Review by Andy787

"Skeet skeet skeet :D"

Along with two other major titles released in 1998, Metal Gear Solid, and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins for the original PlayStation, Thief: The Dark Project can be considered one of the seminal titles responsible for creating a completely new style of gameplay; the stealth genre. Though The Dark Project was created by the sadly now-defunct Looking Glass Studios, the rights to it's namesake was later purchased by Eidos Interactive, who houses developer Ion Storm, a company comprised of many ex-Looking Glass team members, and now the developer of Thief: Deadly Shadows. Through a troubled chain of events, one way or another, the revered franchise has seemingly gotten back into the hands of many who were responsible for it's creation, and for better or worse, we are now playing the sequel that most thought we would never see.

The Thief games have traditionally been first person driven, stealth-based affairs in which you take on several missions in a stark, brooding, and gloomy medieval-style city (known only as "The City"), breaking into large castles and mansions with the goal of making off with an important piece of treasure, slaying or thieving from a particular aristocrat, and of course bagging as much loot as possible, and in many respects, Deadly Shadows stays very true to it's roots. Again you take up the role of Garret, the greatest thief to ever live, and a self-centered cynic of the highest order. Though you would think those traits unbecoming of a protagonist of which you are supposed to grow to appreciate, they actually strike a very compelling dichotomy for a hero (or anti-hero, of sorts), and make him much more interesting and entertaining than you would expect. Throughout the game you will come to know his personality quite well, as his thoughts and speech are the primary means of narrative in the game.

Probably the most immediate change you will notice about Deadly Shadows is somewhat cosmetic --though not as much as you would think-- in that of the game's now-default third person perspective. Thief vets need not worry, as the traditional first person perspective is still here as well, but you may be a little apprehensive about going back after giving the new view some playtime. The way the game's perspective and direction has been changed can most be seen as influenced from 2002's Splinter Cell, right down to Garret's almost frame-for-frame recreation of Splinter Cell protagonist Sam Fisher's sneaking animations.

Though thankfully, the open-ended nature of Thief's gameplay has not taken similar nods from that title, as it's non-linearity is where much of Thief's appeal has always resided, and in Deadly Shadows it is, for the most part, no different. The basic setup remains the same; you are given a gigantic fortress-like playground, several tools with which to operate, and a goal to fulfill (from simple tasks such as obtaining a valuable piece of treasure, to more complicated objectives and items of interest as the story progresses). How you tackle the equation is up to you, and as you would expect, Ion Storm has gone to great lengths to facilitate that ideal, from making sure there are almost always at least two or more ways of infiltrating your quarry, to likewise making sure that there are always many ways of handling the problems you encounter once inside.

And I said, there are also several tools available at your disposal, the most unusual of which would probably have to be your very own eye. Garret's, that is. It is in his one artificial eye, that one of his most useful tools resides; a black and white, zoom-able first person view of your surroundings, which comes in handy on many occasions, whether spying a prospective foe, or just making sure of your position and that around you. Probably the most important thing available to you, however, is the light gem and compass, which are always on-screen at all times, the former of which being absolutely vital, as it tells you exactly how well-lit you are, and thus how easily you would be seen by enemies, via the gem's ever-fluctuating brightness. Other items available to you include your trusty bow, and varying assortment of arrows (water, which puts out torches and cleans up blood pools, fire, which are rather obvious, and noisemaker, which draw enemy attention --conspicuously absent, however, are series favorite rope arrows, which have been replaced by a clunkier, less-interesting solution that is rarely even taken advantage of), as well as various incapacitating items, from oil flasks, to flashbombs and gasbombs, which work much in the way grenades of the same namesake would.

Sadly, much of the impressive level design, and the freedom you are given to experiment with it, is lost on the rather brainless enemy AI. You can tell that the developers had a lot of good ideas, which do result in some subtly clever, unexpected situations --for example, when sneaking up on an enemy, they will sometimes stop suddenly, as if sensing your presence, making you quickly come to halt, waiting to see if he makes a move-- but by and large, the enemies are extremely text-book, and their patterns are both highly predictable by design, and often highly unpredictable when unexpected complications arise. Often, the AI just suddenly seems to have a lapse in consciousness, and will rotate around in a corner for a minute or so, or worse, civilian NPCs which can even be manipulated to do so by simply standing in the middle of their designated walk pattern. Apparently, in ye olde days, standing in a person's way was their cue to turn 90 degrees and continue plowing straight into a brick wall.

Visually, Deadly Shadow's world is one painted with mystery and grandeur, and it's medieval fantasy aesthetic and style are presented as authentically as any title yet released. What probably goes the furthest in producing such a striking image, is the game's extremely impressive lighting effects. Though self shadowing isn't a particularly new idea, it has only in the past few years truly shown how effective it can be when implemented realistically, and Thief's use of them is the most impressive yet. Slinking quietly down a darkened cathedral archway, subtly glowing with a soft velvet silhouette, cast by moon light shining through a stained glass window is a beautiful, serene juxtaposition of the game's generally darker, more gloomy outlook and settings. The lighting effects are much more impressive and complicated than a simple silhouette, however, as every light source realistically moves and fluctuates with the element providing it (fire from a torch, for example), and every object that the light source is cast upon, likewise produces realistic shadows, from a casual passerby, to the very bricks and cement on the floors and walls, all accurately bump mapped to reflect an amazingly impressive and realistic concrete look.

In contrast to Thief's structures and environments, however, the game's character models really aren't very impressive. At least, while moving. It's somewhat strange, because Thief's character models are generally quite impressive, they look good, are quite detailed, and even have a liberal amount of bump mapping thrown about them, but the moment they take a step, they reveal how simple they really are, with incredibly clunky, incredibly stiff, robot-like animation and movement, and an almost complete lack of bearing on the environments around them. That is not to say all of Thief's character models adhere to this standard, as at least Garret is privy to some fantastic looking animation, though as noted previously, it isn't an exaggeration in the slightest to say that Garret's sneaking animations have practically been lifted frame-for-frame from Splinter Cell protagonist Sam Fisher. Though saying they didn't improve on the model at bit would be unfair, as Garret actually has more sensitivity as far as analog movement is concerned.

It is worth mentioning, that like Deus Ex: Invisible War, Thief does suffer somewhat from an unexplainable, muddy, almost blurry overall look, and it isn't inherent to the Xbox because of power constraints either, but moreso the game's engine, as the PC version of both titles also retain a similar look. Also notable, the Xbox version suffers from a rather plodding, occasionally jumpy framerate, and though I'm not one to typically complain much about framerates unless it hinders gameplay, that is occasionally the case in the Xbox version. More specifically, in the first person perspective, as the frame rate seems jumpier, and often makes judging how fast you are moving, and how far away something lies from you, rather difficult. This particular case actually is tied to the Xbox version, as higher end PC's run the title at smoother framerates; perhaps why the third person view has been given so much focus, at least in the Xbox version, especially considering the first person view feels much more responsive and natural on the PC.

Much like the game's graphics, Thief's sound is also a mixed bag which ranges from fantastic in some respects, to practically non-existent in others. Specifically, the voice acting is far and away Deadly Shadow's high point in regards to sound. For the most part, all of the game's voice acting is top notch, highly believable, and extremely fitting to the setting and atmosphere. Fans will no doubt immediately recognize Stephen Russell's voice, who returns to play the role of Garret in the way only he could, and most supporting characters play their roles superbly. There are a few exceptions, some NPCs for example don't support their characters with the same level of enthusiasm, and there is quite a bit of repetition in the enemy reactions, but by and large the voice acting is great.

On a similar note, the game's sound effects also work very well, and are quite fitting for each of their purposes. Fans may remember some of the game's sound effects from past games, but it is more a treat than a flaw, as it would probably be considered in many other games, much in the same way that you come to appreciate hearing some of your favorite tunes and sound effects again in the latest Mario Bros or Final Fantasy. On the other hand, Deadly Shadow's music is for the most part non-existent. Not to be held against the game, however, because games of the genre are typically forced to conform to this idea to heighten tension, and of course compliment the stealth gameplay. That is not to say there is no music, as there are a few context-sensitive tunes between the decidedly silent stalking areas, that pick up when certain events occur (such as if you are forced to engage an enemy) and they are generally quite good. Just very sparse.

You can tell Deadly Shadows was specifically built to be played more than once, from the special attention to detail in the level design, making for multiple ways to proceed in largely every instance, to all of the different, clever little details and idiosyncrasies within the environments and the AI. Whether you will be interested enough to venture through the game more than once is questionable, as the game is typically the kind that you would play through once, and likely not be compelled enough to play through again (lest not for a very long time). The whole single player adventure is a rather lengthy affair by genre standards, and the missions are generally quite huge, so it certainly provides a lot of enjoyment, but not necessarily the type you would be willing to go through more than once.

All in all, Deadly Shadow's strength lies in it's atmosphere, it's character, and it's gameplay. It provides a unique, interesting world to explore, it's story and character slowly unravel into an intriguing, complicated tale that compels you forward, and the base of the whole game, or any game for that matter --it's gameplay-- is very solid, and definitely among the best the genre has to offer. It is an experience very much worth playing, if only for those simple reasons, and though it may only be worth a single play through, it is an enjoyable enough one to warrant it's price of admission.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/04


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