making looked pretty cool.

    My only issue with the game was that certain NPCs would inevitably turn, even if two seconds prior you had tested them and they came out negative. There’s a mod out there that fully fixes this, makes it so you can bring NPCs along to the next level, and fixes plenty of other bugs.

    I don’t recall the name off the top of my head but if you can find it, definitely give it a try! I don’t remember it causing any big problems glitch-wise either.

    • GameOverMan says:

      Outpost 31, perhaps?

      • Zach Fett says:

        Yes! That’s the one. Excellent mod, though I do remember it lets any NPC get killed which can actually cause an issue in one or two missions where you needed a certain character, though I didn’t have that happen myself, I just recall it warning you in the readme.

  20. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    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…

    On a related topic, Westwood’s Blade Runner (a 2014 HYP choice) also had that wonderful quality of randomizing character identities so that each playthrough would be different. Paranoia is such an intriguing game mechanic, I hope that more games explore it.

  21. Turkey says:

    It’s a shame that no one has attempted to make another game based on the Thing, cause I feel there’s a ton of great ways someone could make it work.

    Shooty man shoot mans isn’t one of them, though, so that’s probably why AAA hasn’t touched it since.

  22. Jerkzilla says:

    No joke, my grandmother bought me this game for Christmas when I was 13, the same year she got me a Limp Bizkit CD. She had no understanding of what kids were into, but she sure tried, god bless her heart.

  23. Spacewalk says:

    For films that use blue and orange The Thing gets a free pass.

  24. Jalan says:

    The one thing this game did that’s hard to overlook and/or forgive is its ending – which, for those unaware, has R.J. MacReady making an appearance. It manages to trample on the close of the film by (potentially) offering a definitive answer to its ending without taking the time or effort to explain it, seemingly just for the sake of tossing in MacReady as a character into the game because apparently when everyone thinks of the film all they think of is Kurt Russell and not anything else.

  25. Pizzzahut says:

    I watched The Thing the other night. Just as awesome as I remembered. One of those films you can watch and re-watch without really diluting the experience.

    … and then I watched the ~2011 remake of The Thing. What a perfect example of just how a modern horror movie can stuff things up. The CGI was bad enough, let alone the characters, and of course it had to have a relationship story.

  26. AyeBraine says:

    I must say I felt the “descent” theme of it very acutely. Yes, it was a very gamey game (I was aware of it even then, but then again, any amount of gamey games fascinated me), but at some points, looking at some freshly suicided Joe, entering the lift again and again to go DOWN and only down, I felt the chill of the inevitability.

    After all, I listened to a generic nu-rock number from the credits for some years to come at times: because it was ONE OF THESE CREDIT SONGS – a jarring ironic/tragic jolt that tells you that you really fell for the movie’s/game’s pretense at some point near the end.

    • Dr. Raven Darktalon Blood says:

      Oh man yeah I totally do the same thing with that song.
      The ending of the game was so depressing, and then this song starts playing that sounds so angry and desperate, it was a perfect choice.
      You’re right, a perfectly applied song in a game or movie can just cement your love of that song forever, even though the track might not even very good.

  27. poliovaccine says:

    I wanted to like this game soooo bad. Obviously I love the movie cus I dont have organic brain damage combined with the fact of having seen the movie, but the game just took no pride in itself. And I’m talking by the standards of the time, when I read of it in PC Gamer and rushed out to get it in spite of like a 71% review, I wanna say off the toppa my head. Oddly enough I’m less clear on the year, haha, but it feels like 2002?

    Anyway, my earlier idea of squad based games came from Rainbow Six, and because I noticed that I liked how I hated to lose a favored R6 agent (Santiago! Dammit!), I thought it was legitimately possible it might fly back then. It totally didn’t, but I still maintain it could have in the right hands, at least superficially enough to have enjoyed at the time.

    I wholeheartedly agree that it’s an idea ripe for the times as they are now. I’m less excited about the idea of it taking after Rimworld or some sort of top down management, though, largely cus I feel like the requisite paranoia would be better served by the player “being” just one character, and further, by having it occur in a 3D space, first or third person, whichever, just for the ability to have other characters go offscreen, out of your view.

    God what I wouldnt give to see this thing done right. The Thing: Isolation would break my kickstarter cherry. I would be so content with a spiritual successor.

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