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    The Thing

    Game » consists of 7 releases. Released Aug 19, 2002

    The semi-sequel to the 1982 sci-fi horror film.

    The Top Shelf: The Second Round 032: The Thing

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    Edited By Mento  Moderator

    Welcome to The Top Shelf, a weekly feature wherein I sort through my extensive PS2 collection for the diamonds in the rough. My goal here is to narrow down a library of 185 games to a svelte 44: the number of spaces on my bookshelf set aside for my PS2 collection. That means a whole lot of vetting and a whole lot of science that needs to be done - and here in the second round, that means narrowing our laser focus to one game per week (at least). Be sure to check out the Case File Repository for more details and a full list of games/links!

    Extra Note: We've entered Shelftember! In this much-vaunted month, we will be processing one of the second round entries every day. I'll be spending one hour apiece with each game - inspired by DanielKempster's backlog-clearing series "An Hour With..." - and determining its fate from there.

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    Feels like we've had a string of games on The Top Shelf this week which were highly regarded for their innovation and distinctiveness by many, but I personally was never able to crack into them. With The Thing, the 2002 multi-platform release that sequelizes the 1982 John Carpenter movie of the same name, there are at least a few reasons for why I continue to give the game a chilly reception. The first is that I'm not a particularly big fan of the movie in question. It's weird, because Carpenter, Lovecraftian horror, Keith David, Kurt Russell, crazy Wilford Brimley, and the 1980s are like a combination of my favorite movie elements, but something about the grisly monster effects and gore have never sat right with me. I'm just not a horror guy, and while I'm not going to hold that against the movie - or the equally fine work of David Cronenberg's The Fly or the many great (if dumb) slasher movie sequels of the 80s - it is going to affect my appreciation of a game that directly references and builds on that movie. The second is that the game itself can be rough in stretches and relies a lot on a particular survival horror bugbear of mine: the careful apportioning of a limited pool of resources. When you have a whole team to keep equipped, those restrictions are even more of a headache.

    The team-building, in more than one sense of the word, is also part of the appeal of The Thing: The Movie: The Game. You couldn't feasibly create a game around The Thing without including a mechanic built around developing, and losing, trust. The Thing could be anyone at any time, and unless you've been watching your teammates like a hawk there's no telling if and when one them got assimilated and replaced. Instead, the game forces you to build trust with NPCs you meet before they agree to follow you, and you always have to humor the possibility that this friendly new person is waiting to chomp you as soon as your back is turned. In case you thought about going solo, these followers also have specializations you need. Similar to Half-Life, and in particular its expansion campaign Opposing Force, you frequently have to find allies with abilities that include healing others, fixing the power, or just helping you take down the monsters you encounter. You can't afford to leave anyone behind, but nor can you have absolute confidence in their humanity. It's a masterstroke of game design to develop a game around creating partnerships when any one could prove a fatal lapse of judgment. However, it can also be a major detriment when you're constantly fussing around with people's weapons and ammo, their trust in you, their fear level (allies can completely freak out and become useless if you're not careful about mitigating their terror), their health levels, and whether or not they just so happen to be a homicidal alien entity.

    Beyond that, the game's a traditional survival horror game through and through, albeit one that leans a lot on the unappealing (and often one-sided) third-person shooter combat that tends to follow the genre around like an insurmountable Nemesis. You have obstacles to overcome, usually in the sense of needing key or a code to get through a door (in the hour I played, the game's already found a couple of novel ways to hide these) or turning on/off the power in one particular area to proceed. The early tutorial area of the game also imparts the dangers of operating at the South Pole, where staying outside for too long can cause lasting damage and the importance of light markers in the ground to make your way around the facility in adverse conditions. It has its twists and clever features, and is more than simply a movie license tie-in (albeit one with a 20 year gap between the movie and game) or a survival horror game banking on a recognizable name for success. The developers did their homework here and produced something that does its source material justice. I just wish I enjoyed playing it.

    Result: Eliminated.

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