The years surrounding the millennium have given us many great games, but the year of '98 was especially blessed; with games like StarSiege: Tribes, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VIII, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
, and lest we forget, a little game called Thief: The Dark Project
. Stealth based games were not new then, in fact, there were two other stealth games that year: Metal Gear Solid
and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
, but Thief
was truly the most ground breaking and realistic, and it is the one that has (probably) been the most influential.
A twisting plot has always been part of the Thief
franchise and Thief: DS
is no exception. As in the others, the entire plot takes place within the ubiquitous City, a sprawling and ancient place, where magic, machines, and people all mix together. While playing the first two games is not necessary to enjoy and comprehend the story, there are a lot of references to what has happened already, so you might miss out on some of the ideas. As the cynical master thief Garret, you'll start out with a typical thieving mission: break into the rich man's house to pay the rent. As the game progresses, you're contacted by some old acquaintances from the Keepers, a shadowy and mysterious organization that acts as historians and behind-the-scenes manipulators. Garret, formerly a member of the order, wants nothing to do with them. They've had a colorful history to say the least, but they make an offer he can't refuse and things go from there. What's starts out as a simple job of collecting a few rare items for cash soon changes into a complex situation with you trying to stay alive, all the while using the Keeper's and the City's various other factions, such as the Hammerites and the Pagans, to your own advantage. But of course, that's only the beginning...
The story itself is presented to you largely by listening either to other character's speech or Garret's own monologues. For starters, your mission briefing is basically Garret musing over what his thoughts of the mission and the current situation are. Same goes for your debriefing. Garret will also talk to himself and to other characters throughout the missions themselves, often providing important story hints. This is supplemented by various cinematics and the occasional book or written note. The story does sometimes fall into a rut; staying stagnant for long periods of time with the same things repeated over and over again, but by and large I really enjoyed it.
Listening is a key part of any Thief
game, so thankfully Ion Storm has invested in both an excellent sound team, as well as equipment. That's to be expected from a Thief
game and their efforts show. While there is very little noticeable music in the game, there is a large amount of ambient sound. This isn't just for realism's sake: it's a vital part of game play. Especially if you have the gamma way down or you're in a confined space, you will hear an enemy before you ever see them and vice-versa. While the effect is lessened to some degree if you don't have some type of 3D sound system going on, you will still find that must rely on sound to get the game done. This intense reliance on sound makes for a very unique experience because your sense of hearing is so concentrated. It really serves to ratchet up the tension and even give you the occasional fright. The sound is only complemented by the graphics artist's excellent work in textures and lighting. In places such the Shalebridge Cradle, all of that comes together to make a truly unique and awesome experience.
Game play is easily T: DS's strongest point and it's only supplemented by the other pros I listed above. I've already said that the game's premise is sneaking around, but let me elaborate on that. As a thief, you're naturally concerned with filling your pockets so in every major mission, you will always being going after 2 things: random treasure and special items. Each time, you'll be required to collect a certain percentage of that level's total loot and a set number of those special items. The amount of each is determined by the difficulty level. At your disposal or a number of items from the ever so useful water arrows and black jack to the more specialized climbing gloves. Sneaking around itself is conducted in either the 1st or the 3rd person. For
the most part, you'll be trying to move different spots of darkness without being noticed so you can either grab some loot or ambush a guard. The experience is enriched by the fact there are many different conditions that you have to do this same basic task under. You may be on some stone so your footsteps will be magnified, but there may be some branching hallways or storage rooms to give you shelter when a suspicious guard comes through. Basically it's a giant scavenger hunt where you have to avoid being slaughtered by the other players. This can be horribly frustrating sometimes, that I will definitely say. After spending two hours combing a level for a tiny coin to meet that loot requirement, I was ready to through my controller through the TV screen. However, the concept holds up solidly and works extremely well with the rest of the game's ideas.
I keep mentioning that this game is in many ways related to its predecessors. In most cases, that's a very good thing but, sadly, not in this case. In the original Thief
, I had a lot fun having a guard chase me around a pool until he fell in and eventually drowned. Jumping on top of a table watching a group of furious guards scream impotently at me was amusing as well. While there has been some
improvement regarding A.I., they're pretty much as dumb as ever. Now, their actual sense of hearing, sight, and touch are quite acute and realistic, but what falls short is their reaction to what they sense. Reactions are fairly linear and rather predictable. For example, a guard could be patrolling the streets and I could be sneaking around in front of him. I could actually alter objects (barrels, NPCs, torches, etc) and know exactly how that guard would react to those changes. Is their a body over in that dark corner? He might not notice it, but would change his patrol path in a predictable fashion. They're also lacking in navigation, so they won't always take the best route to something and even more lacking in teamwork. Now, A.I.'s will run off and occasionally summon back-up, but that's still usually limited to other A.I. close by. If someone finds a body, the entire place won't be alerted. Even more annoying is that all of the A.I. in the game seems to have a permanent case of short term memory lose. You'd expect after finding a body or two or five lying around, the whole place would be up in arms, but as long as you can keep yourself from being spotted for a few minutes, you're safe.
I was almost considering not including this in The Bad
section, because a lot of it is determined by individual preference. Here's what you're given to encourage replay: 1. Numerous routes around the levels 2. Variable difficulties 3. Your own imaginations. That's not very much. For a lot of people, beating it once or twice on expert will be fine and anymore will just be boring. However, there are a lot of things to do for the enterprising, for instance, can you go through the entire game, using the absolute minimum amount of force. Can you get through that level without being seen at all? Or how about collecting 100% of the loot in each level? It's a lot like the Metroid
games, where you may find yourself playing things over and over again just too simply finish "little" challenges like that.
This is a solid reincarnation of Looking Glass's venerable series. It's taken its predecessors main strengths, retained them, and polished them, all the while making an attempt to be innovative. A combination of excellent aural, lighting, texture, and story elements create a truly tense and at times believable atmosphere to play in. Its basic premise, that sneaking around is fun, succeeds, even though it is often marred by errors such as poor A.I. or game play errors.
This review by IVIaedhros, who rates lower than most
. Pictures courtesy www.ign.com