Thief: Deadly Shadows
When Looking Glass Studios shattered and fell apart in early 2000 it was Ion Storm who ghosted in to smuggle master thief, Garrett, away from the gallows. But there was to be no instant return to roofs and alleyways for the PC's most popular house-breaker. Despite LGS's designs and scripts for Thief 3 being in a fairly advanced stage, the priority for Ion Storm was Deus Ex.
So, Garrett's been skulking in the shadows ever since. It can't be easy standing still for that amount of time; taut muscles burning, breathing slowed to a minimum, resting heart rate virtually cryogenic - but like any good opportunist he's remained patiently poised until the moment to strike presents itself.
And that moment is here. Thief 3 has finally reached a playable form and guess who's had a cunning pre-E3 look? That's right, yours truly managed to sneak into areas where no other magazine dared go for a firsthand glimpse of the first-person action/stealth sequel Ion Storm thinks is going to be just as good as Deus Ex 2.
One of the major reasons for this belief lies in the use of latest Unreal technology. Now, while a lot of FPS fans have serious reservations over the actual gameplay of Unreal II, absolutely no one has argued against the engine itself, which, in all probability is about the most gorgeous-looking piece of programming around -and, crucially, makes for some lovely shadows. So, if you're Ion Storm and you've got cash to spend, and moreover your aim is to improve upon the fantastic atmosphere created by the original Dark Engine technology, then quite simply what else can you do but license the very best technology there is?
Still, that alone is no guarantee of success. Thankfully, the Thief series has always been more than just a set of nice looking levels. The first game, Thief: The Dark Project, was a tense, edgy thriller and the first real stealth-based FPS to appear on the PC. It's successor, Thief 2: The Metal Age, managed to innovate with some great mechanised inventions (like Garrett's mechanical eye) and improved enemy Al that not only sees you, but hears you too. Ultimately, the lure of both games is that if you play them properly, you can complete them without killing a single living thing. In this day and age that really is a rare and pleasant change.
T3's project director and lead designer. Randy Smith knows the third installment will have to possess the qualities that made the first two games so enjoyable.
The Thief 3 team is striving to strike the perfect balance between the two. Thief 3 will have the dark mood and grim atmosphere of Thief: The Dark Project while maintaining and evolving the action stealth gameplay that was emphasised in Thief II: The Metal Age."
Of course, Randy is underselling things a little here, as the opportunities for evolving' that gameplay are immense, especially given recent developments in real-world physics technology. Indeed, one of the most amazing things about 13 is the way you can manipulate the objects around you. Imagine - you're sniffing around a room you shouldn't be in and you hear footsteps coming up the corridor. Rather than panicking and jumping out the window into the moat, why not carefully push a table, barrel or anything you can get your thieving little mitts on across the door to block it? With any luck the over-curious guard will think the door is locked or jammed and leave you to your job.
This kind of interactivity is a double-edged sword of course - especially when mixed with the newly-honed Al. If you're lucky the not so determined guard will be duped by your trickery. If you're unlucky and that particular guard is doing his job properly, you might suddenly find the door crashing inwards with five Hammer guards standing in the doorway.
Let's Get Physical
The environments in Thief 3 are extremely detailed and highly responsive," affirms Smith. We're using the Havok physics engine, which means that objects bounce and collide very believably, and they make very realistic sounds when they do so, sounds which can be used to distract guards - or make them suspicious."
So, as previously mentioned, although it's now a lot easier to interact with more objects than either of the previous two Thief games, it's just as easy to be caught out by the game's agile realism. And it's not just sound and movement that's V benefited from this total overhaul.
A proud Randy Smith enthuses: We've got an advanced system to handle breakable objects, and you can watch objects fracture into their component parts, such as a barrel which breaks into boards and O-rings."
Don't think this is all just fancy aesthetics either. Once a barrel like this breaks up you can then pick up a bit of wood and knock out an enemy in the same way you might use a blackjack. Just like in the real world, what you do with objects you discover or create is limited only by your imagination.
Life's A Bitch
So, what about the story then? What new evil does our hero face this time? Well, to cut a long story.short, Garrett finds out from the Keepers (his old mentors) that a new Dark Prophecy is almost upon the City. Unsurprisingly Garrett's name seems to appear prominently in that prophecy. Being the wily fellow that he is, he decides that maybe this time he might actually take it seriously. After all, the last time he scoffed at the fanciful notions of the Keepers he ended up losing an eye. Thus the world-weary, cynical and downright selfish thief embarks on a quest to end these problems that plague his dreams of a quiet, uncomplicated life of plain old nicking stuff.
Yet. despite the main quest, T3 again retains the open-ended nature of its predecessors and presents a seductive list of potential targets to test your clandestine skills. Churches, castles, shops, dungeons, ancient ruins, banks, prisons, museums and mansions are all there for you to explore, break into and callously rob blind.
But let's not forget the basics either. Like Thief and Thief 2 there are plenty of doors, levers, buttons, lights, elevators and other objects that keep this busy world ticking over and feeling authentic. And. of course, Garrett as a master thief is constantly making use of his environment - whether it's squatting behind the furniture, climbing into the rafters, picking locks, or putting out torches, there's no shortage of ways to get into character'.
For us. getting into character invariably means spraying a variety of weird and wonderful arrows around the place. In fact, one of the things that always rather amused us was the moss arrow - used to create a soft, noiseless path across an otherwise percussive floor. Has Garrett finally sussed the idea of taking his tap dancing shoes off instead of firing this arrow into the floor? It's a question we put to Mr Smith who, after assuming we were taking the piss, simply reminded us that Garrett can tip-toe slowly across a room if he doesn't want to use his secret weapon.
Talking of secrets, we're sad to say the rest of the gadgets and weaponry in the game are also strictly under wraps at this stage. Our probing in this direction was met with a cheeky smile from Mr Smith and a rather unhelpful response of: We've put a lot of thought into broadening Garrett's toolkit and refining his trusty weapons and gadgets from the previous games. Make of that what you will, though close inspection of our screenshots may reveal a couple of available weapons...
Of course, Garrett has spent most of his life in the shadows and T3 presents no change in this department. In fact, due to the Unreal engine's capacity to squeeze out some fairly tasty volumetric real-time shadows, he spends more time than ever lurking with intent.
For example, we saw a guard holding a torch walk down a hallway with columns on either side. As the guard passed each column, long, stretching shadows were cast onto the floor and walls. Needless to say the effect is absolutely mind-blowing. In terms of gameplay it's pretty impressive too. Hiding behind one of the columns, you actually have to edge around the base of it to stay in the darkness.
In another area, a huge pendulum at the top of a clock tower casts a moving shadow on the floor as it swings back and forth. The only way Garrett can move from one side of the room to the other undetected is if he hugs the shape of the shadow as he shuffles along. It's incredible to behold, and yet staggeringly this is just the start of what you can achieve with T3's shadows.
One of the coolest ideas of the stealth system in Splinter Cell was the way you could (supposedly) change where shadows appeared and even create them yourself, though in effect this just meant shooting out light bulbs everywhere you went. Believe us when we say this idea is taken to a whole new level in Thief 3, with more direct control over light and shadow than we have ever seen before. If there's light streaming in through a window, you can actually stack furniture up against the window and watch the shadow slide across the room.
Hope In The Shadows
Garrett clearly has a lot to come to terms with, and fans of the series will be delighted at the amount of new stealth options rammed into the game. It's no wonder Ion Storm is just as excited about this as they are about Deus Ex 2. After seeing it for ourselves we fully understand why. The game looks sure to exceed the quality of the first two games combined - not bad when you consider that it wasn't so long ago the Thief series looked as doomed as the developer that gave birth to it - not to mention vastly extend the reach of stealth-based gameplay.
Rats The Size Of Horses
How Many Times Would A Guard Hear Your Elephant-Like Attempts At Stealth And Declare That It Must Have Been A Rat? Well, Those Days Are Gone...
The guards in Thief 3 will amaze you with their variety of clever responses and shrewd behaviour. For example, the Al's have increased ability to reason about their environment. They pay attention to and may decide to respond to open doors, extinguished torches, suspicious shadows and other evidence. They even notice when loot has been stolen or when their mates are missing.
They are also far more paranoid and suspicious than before. They search extremely thoroughly when they go into a room and will check everything from behind furniture to the inside of chimneys. Simply crouching in a corner and waiting for them to pass does not work. If a guard is coming your way in their sweep of the room, you have to double back to someplace they've already searched.
Truly these guys are MENSA candidates, and to outwit them you will have to be fleeter of foot than you can possibly imagine.
Download Thief: Deadly Shadows
Thief: Deadly Shadows lives up to its name, but it doesn't bring a whole lot new to a genre quickly become saturated with also-rans. In this latest thief you once more play as Garrett, a medieval thief who despite his apparently tremendous successes as a cutpurse, lives in a dive on the bad part of town.
The game sends you through a chain of missions where you have to steal specific items from well-guarded locations. The missions are all built around a loose and some what typical plot, but still remain interesting enough to be enjoyable. I have to say that in general I'm not a huge fan of stealth games. I prefer the more direct and much less intellectual route. But Thief: Deadly Shadows has done a really good job of making the stealth elements of the game enough fun to even captivate the typically run-and-gun fans.
The biggest way Thief: Deadly Shadows does this is the way the original did, by providing you with a relatively large assortment of tricks and gadgets so you can get the job done without being killed or killing. As another incentive to not take one on head-on, this latest Thief has replaced Garrett's sword with a dinky little knife and nearly completely stripped any skill from the head-to-head fighting elements of the game. I guess you could argue that this clunkier version of fighting was an unintentional side effect of the game's redesign, but I'd prefer to think of it as a clever and purposeful move.
Instead of fighting, you will spend most of your time trying to figure out the best way down hallways, through locked doors and around snoozing guards and castle gentry. Luckily for Garret and you, there are tons of tools to help you in your non-lethal larceny. You can use water and noise maker arrows to douse candles or attract attention elsewhere. Unfortunately, there are no rope arrows, instead you use climbing gloves. This isn't a huge deal, but it will likely rub some gamers the wrong way, especially if they were fans of the original. The other factor important to your stealth in the game is making sure you stay in the dark. This is accomplished by keeping a close eye on a gemstone that marks how much light you are in. By using the gemstone and your gadgets you can typically avoid most detection in a way that is a bit challenging and mostly fun.
The graphics are of course a vast improvement over the original, but that's not hard to do given the amount of time that passed between the release of the first and second game. The sound isn't quite as compelling as the upgraded look of the game. While it makes good use of ambient noise and a mood-setting music, the voice-overs are your typically over-acted fare.
While Thief: Deadly Shadows is one of the best stealth games I've ever played, I really can't get into the genre and I thought that the game could have done more with the fighting system. Overall, it's worth the time, but in my book it's no keeper.