Connect with us

Published

on

The Thing… Where to start? I guess we’ll start at the beginning, or the first movie as it were, in 1982…. (Note: for all that it is based upon the same book, I am not including the 1951 The Thing from Another World in this review as it is very different from the later iterations. Nor am I reviewing the book itself.)

1982 movie poster detail
1982 movie poster detail

Movie 1

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a cult classic film and a staple of the horror genre despite its original release to lackluster attendance. It focuses on a small group of Antarctic researchers desperately trying to piece together the mystery of what happened at a neighboring outpost before succumbing to the horror itself. Seems that some “thing” was unearthed from its burial in the long frozen ice and has been released to roam the desolate Antarctic wasteland in a ravenous bodyshaping doppleganger frenzy.

The Good

The psychological thriller aspect of this film is laid on thick, with distrust sown between the scant trapped crew remaining, trying to figure out who is and isn’t affected. The characters don’t act irrationally based on tired tropes, making somewhat reasonable choices based on what information they have and learn over the course of the incident, save for acting solo or in pairs despite known risks.

Paranoia reigns supreme and the implications of the circumstances the crew finds themselves in are not lost in the shuffle. This elusive us-versus-them setup is the film’s best quality. And as for another film great, I totally want MacReady’s helicopter flying hat. That is some grand fashion, if I do say so myself. But I digress…

MacReady's noteworthy hat
MacReady’s noteworthy hat

The Bad (or at least, The Ugly)

I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will mention that the alien being appears in numerous gruesome scenes. Personally, I feel that this is where the film falls short. I get that we had to see its evolving body horror nature to better understand the implications of what the alien can and cannot do as its abilities are revealed.

But it starts to fall into the campy uncanny valley bordering on comic relief when there is too much focus placed on showing the intruder. In my opinion, such vagaries are often more terrifying when left unseen, for the viewer’s imagination to run wild. That said, I will remind everyone that this was before CG, and it was a wholly different world of special effects then. So, for 1982 amidst the shiny happy wonderment surrounding E.T., The Thing was freakishly damn creepy.

Advertisement

I give the original film 4.0 Cthulhus.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


Movie 2

On to the prequel, the 2011 version of The Thing exploring exactly what had happened at the Norwegian base camp, as seen in the setup in the John Carpenter release…

2011 movie poster detail
2011 movie poster detail

So, despite all of the mixed reviews out there, I rather liked the prequel. I thought it did pretty well conveying the same moods and story as the 1982 release.

The Good

As expected, the prequel did use a lot more fancy pants computer generated content to depict the sheer terror of the Thing itself. Although it relied heavily on this, I think it used the new capability rather well while still paying homage to the original. The scene developing the two-faced monster was wonderfully creepy in much the same spirit as the 1982 release. The psychological distress revved up very convincingly, with the characters’ paranoia escalating in ways that made sense internally. And the jump scares and grotesque features were good.

The Bad and the Ugly

The way that the events panned out and how the characters interacted within their circumstances was unfortunately less developed than in the original film. As a prequel, not all of the actions led into the 1982 film in ways that were believable, and thus beg the question of when all that research was conducted with the videos made and written records chronicled. The timeline just doesn’t feel at all consistent. Did this occur over a day, two days, a month, or even a few months’ time? This is not wholly clear. The movie plays out as if everything happened within 48 hours but that doesn’t naturally follow with all of the setup.

Advertisement

And the 2011 release relied more on typical horror tropes like scientific secrecy and splitting up in ways that don’t entirely make sense. A lot of the characters behaved less rationally even despite being shown to process the information at hand quickly. It’s almost like they were trying to set themselves up to be jump scared and assimilated. Who knows, maybe they were?

But my biggest beef with this film is the weirdness with the alien spaceship. I won’t spoil the plot by giving it away, but suffice it to say the alien’s capabilities seem more influenced by how quickly the humans learn what they can do rather than what they are actually able to accomplish, which creates a sort of unique dysfuntion all its own. I’d have shrugged this off if not for the spaceship but instead was left feeling like the movie just had to push for an Iron Man moment (like in The Martian). I guess sometimes we need a big red sign on the wall that says “Bang head here” in the form of a WTF movie moment.

So I give the 2011 prequel only 3.0 Cthulhus. If I had seen this first I don’t know that I’d have gone out of my way to see the 1982 release, and it really just wasn’t as good as the original despite the psychological tension and creepy factor. I know I started off this mini-review stating that I rather liked it, and I genuinely did. But then again I also rather liked parts of The Minions movie from the Despicable Me enterprise (it had me laughing any way; what can I say, I’m easy sometimes), so you do the math…

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)


The Board Game

And finally, The Thing the board game, based on the 1982 film. Note: there are previous games along themes of The Thing, but I have only played the recent 2022 release. All of the versions have had mixed reviews, mostly being compared to the Battlestar Galactica game of hidden identities, often held as the pinnacle of this “hidden role” game style.

Advertisement

I really like this game. I love that you can sow paranoia as you try to figure out who is and isn’t human. And if you don’t have enough players to really delve into the psychological aspects of this, with every man out for himself, you can play cooperatively against the game itself as the harsh environment, sabotage and alien infiltration take their toll. And as many of you know, I adore cooperative games.

Game Structure

The board game is a hidden identity structure featuring characters from the 1982 movie. Player characters do not know whether the others are human or are alien-imitating-fake-human trying to assimilate them into the alien threat. Everyone is acting upon their own motives and suspicions as they try to get the hell outta Dodge back to the civilized world. I have not been able to approach this in the full version as my tabletop game group is small, but the cooperative version does still offer some sense of the terror and urgency felt.

The game mechanics are a bit chunky but they aren’t overly complicated and the game doesn’t generally outlast its run time of around an hour once you get the hang of the actions and how the phases play out. Again, we’ve played it cooperatively and this may or may not hold true depending on your game group. First off, you have to account for the weather, which always comes first in such an inhospitable environment as Antarctica. Next, player characters determine where they are going and theoretically what they are doing, though this doesn’t reveal itself immediately and doesn’t necessarily make it apparent who is and isn’t human. Then the alien threat is established and the leader takes a role in determining what happens where. Eventually, food is eaten, tests are administered, and the dogs get out and wreak havoc.

Some pics of The Thing game setup, hanging out in the rec room, and alien attack!
Some pics of The Thing game setup, hanging out in the rec room, and alien attack!

Rulemongering

The art is lovely and hearkens to the original film. And the game is fun. But the game mechanics and rules are not entirely well-explained in all circumstances, including the translation between standard and cooperative play, and the playbook raises more questions than answers. There is much heated debate over the interpretation of this, and my group was not exempt from the discussion around when exactly the dogs get out.

Returning to the film does not offer a better explanation, as the game deviates from the movie in enough ways to create possibilities around actions too far gone, such as blood testing or repairing the communications to call for help. And the original monstrous dog has a big role at the start of the film, pretty much going wherever it likes, so are the dogs supposed to be in or out? Unsure. So expect to get bogged down in this discourse for awhile, especially if you don’t all agree on how the game should be played.

The Fine Print

Because of this extra confusion, sowing dissent for reasons that have nothing to do with the movie or theme and everything to do with people having their own ideas of how the rules and setup should be interpreted, I give the game only 3.0 Cthulhus. Lack of definition in these circumstances is not a boon, and should not be left to the imagination (unlike the portrayal of monstrous creatures which can benefit from not revealing too much). And since everyone is paranoid and self-serving, it only muddles up discussion of how to interpret the rules more, depending on what side you’re on, human versus alien threat… That said, the game is fun and, if your gaming group isn’t full of a bunch of rules lawyers like mine is, hopefully you won’t get too bogged down in the fine print.

Advertisement

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

And for follow up, we decided to ignore the forums and make a house rule that one dog begins outside of the kennel sowing confusion and the location deck is interacted with from there to see if the other dogs are released. This seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of the original film, for whatever that’s worth. The other dogs weren’t even shown to be at risk until that dog is taken to the kennel, so maybe they shouldn’t come out to play until exposed. And here we go again…

More Game Reviews

If you enjoyed this review and want to explore another creepy cooperative game with lots of character motive, feel free to read about Dead of Winter. Or you can delve further into the survivalist genre with Ravine.

Advertisement

Jennifer Weigel is a multi-disciplinary mixed media conceptual artist residing in Kansas USA. Weigel utilizes a wide range of media to convey her ideas, including assemblage, drawing, fibers, installation, jewelry, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video and writing. You can find more of her work at: https://www.jenniferweigelart.com/ https://www.jenniferweigelprojects.com/ https://jenniferweigelwords.wordpress.com/

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Gaming

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones (2019), a Game Review

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones (2019) is a tactical role-playing video game developed by Cultic Games, evoking Lovecraftian horror.

Published

on

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones (2019) is a tactical role-playing video game developed by Cultic Games, evoking Lovecraftian and cosmic horror. Published by Fulqrum Publishing, this game is available through Linux, macOS, and Windows. This review will cover the $19.99 Steam release.

The Great Old Ones have awakened, exiling Arkham after the events of Black Day. Design your character and face the abominations of Arkham. Explore the 1920s through a Lovecraftian aesthetic as you unravel the secrets that plague Arkham, facing unknowable cosmic horror and malicious abominations.

The eye icon with tentacles reads Stygian: Reign of the Old Gods. To the left hand side is a woman in a 1920s dress. To the right is a blue abomination.
Stygian Promotional Art

What I Like Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

The depth of character creation starts the game off on the right foot. While appearance has various options, the game provides greater variety in motives, age, and origins, adding different gameplay elements. For example, age reflects lived experience and physical competency. The younger your character, the less experienced but more physically capable. This dynamic requires trial and error to find the best choice for you.

The paper cutout art provides a unique interpretation of a familiar (but stylish) Lovecraftian aesthetic. While not the most haunting execution of the Lovecraftian, it still manages to unsettle and unnerve while maintaining visual interest. That said, if the style doesn’t suit the player’s taste, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones might leave that player wanting.

While I find the story engaging and the mysteries worth exploring, there’s a massive caveat to that claim. Regardless, if you fancy the Lovecraftian, few care as deeply and express as much knowledge of the genre as Cultic Games in this installment. This love and knowledge shines through in the often subtle allusions and references to the expanded universe. It may earn its place as the most Lovecraftian game out there.

Advertisement

The characters vary in interest and likability, but there’s usually something about them to add to the overall mystery. Naturally, this remains most evident in the companions that accompany the player on their journey.

In terms of horror, Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones achieves notable success. Despite the subjective points of aesthetics, the game brings out the most unsettling and uncomfortable elements of Lovecraftian and cosmic horror.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tropes, Triggers, and Considerations

With an understanding of the Lovecraftian comes the question of how to deal with racism. Most properties try to remove this context, but Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones recognizes the text and era (the 1920s) with caricatures such as a lunatic in blackface. I won’t say it fully explores these toxic elements, but it’s not painted in a positive light.

Insanity and mental illness play a large role in the mechanics of the game, such as becoming a key component of casting spells. Loosely related, drug addiction and usage are mechanics with varying degrees of necessity depending on your build.

If these are deal breakers, perhaps give Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones a skip.

Several listed classes on the left hand side. At the center of the screen shows the Explorer class with their dog.
Stygian Character Selection

What I Dislike about Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones

In terms of story, this game is unfinished, leaving many plots, quests, and arcs with unsatisfying cliffhangers. My understanding is that Cultic Games planned to finish the game, but money ran out, and the focus shifted to an upcoming prequel. I imagine the goal is to use this new game to support a continuation. But that doesn’t change the unfinished state of Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones. The beginning and middle remain filled with content, but the final act (loosely stated) falls monstrously short.

While this unfinished state mostly affects content, I did run into game-breaking bugs. From my understanding, these bugs completely hinder progress. Most are avoidable, but some are unlucky draws.

Advertisement

It’s these points that make this a challenge to recommend, requiring the potential player’s careful consideration.

Final Thoughts

Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones accomplishes what many games fail, bringing to life the Lovecraftian. Unfortunately, this game falls short at the end and leaves game-breaking bugs as potential deterrents for full enjoyment. If what you read above entices you, it may be worth the investment. However, it’s unfair to recommend this game within its compromised state.
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Continue Reading

Gaming

Ashen (2018), a Game Review

Ashen (2018) is a souls-like action RPG developed by A44 and published by Annapurna Interactive available across all platforms.

Published

on

Ashen (2018) is a souls-like action RPG game developed by A44 and published by Annapurna Interactive. This game provides a single-player and multiplayer experience with passive multiplayer mechanics. For this review, I am discussing the 39.99 Steam release, but it’s also available in the Epic Game Store, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation.

In this bitter world, your character seeks to make a home for yourself and others. This goal requires you to fight for every inch of land, building connections and alliances to maintain a thriving village. Venture further to make the world a more hospitable place, but know the further you travel, the greater the threats.

The beginnings of a small village. A man waits by a pillar, facing the player.
Ashen Vagrant’s Rest

What I Like about Ashen

In 2017, Ashen earned a nomination for the Game Critics Awards’ “Best Independent Game.” It would later earn several more nominations in 2019. At the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards, it received nominations for “Game, Original Role Playing” and “Original Light Mix Score, New IP.” It was nominated for “Most Promising New Intellectual Property” at the SXSW Gaming Awards. Finally, at the Golden Joystick Awards, it earned a nomination for “Xbox Game of the Year.”

The multiplayer experience remains essential for Ashen, focusing on you and a partner venturing together to explore an open-world environment. However, the single-player experience is my focus and the game accounts for this gameplay. Ashen often pairs you with a villager who helps with the challenges.

The art style remains a plus throughout the gameplay. Though muted in colors and lacking finer details, the style creates a unique world that allows players to get lost along their journey. If the aesthetic doesn’t evoke that curiosity, then Ashen becomes hard to recommend.

Advertisement

Vagrant’s Rest and the inhabitants remain a strong incentive to continue on your journey. Seeing the progression of the town and building connections with the people provide the most rewarding experience.

In terms of horror, the art style often evokes an eerie atmosphere. However, I won’t go so far as to say the game is haunting. Instead, it evokes emotions that can unsettle and unnerve the gamer.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Thoughts and Considerations

The souls-like influence remains straightforward. Progression requires the player to defeat enemies and collect currency for weapons or certain item upgrades. Ashen simplifies and focuses its gameplay, reducing variety to polish its choices. The gameplay remains fluid, with a few hiccups that might be a computer issue.

If you prefer magic or defined classes, the gameplay doesn’t enable this variety. Item upgrades and choices define your playstyle, allowing most items to be playable at any stage of gameplay.

Weapons make a greater difference in playstyle. Most of these differences are self-evident (i.e. blunt weapons are slower but stun), but upgrades make any weapon viable. You pick an aesthetic and function, sticking with it until something better catches your eye.

A character helps another limp away, using a spear to help walk. Above reads Ashen.
Ashen Promotional Art

What I Dislike about Ashen

As mentioned, the game had some technical issues. I often assume this to be my computer, but I did note a few others mentioning similar issues. The gameplay remains fluid, so take this comment as a small point of consideration.

With limited roleplay options, liking the characters or art style remains essential for your time and money investment. As mentioned, the game doesn’t hold the variety of FromSoftware, which means their selling point comes from that unique art style and world. 

Advertisement

Passive multiplayer is a major part of the marketing for Ashen. While I don’t mind this mechanic, 6 years after release reduces the overall impact. When so few wanderers appear in your game, it’s hard to see the overall appeal.

Final Thoughts

Ashen delivers a highly specialized souls-like experience, preferring to perfect what it can at the cost of variety. If the art appeals and the thirst for a souls-like has you wanting, Ashen stands as a strong contender. However, there are many contenders which make this hard to overtly recommend.
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Continue Reading

Gaming

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995), a Game Review

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995) is a point-and-click horror game based on Harlan Ellison’s award-winning short story.

Published

on

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995) is a point-and-click horror game based on Harlan Ellison’s award-winning short story of the same name. Developed by Cyberdreams and The Dreamers Guild, this adaptation brings a new perspective to a familiar story. I heard of free purchasing opportunities for this game but cannot verify the quality. For this review, I played the 5.99 Steam release.

Play as one of the remaining humans on earth: Gorrister, Benny, Ellen, Nimdok, and Ted. Each faces a unique challenge from their common torturer, the AI supercomputer known as AM. Chosen by AM to endure torment, these challenges require the participants to face their greatest failures and tragedies.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream Cover Art. A mutilated face with no mouth.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream Cover Art

What I like about I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Having experienced this story a few times, Harlan Ellison provides the most substantive execution of his vision and moral questions in this game. While all have individual merits, I assume the added content and context better dive into the relevant points he hoped to explore. He also played the voice of AM, giving us the emotional complexity of the machine as he saw it.

As the above comment indicates, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream remains a faithful adaptation with only one notable change. While that one change does reflect in that character’s journey, it uses that opportunity to the fullest. Where the short story left room for potentially inaccurate interpretations of the characters, this added context makes us better understand them.

The game’s writing remains a selling point for this story-driven experience. It dives further into the lore of the human characters and even allows further development of AM in the process. There are many ways to progress, and the multiple characters allow gamers to adventure further if stuck. That said, progressing individual characters to complete their journey remains essential for the true ending and experience.

Advertisement

As a point-and-click game made in 1995, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream holds up well. In many ways, it pushed the genre in its time with dynamic storytelling and game features. Harlan Ellison was someone who pushed boundaries to challenge himself and others. He saw the gaming industry as another opportunity to evoke story-driven art, a focus reflected here.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Thoughts, Triggers, and Considerations

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream adapts a dark and bleak story from an author notorious for his dark material. This game is no exception to that standard. Mental illness, sexual assault, genocide, and torture envelop the game. These elements are handled with attention but remain triggering to those sensitive to such dark material.

If these are deal breakers, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream will likely earn a skip.

A cartage with red flames, a face in a circuit.
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream Game Cartage

What I Dislike, or Considerations, for I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

While the short story remains a haunting example of fiction in every sentence, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream doesn’t evoke the same tension. It allows room to breathe or refocus on another character, which reduces the horror such a story evokes. While the characters participate in their torment, the loss of agency and hopelessness doesn’t translate in the execution.

Some mechanical and gameplay issues are noteworthy. For example, the saving mechanic remains dated, piling up if you save often or for specific reasons. Most of the mechanical issues stem from outdated UI from a gamer of a more modern era. Play it long enough, and elements start to click, but it needs that user investment.

Point-and-click caters to a niche audience, so modern gaming audiences aren’t inherently the demographic. The puzzle-solving and gameplay won’t win you over if the genre isn’t to your taste. Even within the genre, many of the puzzles remain challenging. For fans of the genre, this likely earns a positive merit. For those looking to continue the short story, this challenge will prove an obstacle.

Final Thoughts

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream provides a new opportunity for the award-winning story to reach new audiences and continue to grow. Not satisfied with repeating his story in a new medium, Harlan Ellison expands this bleak world through the point-and-click game. While not as haunting as the short story, this game provides the most context and development of any adaptation before it. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Trending