Thief - The Dark Project

a game by Looking Glass Studios, Inc.
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 6.3/10, based on 2 reviews, 3 reviews are shown
User Rating: 8.0/10 - 1 vote
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Realism. Games developers are always banging on about realism. They're obsessed. Picture the scene: It's an average afternoon at Dennis Publishing. Everyone in the building is busy forging ahead with an exciting career in the cut-'n'-thrust, cut-'n'-paste world of magazine production. Every desk is an epicentre of efficiency, every floor a hive of industry. Except for the basement, that is, where the feckless slackers on PC ZONE are lounging in chairs, eating pies and having a new game demonstrated to them.

Yes, demonstrated. These days an increasing number of software houses aren't content to simply bung a pair of CDs in a jiffy bag and mail it our way. Oh no. They have to come in and personally test drive the game before our very eyes, as if we were children. Or simpletons. Or just too damn lazy to play it for ourselves. They know us too well.

Occasionally the program under scrutiny is glaringly rubbish, and an
embarrassing and awkward ceremony ensues wherein the games company PR droid asks uncomfortable W questions like What do w you think of it?", and the slacker tries to answer with some kind of vaguely positive. non-committal statement because if he spoke the truth right there W and then the droid would ry to stab himself to death A with a biro. Better to bottle it up and let it all flow out in the finished V article. The droid can biro his lungs out on his own sodding time.

Anyway, the only reason I a company sends in one of their glassy-eyed henchmen to demonstrate the code in the first place is so they can sit there and point out all the details. And this is where the obsession with realism starts to kick in.

Look at that flaming torch on the wall," they'll say, pointing at a clutch of pixels. Look, see - the shadows actually flicker." On-screen, they approach the torch for a closer look at the dancing shadows, and in the real world turn to check you're paying attention. See? See how they flicker?" And they stare at you until you nod.

Realism, realism, realism. Trouble is, while the visuals may be realistic, the action itself is absolute toon time; the authenticity fetish suddenly evaporates, and instead we're left with screenfuls of absurd gung-ho conflict, with severed arms and legs and heads and bullets and blood and laser rifles and hordes of slavering octopoid invaders from the planet Zaglon B. But hey, those shadows flicker.

What's this got to do with Thief? Everything. The makers of Thief are trying to create a 3D first-person perspective action-adventure game with realistic gameplay. Do they have a hope in hell? Probably not. But if anyone can pull it off, the guys from Looking Glass Studios can.

Watch Out. There's A Thief About

Looking Glass' track record is impressive (see CV panel, left): Ultima Underworld, System Shock, and Terra Nova - unconventional envelope-pushers, the lot of'em. While many developers are content to hurl the player into a 3D environment stuffed with bad guys, chainguns and ceaseless u mayhem, Looking Glass have always done things differently, concentrating instead on concentrating instead on storyline, atmospherics and pacing.

Thief carries on that tradition. The concept is simple: when all's said and done, it's a game in which you play a slippery little bastard. You take the role of Garrett, a seedy ne'er-do-well who makes a living offering his services in exchange for money. Our hero is well versed in the art of petty criminal I behaviour - sneaking around, skulking in the shadows, smacking people on the back of the head, pinching stuff then legging it - and therein lurks the bulk of the gameplay.

A typical level requires you to break into an opulent mansion and pilfer a precious artefact. Easy peasy. Except the place is a) quite big, and b) regularly patrolled by guards. So what do you do? You've got some weapons - a sword, a blackjack and a bow and arrow - but there's lots of guards and only one of you, and this isn't Duke Nukem; run in the front door waving a sword around and they'll be all over you like fat men in a cake shop.

So rather than cantering headlong into each location, weapon drawn, you are encouraged to walk on tiptoes, preferably in the dark and on a soft surface; slip in the back way; keep in the shadows. Should you encounter a guard, the best course of action is to sneak past or take him out quietly by whopping him on the back of the skull with a blackjack. You can whip out your sword and attempt to carve him into chunks small enough to stir fry in a spider's wok, but that's the last resort. Aside from the hideous brutality of such action, it's also noisy; someone might hear the struggle and come looking for you. An altogether classier - and quieter - option is to use your bow and arrow to eliminate him from a distance.

Shoot That Poison Arrow

Once he's laid out on the floor, sling his body over your shoulder and dump it somewhere inconspicuous to prevent anyone from coming across his sprawling corpse and subsequently raising the alarm. And so on and so forth.

The game starts slowly, but once you're in the thick of things Thief is genuinely nerve-jangling. If you're clumsy, death comes quickly - a few quick hacks from a rival sword and it's curtains. Knowing your life hangs in the balance each time you tread on a creaky floorboard helps keep the mind surprisingly keen. Sound effects are an all-important staple of the gameplay - all the characters can hear. Not only does a careless footfall alert the bad guys to your presence, it also alerts you to theirs. Often you have to rely on your sense of hearing to work out the whereabouts of the guards as they pad about - make sure your speakers are wired up the right way round.

One particularly neat feature is the Cpeer round the corner' key, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Being able to poke your head round and have a quick butcher's down the corridor can save your life on countless occasions; although there's nothing more unnerving than finding yourself staring eyeball to eyeball at an equally surprised guard. So there you go. It's all shaping up to be an exhilarating experience, if nothing else.

What You Mean. But ?

Now. Let's go back to that whole Crealism' thing. It's all very well having ultra-realism when it enhances the gameplay and makes it more believable and therefore involving - but if the entire thing were naught but an exercise in everyday life emulation, Thief would be... well, dog-piss dull. Thankfully, it isn't. While on the whole it presents a far more believable environment than, say, Duke Nukem, there are also occasions where it feels about as true to life as Ivor The Engine. Example: for some reason, Garrett is equipped with special Cmagic' arrows which do special Cmagic' things. There's a Cwater arrow' which is used for dousing lanterns (thereby enabling you to pass by in total darkness), and a Cmoss arrow' which muffles the sound of your footsteps. Now, at the risk of sounding like a gaggle of pedantic, sneering shitcakes, wouldn't a kind ofCwater balloon' thing make more sense than an arrow? And if you wanted to walk around silently for a moment, wouldn't you simply slip off your shoes? Still, as long as they don't feel contrived and out of place, like they're plugging a hole in the game design, we'll let it go. Besides, shooting arrows into an enemy's lughole is... well... fun. Remember fun? Thought so.

Speaking of fun, the behaviour of the enemy guards is hilarious. In most respects, they're scarily true-to-life. While on duty, they behave impeccably: they stand around whistling or muttering to themselves, fidgeting and pacing around in a faintly bored manner, and generally doing little in the way of actual guarding, just like the real thing. But occasionally their behaviour veers from the believable to the ridiculous within milliseconds, in a manner so disconcertingly schizophrenic that you start to question their sanity.

Let's say you accidentally make a sound, at which point a nearby guard might shout: Who goes there? -which is nerve-jangling and pantplopping and all of that. Then moments later the same guard lightens the mood somewhat by saying aloud, in the hammiest manner imaginable: Oh, 1 must be imagining things. What is this? Pantomime? You half expect to turn around and see Jim Davidson, dressed as Buttons, performing a comic turn. Perhaps you might even ready your sword in anticipation, dribbling at the prospect of hacking his legs off below the knee, then stamping up and down on his arrogant little face until his eyeballs burst all over your shoes. Pantomime or not, it's a laugh and a half when they catch you.

Funnier still is the way they all speak with a bizarre approximation of the English accent, reminiscent of Dick Van Dyke's infamous star turn in Mary Poppins and equally hilarious. Mind you, Van Dyke never started cussing, the way the Thief guards start hurling insults at you once it all kicks off. Not content to be simply amusing, the guards absolute devils to hide from. Skulking around in the darkness while an unaware guard stomps by, absentmindedly mumbling to himself is a uniquely tense gaming experience that you won't find anywhere else.

Drunk And Disorderly

So. All in all, it's an intriguing prospect. We can't wait to get our hands on the finished version - especially since the preview version has a weird control setup. As Thief s gameplay relies on careful, precise manoeuvring, it was oddly frustrating to discover that the preview version came with a bizarre, unchangeable control system. Here at ZONE we're fussy. We like our Y axis reversed when we're mouseketeering through a Quake-alike. But since there was no option to do this, we spent most of our time in the world of Thief staring at our shoes, or the ceiling, or the wall, or basically just about anywhere other than where we intended to. In fact, it was a bit like that walk you do when you're tired and you've had far too much to drink, and you alternate between trying to loll your head back to rest on your shoulders, and leaning forward to vomit all over the floor. Not the ideal state for cat burglary, basically. Unless you're a scouser, in which case you're probably: a) a genuine burglar, and b) perpetually drunk anyway, in which case congratulations - this is your life.

Anyway, since you'll be able to fully customise the controls in the full version, until they fit you like a glove, that last bit was irrelevant. Oh, and we apologise if you are a scouser (even though you probably stole this mag to read it -assuming you can read). Sorry. We were ranting. Thief: The Dark Project is out later this year, and it will probably rock bells. Just don't go pinching our copy, okay?

Don't Have Nightmares

How Thief could have been a gritty documentary of a game.

It's all well and good creating a game about stealth and evasion and sneaking around on tippy-toes putting other people's property in your pockets, but here at ZONE we can't help thinking that the makers of Thief have missed out on a golden opportunity.

The problem is this: Thief is set in a sort of quasi-historic fantasy environment in which 19th century technology mingles with medieval imagery - a world of chainmail and brass pipes, cobblestones and wooden beams. Fine If you like that sort of thing. But it could have been set In the suburbs of any average British city. Ihiro, say, or perhaps Nottingham or Derby. Why would that be any better? Because the game features loads of burglary, dumbo, and, let's face it, a suburban burglary simulator would be one big fat laugh.

Instead of calling it Thief, they could call it The Criminal Adventures Of Darren Piss: The Nihilistic Teenage Crackhead Who Doesn't Give A Flying F... About Anyone Or Anything, Especially Your Sodding Property, and replace the existing missions with a series of everyday yet equally nerve-racking burglaries: breaking and entering; hiding Inside cupboards; pilfering videos; accidentally smashing treasured family heirlooms; turning drawers inside out in search of petty cash; taking a crap in the centre of the carpet... The list goes on and on. Fantastic entertainment. They could even scan in the faces of the cast of The Bill and have them turning up as polygonal policemen to arrest you if you mess up. Although doing Bob Cryer's nose Justice might prove tricky. Anyway, they should scrap the entire game and redo it like what we says, bastards, bastards, bastards.

Download Thief - The Dark Project

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

This promises to be a first-person shooter with a difference, the emphasis being on stealth and every as opposed to running around the place at the speed of gftt, mindlessly blasting everything you come across.

The introduction of this tactical element should inject a much reeded breath of fresh air into a oenre that seems to have become cosessed with 'emulating' Quake 2s every element or ripping off 02 "lock, stock and barrel", as our man Mallo would have it.

Thief is the first game to use the Dark engine, which the game's designers claim is extremely versatile, enabling them to create a fluid, ever-changing environment, unlike what could be done using more conventional game engines.

Objects in the game have real physics, with flammable objects catching fire and heavy objects having real mass, enabling you to use them for blocking doors, or throwing at people if you get bored. Considering Thief is being developed by Looking Glass (the people behind Ultima Underworld and System Shock, there is every reason to get incredibly excited about this game.

This isn't the easiest of jobs, you know. Contrary to popular belief, we don't just spend all our time 'playing kids' games' and getting paid for it. Games like Thief: The Dark Project are the source of constant headaches and stress-related car fatalities, in this instance because every time I play the thing my opinion of it changes. You try writing an authoritative review under those circumstances.

It's not as drastic a swing as going from good to crap in the amount of time it takes for Carol Vorderman's contract-signing pen to emerge from her pocket, but it is the kind of annoying swing that makes me hesitate between awarding a Classic or a mere Recommended. But let's come to that in a moment...

But First...

Thief is the tale of Garrett, a hardbitten footpad in a semi-medieval fantasy world. A simple burglary results in you being contacted by a mysterious client who is searching for a mysterious artefact, pursued by a mysterious religious sect and protected by a mysterious group of benefactors.

The unique trick that Thief brings to the first-person action game party is that unlike most games in the genre, you're not asked to wade into room after room of bad guys, killing everything in sight. On the contrary, a thief needs to avoid being seen or heard, and that's what you have to achieve here. The NPCs have astonishing levels of realistic behaviour, and the tension created when you find yourself crouching in a darkened corner while a guard walks by muttering about his job, or when you accidentally drop a plate on to a stone floor with a loud clatter and hear someone in the room next door say "Did you hear something?" is almost unbearable. The sound adds a whole new level of realism to the game and boosts that whole 'total immersion' thing to previously unattained levels. This is an aspect of the engine that really should be heeded by the rest of the genre and utilised in the future. It's that's good.

Good And Evil

But there is a problem, the one alluded to at the start. Thief is both excellent and annoying in equal measures. It spends the first couple of levels setting up something creative and unique to the world of first-person 3D action games, then spoils it all by resorting to the usual array of zombies, spider creatures, demons and so on that inhabit every other game set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world. Tension is paramount during the first burglary, with sneaking, sniping and stealing in equal, addictive measures, unlike the usual gung-ho approach normally favoured by games in this over-crowded genre. Indeed, the mission objectives on the harder difficulty levels forbid you to kill anyone.

But then, barely one level later, the zombies turn up and things quickly degenerate into the standard hack 'n' slash, sub-Conan sort of thing that Heretic, Hexen and a million others gave us. Hopes that this is a momentary lapse seem to be founded as the haunted mines give way to a gloomy prison area, but then the very next level throws you back into the rotting arms of the undead as you're told to infiltrate a haunted crypt. And it keeps happening. After the crypt come another couple of enjoyable burglary sessions, which is then dragged down by a townful of zombies and demons in the next part. As is their wont, the undead just keep coming back, level after level, slightly marring what is otherwise a very different and very enjoyable kind of first-person action game.

What would have been better? Perhaps more flexing of the originality muscle by exploring the world of the thief, rather than just creating a game that boils down to a slower, darker Hexen II? The ordinary burglaries are some of the most well-designed and absorbingly playable levels ever encountered in a first-person game, and it's a shame more wasn't made of this. What it amounts to is an erosion of the storytelling skills that Looking Glass once had. Back in the Ultima Underworld days, they combined technical prowess with a superb balance of action and drama, and you can't help but feel that had Warren Spector been as in charge now as he was then, things would have been somewhat different.

Bang To Rights

Other than that, Thief is easily one of the best games of its type to come along in a good long while. Because of the slower pace and less combat-oriented nature of the game, it almost crosses boundaries at times, becoming more adventure game than action (especially In this new 3D adventure game world). It's not quite on the same level as Half-Life, for instance - but then what is? - and there are a few odd quirks that leave you curious: for example, why no multiplayer? It is nice to see a game of this type concentrate so hard on producing a satisfying singleplayer game, but the idea of a multiplayer sneak and snipe test really appeals. You could even do a sort of fantasy game of Tag: one person has a money bag, and the others have to sneak up and steal it from him. That sort of thing. Well, perhaps. The bottom line though, despite worries at the start, is a simple one: Thief is a bloody good game. It's really well-designed, and only a few faults with the storyline pull it down. If you can live with the overabundance of rotting undead, you're in for a treat. The story also leaves itself open for an obvious sequel, so hopefully Looking Glass will take the opportunity to explore the uniqueness of the engine a little more then. Plus we hear that System Shock2 will be using it, and that one should be really special. We hope.

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