Review by bhamv
"Atmospheric... oh so very spooky, and fun, and ATMOSPHERIC"
You crouch in a narrow sliver of shadow between two lit torches. The strip of darkness is barely wide enough to conceal you from enemy eyes, but you dare not move. Footsteps against ceramic tiles echo down the hallway, the rhythmic paces getting louder and louder as a guard approaches. Your hands tighten around your blackjack, your eyes unblinkingly watching the approaching man, who holds a gleaming long sword in his hand. You take in his every movement, warily watching for a change in his demeanor, terrified that he would glimpse an unusual shape in the shadows and suddenly go on the alert, and begin peering into every corner.
The guard continues on his patrol, coming closer and closer... then he passes right in front of you, his armored thigh nearly brushing the tip of your nose as he walks by. You could reach up, slam your blackjack against the back of his head and knock him out cold, but you dare not move for fear of betraying your position. Echoing footsteps start to fade as the man walks away, having completely failed to notice your presence, and finally turns a corner and goes out of sight. And you let out a breath you've been holding for the last ten minutes.
This is the sort of game that Thief is. It's a game in the first-person point of view, but unlike most other FP games you do very little shooting. Instead, you hide in shadows, ambushing enemies when they least suspect it, and when the coast is clear you loot whatever valuables you can find. Many adjectives have been used to describe Thief, but the one that works best is simply ''atmospheric''. The game will evoke terror, tension, joy, and humor in you as you play. It's an experience unmatched by any other game, on any format.
At the time of writing (December 2003) Thief is several years old. Its graphics tend to appear dated in some places, with low polygon counts and rough textures. However, while playing the game you do not feel the graphics are sub-par, as they serve their purpose admirably. As treading on different materials makes different sounds, being able to differentiate between surfaces at a glance is essential; you'll want to walk on soft carpet when available, and not hard stone. In addition, Garrett (the main character who you play as) prefers to stick to shadows, so you'll need to determine just which areas are darkest. Different enemy types are easily distinguished, so there's no chance of you mistaking a dangerous guard for a helpless servant, for example.
The locations presented in the game contribute to the atmospheric gameplay mentioned earlier. Settings range from haunted cathedrals to cavernous ruins to luxurious mansions. Overall, the graphics are good, useful and moody, despite being slightly out of date.
It would not be an overstatement to say that sound is the most important aspect of Thief. When hiding in complete darkness, Garrett needs to rely on his ears to tell him if danger has passed. The game uses surround sound to amazing effect (wear headphones, good ones, for maximum audio pleasure), and you find yourself immersed in a symphony of information. Footsteps change in volume and direction as their owners move around, characters talk and converse while you eavesdrop, and sometimes guards even shout insults at you as they try to disembowel you. As mentioned earlier, an important part of sneaking around is determining where you put your feet. Moss, leaves, and carpet are quiet or even silent to step on, but metal, tile, and stone can result in loud footsteps, which will tell everyone in the vicinity the fact that you're nearby. The music also pops in at times, contributing to the atmosphere of the game, letting you know when you've encountered someplace you should be nervous in.
Thief uses a fairly typical FPS control scheme by default, a combination of mouse and keyboard. The mouse changes the direction you face, and the two mouse buttons use items or weapons. The keyboard controls front-back movement and strafing, as well as other important moves such as jumping and ducking. There are two forward speeds in Thief, running and walking; the former being noisier but faster, the latter quieter but slower. While crouching allows you to move under objects, it also adds further silence to your movements at an additional sacrifice to speed. Thus, when you want to be at your most sneaky, you crouch and walk, but when you want to sprint away from pursuers you stand up and run. The keyboard is also used to select one of nine different weapons, as well as the various tools Garrett has at his disposal (lock picks, flash bombs, healing potions etc).
Overall the controls are useful. They serve their purpose well.
Thief plunges you pretty much right into the middle of a quasi-medieval fantasy world, where magic and aristocracy rule over the helpless and poor. Like Tolkien with his novels or George Lucas with his films, you are thrown right into the middle of a rich and detailed universe, and the particulars of your newfound world are revealed gradually. The initial levels appear to simply be stand-alone missions where you loot everything you can, but little clues scattered around begin to show a bigger picture. Here's a letter about the zombie infestation in a certain part of town... there's a note about a mysterious presence in the streets... Slowly but surely you uncover each piece of the puzzle, and by the final few levels you realize it's all been one cleverly linked tale.
As the title of the game might suggest, a good portion of Thief's gameplay involves purloining items which might not have belonged to you to start with. Each level is absolutely massive, and you'll spend hours in each one sniffing in every corner, trying to spot that elusive glint of gold or jewel. However, levels almost always come with further objectives you must achieve in order to progress; they vary from ''steal a special object'' to ''retrieve an artifact you'll need for the next level'' to ''rescue a friend'' to ''escape this deathtrap with your life''. Missions are varied, so rarely will you find yourself doing the same thing twice.
As the game title is ''Thief'' and not ''Murderer'', killing other people is actually highly discouraged in this game. Indeed, at higher difficulty levels, the mission objectives explicitly forbid you from taking a person's life. This isn't simply due to an in-game respect for human life; a kill is an unwieldy thing. First you have to find something to do with the corpse. Secondly you must deal with any bloodstains that might have resulted from the slaughter. And thirdly, when someone dies he or she will give off a loud scream (I'd imagine getting shot through the chest with an arrow could be unpleasant) which will alert others enemies in the area.
A much better option is to render your enemy unconscious. By knocking him or her out, you can simply toss the body into a dark corner where no one will see it, and be on your way. No bloodstains, no sound, and no heavy conscience weighing you down.
Of course, this only applies to humans. There are many other enemy types in the game, such as giant spiders, craymen, gas-spitting lizards called Burricks, and zombies. Oh how I hate zombies. Never in a game, not even one of the Resident Evil series, have I been so scared of zombies. In Resident Evil, the zombies don't pursue you all over the place, but in Thief they're relentless. As long as there's a path to you, the zombies will swarm all over until they find it, and then you're in trouble. They're as hard to destroy as you'd imagine zombies would be. And when you hear their unearthly moans and watch them shuffle towards you with their signature gait... well, you'd better have a spare pair of undies handy.
Thief is a challenging game. Even on the easiest difficulty levels, you will want to save often, as mistakes can be very unforgiving. A misjudged jump, a misdirected arrow, or a forgotten path, all of these can result in the level becoming impossible to complete. An element of luck is involved in places; when you open a door, will the guard on the other side be facing in your direction, or will he have his back to you? And if he does see you, what will he choose to do? Fight you one-on-one, or run off and sound the alarm? This element of randomness improves the realism of the game, but it also means your quicksave and quickload will be used quite a bit.
Of course, it should be noted that Thief isn't for everybody. There are many gamers who won't enjoy sitting in the shadows for minutes on end, waiting for your patrolling guard to pass by. There are many others who won't enjoy the lack of killing, or the cerebral aspects of the levels. But for the players who have the patience and the cunning to give this game their best shot, one of the richest gaming experiences ever to grace the PC will be their reward.
I'd love to give this game a perfect score, honestly I would. And if this review had been written when Thief had first came out, undoubtedly it would have received ten out of ten. Unfortunately, very slight imperfections in areas such as the graphics prevent the game from reaching perfection, which results in its score of nine.
Make no mistake though, Thief is an extremely good game, a wonderfully good one.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/15/03
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