Review by Dorkmaster Flek
"The thinking man's shooter, and one hell of a great game."
Welcome to The City. A game like Thief: The Dark Project does not come along often. By that, I mean a game that breaks the rules and challenges you to think differently than you're used to. Thief can best be described as a first person sneaker, because while you will undoubtedly shoot at things, you won't be doing it nearly as often as you would in other FPS games. You also won't be slaughtering your way through armies of NPCs standing between you and the exit either. No, Thief is much slower, much more unnerving and yes, much more intense.
The background of Thief is that you play the character Garett. When Garett was a young boy, he lived on the streets stealing whatever he could to stay alive. Taken in by a mysterious secret order known as the Keepers, whose job it is to maintain balance with the City's local fanatical religious order the Hammerites, Garett's natural talents for thievery were honed into greatness. Garett eventually fell from the Keepers' path and, much to their dismay, left the order to use his new skills to make a profitable living for himself on the backs of those more fortunate (the game begins with you swiping a valuable sceptre from a wealthy nobleman). But all is not well and the Keepers are watching Garett, for he has a part to play in the events that will unfold soon...
Presentation-wise, Thief absolutely soars. The game has such an undeniable and unique style to it. Everything from the gameplay concepts to the settings of the missions to the story and the shadowy (and extremely cool) hand drawn cinematics and mission briefings absolutely oozes style. With great (and well acted!) dialogue and tons of little flavour details (like passages of text at the beginning of the mission briefings and books and parchments scattered around the levels) Thief really succeeds at immersing you in the world of its fantastic blend of medieval style and fantasy elements. You'll want to keep playing just to advance the story along.
The gameplay principles are fairly straightforward, but come with their subtle difficulties. Armed with your sword, your blackjack and your bow, you must break into whatever place it is you're trying to break into and swipe whatever it is you're trying to swipe, while trying to take as much loot with you as you can in the process. There are some minor variations on this theme, but by and large you'll be spending the vast majority of your time sneaking around. This doesn't mean you'll be bored though! Quite the contrary, you'll be on edge pretty much the entire time.
You see being a thief, Garett isn't particularly good with a sword, or confrontational combat in general for that matter. Sure he can swing with some force and probably take on a single guard without too much trouble, but rarely will you have the chance to confront a single guard and cut him down without alerting other nearby guards. This is bad, because you stand absolutely no chance in a firefight. Instead, you must stick to the shadows and do what Garett does best: hide. Fortunately, the developers included a light indicator at the bottom of the screen. The brighter the indicator, the more exposed you are. If it's completely dark, you're basically invisible to the guards. This doesn't mean you'll never attack anything (quite untrue), it just means you must be extremely selective about when and how you engage the enemy so your cover isn't blown.
This is where your bow comes in handy. There are several different types of arrows at your disposal for different situations. By far the most useful, and most used, is the water arrow. This arrow can be used to douse the various torches that light most of the areas, creating ample shadows for you to hide in, as well as cleaning up the spilt blood of your enemies so the other guards don't raise alarm. The moss arrow will create a patch of moss where it lands, creating a soft surface that will make no noise when you walk on it. Again, very useful as the solid metal, wood and tile surfaces will make plenty of noise to attract visitors when moving too quickly across them. Noisemaker arrows can be used to distract enemies, and rope arrows can (and will most definitely) be used to subtly get to higher ground.
You have plain old broadhead arrows at your disposal as well. This can be used as a distraction, but are primarily a means of attack. Speaking of which, guards can be taken down with a shot (or two depending on the difficulty) to the head, but this is both messy and noisy. You'll probably need to clean up the blood with a water arrow if you use this method, and that means one less torch you can douse when you need to. A much better alternative for guards is your blackjack. A single blow to an unaware guard will knock them out cold, quickly and silently. Of course, regardless of which method of subduing you select you'll probably have to move the body to an out of the way place, preferably a poorly lit one.
The other types of arrows are more specialized. There are exploding arrows which are great for taking down non-human threats (more on these in a bit...) and gas arrows which create a cloud of knockout gas. These can be used on human targets, but you'd be wise to save them for more the aforementioned non-human threats. Of those, you'll have some fairly dangerous beasts called burrocks that should be avoided if possible, and a few types of undead enemies.
There are zombies, which are very slow and easy to run from. You can chop them down with your sword, but you'll probably take a hit or two in the process and they'll be getting up again shortly. Fortunately, you can buy vials of holy water prior to the mission, and there are also fonts of holy water in some levels. When activated, they turn your water arrows into holy water arrows for a brief time, allowing the undead enemies to be killed. The other type of undead you'll encounter are the haunts. These are wraiths of sorts, the animated corpses of dead Hammerites. They are unnaturally fast in both movement and with their swords, making them absolutely deadly to engage without holy water.
Now if you thought sneaking around a mansion hiding from guards was tense, you haven't experienced anything yet. Because you generally have the volume turned up (or headphones on) to listen for guards, you really get immersed in the ambiance noise. You want to hear the guards footsteps as he approaches before he turns the corner to find you. Well you'll always know when the haunts are coming because you'll hear rattling chains and some extremely creepy voices. Sneaking around avoiding guards is pretty tense to begin with, but the undead missions in Thief were honestly some of the most nerve-racking gaming experiences I have ever had, to the point where I had trouble playing these missions at night, largely because of these guys.
Speaking of missions, the levels in Thief are big. Very big. Big to the point of taking me two and a half hours to finish a single mission on expert mode. The locations are also incredibly varied. You'll explore the mansion of a noble, a maze of underground tombs, a destroyed (and haunted) section of the city, and many others. The fact that the sneaking gameplay doesn't get repetitive is largely a credit to the gigantic and very well designed levels. More than anything, the size just helps to immerse you even more in the game.
You can select the difficulty before each mission, and the easiest difficulty is called normal. That should tell you something. Thief is a game that actually benefits from replaying because the hard and expert modes not only make the game itself harder, but they add new objectives to each mission and in some cases actually open new areas of the map. Playing on expert also forbids you from killing any human guards (non-human threats are still fair game however). The fan community has also invented a style they refer to as ghosting in which the objective is to clear the mission on expert without being seen or engaging any enemies at all.
And speaking of the fans, Thief and its sequel enjoy an extremely devout following. In fact, it was due to this small but very vocal following that the editor for the game was originally released at all. This has resulted in a large repository of fan made missions, some of which are just as good if not better than the original missions. You can visit sites like www.thief-thecircle.com and www.ttlg.com to find everything you'll need to play these fan missions.
Graphically speaking, Thief isn't quite a site to behold these days. The models are not extremely detailed and the physics aren't anything crazy. However the levels themselves are impressive because of their size and scale, as well as the huge amount of detail put into them. When the game first came out, it was impressive, but the real winner here is the lighting and shadows. Because the gameplay absolutely depended on this aspect, they nailed it. The directional lighting and shadows are handled extremely well for a game 7 years old. The other big winner here is the sound. Thief uses Creative's EAX system to great effect, which is very important because the sound is actually integral to the gameplay. You haven't played Thief until you've played it in surround sound.
For me, Thief was an absolutely incredible game, one of my all time favourites. Do yourself a favour and pick this one up if you find it. It's bound to be cheap since it's old. One thing to point out is that they released a second version of the game called Thief Gold that contains 3 extra missions that were cut from the original game. If you're going to pick this game up, the Gold version is definitely the one to get. The extra missions are very good and actually add quite a bit of gameplay since they can take quite some time to begin with. Anyone who's looking for something different than the next Doom or Quake clone would do well to check out Thief. It remains to this day one of the best games I've ever played.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/24/06
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