Here’s The Thing… Twice

This year marked the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter’s classic sci-fi horror film The Thing and the 20th anniversary of its sequel video game. The game was developed by the now-defunct Computer Systems, and backed by a whole bunch of publishers including Vivendi and Konami. It holds a special place in my heart and is one of the handful of PS2 games I still own, even if it is choppier than a butcher shop in a helicopter by modern standards. Its trust system is flawed, but it remains an exciting mechanic that fuels the paranoia needed to truly feel like a video game version of The Thing should. It even gave us the canon answer to what became of MacReady and Childs at the end of the 1982 movie (spoiler: there’s no happy ending).

Sadly, that was about it for licensed games based on The Thing (no, you can’t blame Konami for this one), and it’s become increasingly difficult to play the 2002 game. Sure, there have been others that tapped into the vibe of it (see the Dead Space series, which John Carpenter himself is a bit of a fan of), but nothing that’s really all that close.

So thank the Space Gods for Stefano Cagnani and his Steven Games Studio, which has given us a couple of bite-size experiences based on not just Carpenter’s The Thing, but also Howard Hawk’s The Thing From Another World. Two Things! One after the other! I’m going to be a tad concerned if a third one shows up next week.

Cagnani has some form for distilling iconic horror movies into short-form games. Among the developer’s catalog are games about The Ring, a trilogy of Halloween games, and even a Nosferatu experience in grainy black & white. All are brief slices that capture some of the essences of the source material in an endearingly ramshackle manner.

Cagnani’s The Thing game is merely a teaser at this point, but it goes a long way to capturing the ominous, oppressive mood of the film as you walk around areas of Outpost 31. Played in first-person, you mostly get to see the dog kennel part of the film, which honestly is a great point of reference for the mood of the film. It clocks in at just a few minutes, but having been starved of The Thing in video game form, I ate up every second of it and didn’t leave so much as a crumb in my lap after.

So it was a double-dip delight to see Cagnani follow up this teaser with a short game based on The Thing From Another World; the 1951 adaptation of John W. Campbell Jr’s novella Who Goes There? Directed by another significant name in Hollywood history, Howard Hawks, there are a lot of similar beats if you’re only familiar with Carpenter’s version, but it’s the personification of 50s sci-fi otherwise, with a closer connection to the novella.

The playable teaser for The Thing feels impressive in its depiction of the film, but Cagnani’s The Thing From Another World is on another level to that. It naturally goes for the film’s black-and-white 1950s look, but chooses a third-person viewpoint.

What intrigued me the most about Cagnani’s The Thing From Another World is that it actually looks a fair bit like the 2002 adaptation of Carpenter’s The Thing. Intentional or not, there’s a nice parallel going on, even with the brief playtime here. If I wasn’t already hankering for a Quality of Life updated remaster of 2002’s The Thing, then this would have got me salivating at the prospect all by itself.

The crux of this video game version of The Thing From Another World is escaping the pursuing Thing, which is a hulking humanoid creature in Hawks’ adaptation. Before that though, there’s a nice bit of scene-setting in what is effectively an abridged take on the film. Something about the age of the film itself seems to be better suited to Cagnani’s style. In the nicest way possible, it’s like it’s from an alternate universe where video games advanced alongside film a bit more closely, and this game was a companion piece for Hawks’ movie. Maybe it’s the black and white sheen over the retro visuals, but it feels like a relic of a time that never was, an unearthly imitator befitting the film it represents.

Yes, these are crude approximations of two classic films, but they manage to capture the heart of them and are clearly made with a love for the source material rather than sticking a license on top of a template to follow an trend (though I await the inevitable Shrek take on it). Even if Cagnani doesn’t get to bear fruit from his playable teaser or go on to make something full-fat from these movie adaptations, it’s the kind of thing that will inspire someone to take up the mantle and push on themselves.

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