Thief: Deadly Shadows
Thief: Deadly Shadows is the third instalment in the popular Thief series, which follows the adventures of Garrett - Master Thief. The collapse of Looking Glass, developer of the first two Thief games, prompted fears amongst fans of the series that the new title would not live up to the high expectations that the previous two games had generated. Fortunately the inheritors of the series, Ion Storm, have allayed fans' fears and have delivered a highly polished, worthy edition to the franchise. Visually speaking, Deadly Shadows is immensely impressive. The lighting and shadows are spectacular and the quasi-medieval setting is wonderfully realised. The city that many of the missions take place in is beautifully crafted and suitably gothic. The character models are smoothly drawn and the animation of the game's inhabitants is refreshingly realistic. The sound - so important in stealth games - is mostly very good. Footsteps echo off cobblestones, rustle on carpets and thud dully on wood. The voice acting is well done, with the guards crying triumphantly when they spot Garrett and shouting out, "I see you there! You're in big trouble, taffer!" or muttering "What was that? Thought I heard something" when they hear movement. The result of such quality visuals and sound is an atmosphere superior to that found in either of the previous two Thief games. It is hugely satisfying to creep down a shadow-strewn alley, avoiding the flickering light of torches, while the nearby guards discuss their private lives, utterly oblivious to your presence.
As far as gameplay goes, nothing much has changed from the previous two games. Each mission has a variety of objectives (usually along the lines of breaking into a building, stealing a particular item and then leaving again) as well as having a minimum amount of loot that Garrett has to steal. The loot comes in three types - paintings, gems and metalwork - and the amount Garrett is required to steal depends on the difficulty level selected, of which there are four - Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert. As with the previous games, Garrett is required to extinguish torches with his water arrows, pick locks, and avoid guards and other enemies by hiding in the shadows. Killing a guard is a tricky business - Garrett's weakness in combat means you have to creep up and backstab the guard in question, which is not easy when trying to follow the guard across a stone floor, all the while trying to remain undetected. Once you have hidden the body there is the small matter of using water to clean the blood from the floor to prevent other guards becoming alerted to your presence. The missions themselves take place in a variety of locations - a museum, a haunted ship and a sinister orphanage-turned-asylum are among the most atmospheric levels. This time two distinct factions are included - the Hammerites and the Pagans. You can choose to ally with one of these two groups, leading to small sub-quests. Depending on which side you ally with, the other faction will become hostile to you and will attack you on sight if you enter their territory.
Thanks to good level design and impressive AI, playing as Garrett is more enjoyable than ever. Guards don't tend to stand still and instead patrol set routes. It is up to the player to work out these patterns and to locate areas of darkness in order to remain undetected. Failure at some stage is inevitable, at which point the guards will search the darkness vigilantly if they hear a suspicious noise, calling out for Garrett to reveal himself. Sensibly, Ion Storm has realised that as this is a stealth game players should not be able to fight their way through levels and subsequently Garrett is very weak in combat, making stealthy movement crucial. Ion Storm have broken from the Thief mould by making a third person perspective available, although it has to be said that the traditional first-person view is generally easier to play with. The simple interface that worked so well in the two previous games has been largely retained; the 'light crystal' located at the bottom centre of the screen glows or dims depending on how visible Garrett is. The icon in the bottom right of the screen indicates the current weapon he is holding. Tapping the start button brings up the familiar mission screens where you can view your objectives and check your equipment. The controls are simple and intuitive with the black and white buttons used to cycle through Garrett's impressive arsenal of weaponry and thieving equipment, which includes flashbombs and proximity mines.
While the gameplay and interface remain largely faithful to the previous games, the actual structure of Deadly Shadows has been altered significantly. Rather than starting a new mission upon completing a previous level, Ion Storm has introduced 'The City' - a free-roaming area that you are able to explore between missions. The City itself adds depth to the gameplay - you are free to burgle the various properties you come across or pickpocket the citizens as they go about their business. Listening to The City’s inhabitants talking often reveals interesting sub-quests that are entirely optional. Located throughout The City are fences where you can sell your loot and thief shops where supplies can be purchased. Keeping stocked up with equipment is crucial and can lead to success or failure in a mission. Each of the fences will only purchase a certain type of loot, with the result that you have to travel around to sell your booty and therefore risk the dangers of The City. Thankfully Ion Storm have heeded the requests of Thief fans and have made changes to the game accordingly. Garrett's sword has been replaced with a more stealthy dagger, while there are less supernatural enemies in the game. These are small changes but they improve the overall experience. There are some negative aspects however - one irritation is the considerable loading times that break up the gameplay between areas of The City. There are also times when it seems ludicrous that you have not been seen by the patrolling guards, who often remain oblivious to your presence when it appears easier for them to see you. While there is quite a variety of spoken dialogue, Ion Storm only made use of three or four voice actors meaning character speech becomes slightly repetitive. Some of Garrett's items are largely useless (moss arrows) while others (flashbombs) make the game a little easy at times. Still, these are minor flaws. Thief: Deadly Shadows is a well crafted, polished stealth game and a worthy addition to the Thief series. With rumours of a fourth Thief game circulating, hopefully Ion Storm can maintain their high standards and deliver another absorbing adventure to the franchise.
Review by James Long © 2004 www.theorderofmidnight.blogspot.com