Thief - The Dark Project
|a game by||Looking Glass Studios, Inc.|
|Editor Rating:||6.3/10, based on 2 reviews|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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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.
Download Thief - The Dark Project
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...
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.