Thief 2 - The Metal Age
|a game by||Looking Glass Studios, Inc.|
|Editor Rating:||6.5/10, based on 1 review|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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About 18 months ago Thief: The Dark Project blew us away. However, it wasn't rocket launchers, miniguns, plasma rifles and all that childish tomfoolery that tickled our fancy.
No, no, no - that would be too easy. Thief managed to stun us all into appreciative silence by turning the first-person perspective action game on its head: Thief controversially encouraged players to avoid combat, concentrating instead on sneaking about stealing other peoples' belongings.
For some, this was just plain boring. For others, Thief was a breath of fresh air and a benchmark in gaming realism. The only thing it lacked was the ability to nick a car and ram raid it into the nearest Post Office. That aside, Thief pioneered a new genre. What genre? The 'sneak 'em up'.
Thief II: The Metal Age continues where Thief left off. Garrett has vanquished the Trickster and the town has moved into a more prosperous era. Royalty and nobility lord it up on a daily basis, while Sheriff Gormon Truart keeps crime at a virtually non-existent level; the slightest hint of criminal activity and guards swoop in to administer instant decapitation.
The trouble is with all these rich folk poncing about there's a lot of loot lying around just waiting to be pilfered, so any self-respecting thief will take the risk to reap the rewards. Our Garrett is no exception, except for him things are slightly different: for some unknown reason the new Sheriff wants him dead.
Gratitude for saving the town from Pagan rule one year ago doesn't even enter into this vile policeman's head. Garrett won't stand for it, of course, so he sets off to discover why his head is wanted on a plate. One thing leads to another and it's not long before our master thief stumbles into a plot of corruption and betrayal that goes beyond mere thief persecution.
Once again, politics play a huge part in the story. The game contains three main rival groups; the mysterious Keepers; a technological sect known as the Mechanists; and the Pagans. Their contempt for each other runs deep, so as far as sub-plots go, expect plenty.
Thief II does contain one very welcome change from the original: you can forget about zombies, ghouls and all that other undead lark. Looking Glass has decided to keep Thief II 'real', as project director Steve Pearsall explains: "Garrett will be operating mostly in die city itself, so the missions will be set in more of an urban setting. You'll see missions in places you'd expect to find in a city - mansions, museums, banks, warehouses and churches."
That's a huge relief for those of us who found ourselves floundering in the underground crypt stage on the original game. Furthermore, Thief II spans 15 gargantuan stages. Associate producer Lulu Lamer jokingly implies that one particular level is almost as big as the whole of the original game. A slight exaggeration possibly, yet playing the single level demo on this month's cover disc will give you an idea of what she's getting at.
There's also a hell of a lot more variety this time round. Instead of simply ninning around nicking stuff, you can get involved in a whole host of nefarious sidelines. One stage sees our world-weary thief plan and execute an after-hours bank robbery, and you can also try your hand at framing somebody for a crime they didn't commit. If that's not devious enough for you, how about kidnapping someone? Interestingly, you also get the chance to sneak aboard and stow away on an enemy boat. And in a strange twist of fate, you're also called upon to investigate a murder site. Poirot anyone?
Basically, there's an entire city at your disposal, almost every major building in the game plays an important part in the story at one point or another. And, as you can see from playing the demo, you can traverse the entire city via the rooftops, or as it's known in the trade - 'the thieves' highway'.
Its Dark Out There
Thief II uses the third revision of the Dark Engine. The second version was used in System Shock 2 incidentally, so graphically things look pretty hot, if a little on the dark side. And get your head around this spark of brilliance: you can actually hide in the fog. This is a world first, and rest assured it's a spine-tingling experience. Imagine it: you're hiding in the mist, you can see out, but your enemies can't see in. Talk about a thiefs best friend. The potential for mischief is limitless.
As in the original game a 'lightometer' at the bottom middle of the screen informs you how visible you are to prying eyes. When the meter is dark you are safe and cannot be seen. When it lights up you are visible and in danger of being rumbled. There are no changes at all in that department apart from the fact that the light density spectrum has increased, meaning there are even more levels of shade. You'll also notice the appearance of coloured lighting, something that was strangely absent from the original game. Another little quirk of inspiration comes in the form of variable translucency. In other words, expect to see muddy water as well as crystal clear water. Yet again this has the potential to help some of the more cunning thieves, especially if you can find a way to stay underwater for a long time...
As a special bonus Looking Glass has used the cloud routines from the Flight Unlimited series to create an authentic-looking sky. And guess what? They've also gone and put bloody weather in there as well. Rain lashes down (or even sideways due to some cool wind physics), as does snow. Certainly one thing we never counted on was being caught in a blizzard. Is there nothing these guys can't do?
Another pleasing, yet underrated, aspect of the original was the wonderful use of sound. Amazingly this has been improved upon. Guards mutter even more gibberish to themselves, and shout more absurdities while trying to detect you. You can also eavesdrop on private conversations, many of which contain important clues as to the whereabouts of valuable items and other stuff.
You can even listen at doors and windows to find out if anyone's lurking behind them. Much of the banter is actually quite amusing, it's almost as if the developers have decided that if we're going to have to listen to this medieval drivel, we might as well be amused by it. Ambient sound has also been improved. Music from street performers wafts through alleyways, and the clamour of a busy marketplace echoes across the rooftops. Thief II could well be an acoustic masterpiece.
Together We Steal
So what about that elusive multiplayer mode? Rumour had it that Thief II was going to attempt the impossible and actually have a few thieves running around the same environment. At this point, Steve Pearsall makes his excuses: "Even though we have a multiplayer mode working in the engine and have some test multiplayer levels up and running, we have decided to hold off on shipping any multiplayer levels with Thief 2."
So what's the problem exactly? "We think we can add a new twist to multiplayer play just as we did to single-player first-person gaming with Thief, but we don't have the resources to do a new kind of multiplayer and ship a finely tuned single-player game at the moment," says Pearsall.
Shame really, but you've got to take your hats off to the Looking Glass bods: rather than release a dodgy version, they're holding back until they get it just right. In the long run that's probably for the best, because that can only mean Thief III is already in the pipeline... In the meantime, we can reveal that the multiplayer option will be co-op rather than deathmatch, and that gameplay will focus on joint puzzle solving. For instance, you may come across a room with two guards, both of them standing next to alarms. In order to get past said guards you need to kill them at exactly the same time, so that the other guard doesn't raise the alarm. In other words, each player takes a guard. So there you have it, Thief III - you heard it here first. Which brings us nicely around to the AI. Once again, we presume you're going to play this month's demo. Doing so will reveal to you the frightening intelligence bestowed upon the city's inhabitants: normal citizens seem to have a heightened sense of panic that always sends them running for the nearest guard. When a guard hears of the intrusion, he'll dash instantly to where you were spotted and attempt to nobble you.
They don't give up easily either, and some guards are better with a bow and arrow than they are with a sword. The moment they spot your greasy, dank hair flopping round the comer of a wall, they'll open up with a lethal salvo of arrows. Still, the abundance of archers means you can steal arrows straight out of their quiver - assuming you can get close enough of course.
There are also some very strange and interesting servants wandering about...
Automated drone things, constructed by the technologically advanced Mechanists, wander about doing their master's bidding. Some of these drones are only able to see and some are only able to hear, which adds a new curious dimension to the gameplay, especially when there's a mixture of both in one room and you have to employ a kind of softly, softly, flash bomb approach to get through.
And if all that's not enough, there are also security cameras to deal with. Worse still, there are huge mechanical beasts that seem to have taken a wrong turn off the set of Robocop. If these behemoths spot you it's goodnight Garrett.
If you thought the first game was tough (and most gnarled gamers did), you really haven't seen anything yet. If you take the difficulty of Thief and multiply it by six billion you're getting close to Thief II.
Yes, developers can be cruel, but they can also offer a semblance of light at the end of tunnel. In this particular case it's the new weapons and gadgets that are at your disposal. Most notable of all is Garrett's mechanical eye. Remember in the first game when the Trickster ripped our hero's eye out? Well, in a startling bit of continuity, Looking Glass has given the new improved eye a few Steve Austin-type bionic powers.
This neat little gizmo can be thrown, dropped or placed in various locations to give Garrett a sneak peek of what's up the next corridor or room. It can also flip between normal, night and heat vision. You can zoom in and have a closer look at certain situations, and it also has a built-in automatic distance compensation for the bow. Whether this is some kind of auto-targeting system is unknown at this stage because it's still not implemented, so we'll just have to wait and see. Sounds good, though.
So What Else? Much More...
There are some brilliant new explosive devices, such as standard mines and gas mines that knock out anyone in the vicinity. Flares also come into play, so you can see exactly where you're going, even in complete darkness. Looking Glass has also promised some amendments on the lock-picking aspect of the gameplay. But once again this is something that Looking Glass is still in the process of tweaking, so we've yet to see the results of that particular innovation. Sadly, it looks as though the much maligned moss arrow will stay, however, more arrows will now be available, including vine arrows, which stick to surfaces other than wood or earth. A new invisibility potion will be a helpful addition for beginners and finally a 'catfall' potion can be used to fall or jump from massive heights.
We have extremely high hopes for Thief II: The Metal Age, as you've probably gathered from this massive six-page preview. And, OK, we've already mentioned it a couple of times, but if you don't believe the hype, why not try out the demo? Remember, it's just an alpha version and a lot of the shadows and textures still have to be smoothed, but that aside, we're sure you'll find it impressive. All you have to do now is wait until next month for the full review.
Until then, try crawling across the rooftops of your own hometown, or rubbing black shoe polish over your hands and face and flitting from one dark alleyway to the next. Yo never know, you mivht able to break into y local game and steal a copy.
Then again, perhaps not - stealing is illegal. Didn't you know?