Would you look at that? The Thing turns the big 4-0 this week. John Carpenter’s incredible sci-fi masterpiece, which most of the public brushed off in its initial release, has gone on to become one of the most beloved horror movies of all time. We’re not here to talk about that though. I’m here to take you on a journey back to the lesser known video game from 2002 and how it (at the time) was one of the more ambitious “next-generation” games of all.
Around the turn of the millennium, Universal Interactive was looking through the back catalog of IP owned by the studio and decided Carpenter’s The Thing was primed for a game adaptation due to its ambiguous ending for which a video game could expand upon (side note: very surprised they didn’t try to make a Halloween game). With Konami as a publisher they were off to the races on developing the title in hopes of a 2002 release for the 20th anniversary of the film. After being impressed with their 2000 video game Evolva, Konami and Universal enlisted the help of company Computer Artworks to develop the game. Surprisingly in an era of bad and rushed movie adapted games, Computer Artworks were given relatively free reign on the project.
The game follows Captain J.F. Blake, the leader of Bravo team. After the events of the film, two U.S. Special Forces teams are sent to investigate the lost U.S. and Norwegian Antarctic camps and uncover what happened. The game starts off quick too, dropping you right in the middle of the action seeing the gory aftermath of all that transpired as you search to piece it all together. This is where the most interesting element of the game play comes into play: the fear/trust system. If you’ve heard anything about this game chances are this is what you’ve heard about the most. Throughout the game Blake will be able to lead a team of AI-controlled NPCs through the environment and give them different commands. Soldiers have higher health and better weapons and are able to thrive in combat encounters, medics keep the team alive by having unlimited heal packs (take *that* Resident Evil), and engineers repair various environmental obstacles.
The trick is, these NPC teammates won’t always trust you. They suspect you to be the thing itself. When their trust is low they can do actions like straight up ignoring you, or even worse when they fear you enough they’ll even attack you themselves and you’ll be forced to take action against them. You can earn their trust by giving them ammo and health packs, leading the charge into battle, or like in the film giving yourself a blood test in front of them. They start distrusting you if you neglect them, let them get injured, or even worse: accidentally hit them with a stray bullet with the game’s unforgiving friendly fire. The most random aspect though is the infection system, in which one or multiple members of your squad become infected by the Thing and transforms into a hideous nightmare-esque creature from the film.
Throughout the game Blake starts to put together the events of the original film (and to an extent the 2011 prequel that hadn’t been made yet) and eventually uncovers a secret conspiracy of a corporation called Gen-Inc. who have a team there conducting scientific experiments and research on the Thing. Led by Dr. Sean Farady (who’s played by John Carpenter), they’re out to prove that the Thing is controllable. Ultimately it’s revealed that Blake’s commander, Colonel Whitley, has plans to use the Thing as a biological weapon and as a cure for his terminal cancer; subverting the expectations of the film and having an open betrayer/infected in all of the action. Eventually Blake has a showdown with the Thing-infected Whitley at the Thing’s original spaceship, defeating him and saving the world from a massive outbreak. And closing the loop on this makeshift “trilogy”
Given these elements the film not only continues the film in a fitting way but also matches the tension and anarchy that the Carpenter classic is known for. Years before the board game The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31 did it, this was the place to get your hidden identity game fix with a well known license. The game was released in 2002 to almost instant success, selling over a million copies across PC, Xbox, and Playstation 2. Fans and critics were captivated with its more action-oriented take on the horror genre, something that (at the time) still had a heavy focus on survival and puzzle solving. Best of all, fans loved the reveal of the fates of Childs and MacReady from the original film. I won’t spoil it here but you don’t learn the fate of one of them until the very end of the game and it’s a surprising reveal, to say the least.
The Thing ultimately is a game that translates the Carpenter film into fun gameplay mechanics and tells a cohesive yet faithful continuation of its source material. Unfortunately with Konami losing the rights to the film and Computer Artworks going under in 2003, a sequel to the game never made it past the proof of concept phase. Even worse the game has yet to get a re-release of any kind, causing The Thing to fall into relative obscurity in recent years.
If you have the means (aka an old console lying around like I do), I highly implore you to seek out a copy of The Thing, which remains a wonderful movie-based video game 20 years later.