Thief: The Dark Project|
||Direct X6 compatible
||Direct X6 compatible 3D
||5x Creative DVD
||Sound Blaster 16
||Matrox Millenium G200
||Creative 3D Blaster
Reviewed by: Zachary Rounds
The real shadow warrior.
First person shooters (with the exception of Half-Life) usually follow a set pattern. Run, shoot, find key, open door, kill more monsters, and go to the next level. The only sort of innovation comes in the form of bigger, more violent weaponry (Turok 2 is a prime example of this). Recently FPS's have been in a positive trend of focusing on story and interaction over mindless killing, but the improvements haven't been that noticeable. In comes Looking Glass Studios, creators of the excellent Ultima Underworld games, the great but underplayed Terra Nova, and the masterpiece System Shock. They bring with them a new idea: emphasis on stealth and suspense instead of random killing. The end result is a fantastic game that shows just how important innovation and gameplay are.
The story in Thief centers around a man named Garrett. Garrett is a thief, and a damn good one at that. Trained by a shadowy group of cloaked people called the Keepers, Garrett learned how to blend into his surroundings and sneak up on someone without detection. While the Keepers are never really explained, Garrett became bored with them, so he opted for a more… interesting line of work. Now he is a sort of mercenary, hired to steal valuable objects from different people and groups. The story unfolds over twelve levels, most of which require you to find and lift some expensive doodad. The story doesn't really kick in until after the fifth mission, at which point Garrett is given a goal that spans several missions and leads into the last few missions. I don't want to give anything away, but the story gets pretty strange near the end, dealing with ancient gods and large, violent animal people. I was also left wondering how Garrett got a certain something fixed, as the realm that the game takes place in could best be described as the beginning of the Industrial Age mixed with magic (I said it gets strange), and what gets fixed can't be done right now in our universe. The game also finishes with what seems to be a promise of a sequel or expansion pack, but as of yet, Looking Glass has yet to confirm anything. Ultimately the purpose of story is to keep you playing and Thief performs admirably by providing a well thought out tale that will keep you playing until the end.
Gameplay -- 9.5
"Gameplay over graphics". This phrase is the backbone of Thief. Few games have the innovation that Thief has, and it only helps to make Thief that much better. The key to Thief is stealth. Unlike most games where you can run around and generally stomp most of the enemies with little worries, Garrett is sort of weak. Sure he can run, jump, and take a couple of mild sword hits (depending on what difficulty setting you play at), but odds are that if Garrett has to go head to head with a guard, Garrett's not going to be the one standing at the end of the fight. Instead, you must get close enough to the guards without them noticing you, at which point you can club them with you trusty blackjack.
While we're on the topic of clubbing people, the difficulty setting of Thief is very important. Unlike most games where difficult determines only how much damage you can deal (and how much is dealt upon you), Thief adds objectives with each difficulty level. My advice: DON'T play on expert until you have beaten the game on hard. While the difference between normal and hard usually means an extra objective (like finding another object) and adding a steal requirement where you must steal a certain amount of money and treasure (you spend the money at the beginning of each mission on arrows and potions), the difference between hard and expert is a bit more severe. On hard, you can kill guards. On expert, you can't. This adds whole dimensions to the game as you are no longer able to use your regular arrows in a useful manner. Instead you must sneak up on every guard, waiting for just the right moment to run out of the shadows and club the ignorant guard. While this would be nearly impossible on its own, you are given some useful tools. Most of these are types of arrows that alter your surroundings.
First off, you have the water arrows. These are by far the most important part of your arsenal, as they allow you to douse torches, and later when combined with holy water they can be used as a weapon against the undead (one of the few things you CAN kill on expert). Shadow hiding is made easier through the light meter, represented by a small bar on the bottom of the screen. As the meter gets brighter, so do the odds that a guard will spot you. This can be a serious problem, because once the guard sees you, he won't stop chasing you unless you get a long way from him. And since you're running with little regard to stealth, any other guards that happen to be nearby will become altered to your presence. I once had six guards chasing me around until I managed to get a chance to use the only really surefire way of getting away: The flashbomb. This handy little device is basically a sphere that explodes with light when thrown. Any guards near the flashbomb will become stunned, allowing for an easy clubbing.
Next you have moss arrows. While hiding in the shadows is important, silence is equally important. Walking over metal floors is a really good way to notify guards of your location. To overcome this, moss arrows can be applied to the ground, muffling your footsteps. Moss arrows, combined with water arrows, allow you to take down any guard under almost any situation.
The rest of the arrows have their uses as well, but to a somewhat limited degree. The fire arrows are good for killing zombies, the rope arrows are used to get up to ledges you couldn't normally jump or mantle (sort of like climbing up a wall… very useful but sometimes hard to use due to the fact that for some walls only certain parts of the wall are climbable), the gas arrows can knock out any living creature without killing it (good for those guards on expert level), and the noisemaker arrows cause guards to investigate where the arrow lands.
Most of the levels are very well designed. Skulking about a mansion, avoiding the patrolling guards, and looking for dark corners where you can hide is a lot of fun, and the fact that the levels look and feel correct only adds to the experience. One of the best levels, The Sword, has Garrett running around what initially looks like a huge mansion, only to find that when you get to the upper floors the architecture gets a bit… odd. Hallways that look like someone grabbed the room and twisted it, rooms with the furniture on the ceiling and walls, and holes bashed out of walls where a jungle grows help immensely to the overall feeling of foreboding as you try to steal from under the noses of guards. The only level I didn't care much for was the third level where you had to descend into a zombie-infested crypt. Besides being rather boring, the level also had the problem of being unbeatable if you used your fire arrows. If you get to this level, DON'T use the fire arrows until you get to the room with the five unlit torches. I had to reload back to a point where I had arrows, effectively pulling me halfway back through the level.
The only other complaint I have is that on expert the game is sometimes too hard. I realize the game is supposed to be tough on expert, but the guards and monsters weren't the problem. The problem was that the money requirement was so high that I wound up spending hours on a couple of levels looking for something to steal. If the money requirement had been just a little bit lower this wouldn't have been a problem, but where the game stands now there were a couple of levels where I stopped having fun. I don't mind having more or tougher objectives, but the money requirement shouldn't be holding me up between levels. On the plus side, those are the only complaints I can think of in the gameplay department.
Graphics -- 7.5
"Gameplay over graphics". Here's where that slogan bites Thief in the ass. While the gameplay is magnificent, the graphics leave a lot to be desired. Most of the textures are drab and dull. The colored lighting effects and reflections and other goodies we've grown used to in games like Unreal and Half-Life are nowhere to be found in Thief. The human models that roam the mansions look eerily similar to the Q-Tip people that infested Jedi Knight.
However, all is not lost. The monster models look pretty good, especially the crab people (the first time one attacked me I almost fell out of my chair from shock). And while the textures may look drab and uninteresting, who cares? The game is usually so dark that actually seeing the textures can be rather tough.
The cutscenes are really cool. Each advances the story, and they all have a certain style that I haven't seen before in any game. Oh, be sure to pay attention to the text blurbs at the beginning of each cutscene. They're important.
Sound and Music -- 9.0
The sound in the Thief not only enhances the feel of what is happening around you, but also plays a vital role in the game. Since guards will begin to chase you if they see you, if you can hear the guard coming around the corner you can hide and wait for him to pass. There were times when I waited in the shadows for minutes, listening to the footsteps of a guard come closer to my position, and stepping around the corner to strike when the sound started to fade.
The voices are very well done, especially Garrett's. As you progress through the game, Garrett will dispense little blurbs of information or humor. The cutscenes are narrated by Garrett, giving his personal viewpoint on what is about to happen and what precautions should be taken. Ultimately, Garrett's voice is what I expected him to sound like. The rest of the voices in the game come mainly from the guards as they wander the halls. Sometimes they whistle, sometimes they complain about the fact that they have to stand guard, and sometimes they just mumble incoherently. You can also overhear conversations between guards as they talk about the goings-on of the place you are looting, dispensing valuable clues at times (along with calling everyone "Taffer").
There really isn't any music in the game, although a few of the levels (The crypt, the Haunted Cathedral, and the Lost City in particular) have occasionally great ambient noise that, while not being music, adds incredibly well to the overall atmosphere of the game. The haunting sounds of the wind blowing through the broken rooms of the cathedral only serve to heighten the experience.
When you come down to it, no real gamer should be without Thief. It gives out a totally new experience that you won't soon forget. I can only hope that Looking Glass will maintain this amount of quality as they create System Shock 2, a game that will have to be really damn good if it wants to top its predecessor. Until then, I think I'm going to go back and replay the game on hard… Expert was fun, but I want to have a use for those broadhead arrows.
Our rating out of 10: 9.0
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