Review by Orgulo

"The great, the good and the obviously flawed..."

Thief: Deadly Shadows (or Thief 3) had a lot to live up to, especially since Looking Glass Studios, the makers of the first two Thief games, had disappeared and left it up to someone else to continue the franchise with the same standards. That Thief 3 was made at all is a blessing for which all (or most) Thief fans are thankful, but that's not to say the game is the perfect third instalment. In fact I'd rather play either of the previous games - preferably Thief 2 - but Thief 3 is still very worthy of the series, though if the Thief saga does continue then the fourth game will surely improve upon this one, and Deadly Shadows will pretty certainly be considered the "difficult third album".

The most important thing in any Thief game is Garrett, the nefarious protagonist under your control. His dry remarks and his superhuman stealth are - or should be - a joy to behold, and in Thief 1 and 2 they were. The repartee returns in DS, but I'm not so sure about the stealth. The control system is easy enough - these games never were very heavy on interface - but Garrett has become a drunken amateur, annoying to manipulate. Even walking feels really irregular, with no smoothness at all, and the head-bob can't be turned off, though virtually every other FPS game since Doom has allowed players to tweak this stupid feature. As a result Garrett's every move is jerky and imprecise; more so since mouse sensitivity can't be changed. I can't over-emphasise how irritating Garrett's movements are, especially when compared to the fluidity and agility he showed in the previous games.

It's therefore a good thing that what you're mostly doing is creeping Garrett around at slow speeds, and this at least is still Garrett's forte. Neutrals and enemies pervade the game but they are remarkably easy to sneak past. You can eliminate them altogether with a quick thwock from the blackjack, but this weapon is a little harder to use than before. Now you have to creep up behind the victim, wait until they turn directly away from you, wait until Garrett actually raises the blackjack, and THEN strike. And hope it works. No more knocking folk out on the fly, no more jumping jacks - you have to be very careful with the cosh. Which makes it unappealing to use - better just to sneak past. Or you could just run past, safe in the knowledge that almost every enemy in the game will give up chasing you after about twenty yards, out of breath. Stupid and very not challenging. I have a sneaky, Thiefish suspicion that every mission in the game could be completed simply by sprinting through (lockpicks aside). Why bother hiding when you can just run past with a nod and a wave?

Not that you'll have very far to run. Levels are so pitifully small that you can practically see the far end from the beginning (not quite but they're still disappointing). Thief and Thief 2 had enormous levels which you could spend all day in, just exploring and revelling in the immersive lore and atmosphere. There were details in every corner and it was genuinely fascinating even just being in such levels as Constantine's Mansion, Return To The Haunted Cathedral or Life Of The Party. Thief lore is legendary among the games' fans, so it's a shame that DS has so little of it. It feels almost empty of character because of this, and of all the things in DS which disappointed me, the absence of real Thief ambience was the most obvious. The small missions also mean, of course, that there's little to do in them. Dark Project and Metal Age had big missions which were filled with incidental, non-critical areas which you could visit purely for the fun of exploring and for knowing that you cased the entire place without alerting one guard. Apart from one or two of the later levels, pretty much all your time in DS's missions is spent heading towards your objectives in very linear ways. These objectives are often indirect (go here and push this button, then go here and open this door, etc), but the small areas coupled with the ease with which you can bypass guards and monsters result in missions which could hardly be called long-winded. What might let you take longer is looking around for loot, though this is doubtful since every item of treasure now sparkles in order to catch the eye - look around and you can hardly fail to pick up at least half of the loot in every mission without even trying. You don't feel like a master thief when the game is practically handing you the loot as you go. Collecting loot in 1 and 2 was important because equipment was not cheap or plentiful, and you were pretty restricted in what you could buy in between missions - DS goes so far in the other direction it ends up feeling like Supermarket Sweep.

Why anyone would really need to sell all the tons of loot in this game is beyond me. On the easiest difficulty setting you still have to collect 60% of each mission's treasure before completing them, which means you must end up with lots of money. Though you are limited in the number of items you can buy from the shops, there are plenty of all pieces of equipment to be had both on the streets and in the missions themselves. In the end you don't really need to visit the shops at all, at least until you need more water arrows. You always have near maximum equipment, which yet again makes the game even easier. That you don't need to visit the shops still allows you to save little time in between missions, since you are still forced to run around the same streets every time you finish a mission or want to start another one. The game tries to keep the city hub alive with tiny little mini-events, but it doesn't work. I want to go back to finishing one mission and immediately starting another one.

The City Hub probably sounded like a great idea when someone at the studio pitched it. What could be better than letting players actually explore the real city in which Garrett lives and works? We could have them running Garrett through the same streets before and after every mission, again and again, meeting the same guards, the same loot in the same places. We could have shops where he can sell all his loot and other shops where he can buy more equipment. We could have six or seven different areas of the city: Docks, Market, Slums... Well, I guess it does sound quite good, but it ends up being a chore. The city gets reset after each mission, with a tally of all crimes committed (by you). So the same guards are back, in the same spots. Do you really want to knock them all out every time, or have you spotted that this is no fun whatsoever?

Roaming the city swiftly becomes unattractive, so all the fun to be had can be found in the missions. I think every mission in this game surprised me, either in a good way or a bad. I won't put spoilers here, but a few of the missions will be positively memorable, while the others can best be summed up with the word "meh". The Hammerite Cathedral mission is probably the first where devoted Thief fans will find themselves thinking "now, this is more like it!", though it won't quite have got there yet. In fact the game only really kicks into proper Thiefy missions when the House Of Widow Moira one comes around, and it continues to get better and better until it peaks. And when it peaks you'll know all about it.

Thief 3's peak is called Robbing the Cradle and it's so good it deserves its own paragraph. This level can actually single-handedly make up for every failing the game has in other areas. It contains enemies scarier and far more disturbing than any previously seen in the Thief games; it's probably the longest mission in the game; and for pure, unbridled atmosphere it not only beats every other level in the game - nay, the series - it beats every other moment in every other FPS game I ever played. Sod that, every other game of any kind. Including every moment of Halflife. My god, it's so good. I actually felt sick with fear while playing it. At one point I was nearly paralysed with fear, unable to move out into a nearby corridor. It's the last place on earth you would ever want to visit, but the distressing story contained within the mission urges you to see it through to the wonderful finale.

Anyway, graphics. If they weren't so heavy on the resources they'd be great. They suit the Thief series perfectly, in my opinion, with a perfect balance of light and plentiful shadow. The game looks wonderful (apart from the ridiculous NPC models) and when I picture how Thief 1 and 2 might look rendered in such high-quality textures and details I get a funny feeling I'd rather not describe. Imagine playing Life Of The Party with Thief 3's graphical standards - wow.

Sound is the most important thing in Thief (after atmosphere) so it's good that the designers very definitely got it right. The game's AI (or AS - Artificial Stupidity) doesn't seem to quite tie in with the sound, since enemies will often totally fail to react when you club out one of their friends three feet away, causing them to noisily drop their swords on the stone floor. But it does go perfectly with the atmosphere. There is little ambient sound - or if there is I can't hear it - which I do miss from Thief 1 and 2, but the game never lets you down when you're trying to listen out for a guard scuffling his feet around a corner, or an inattentive sentry whistling a tune or muttering to himself on a ledge somewhere up above. Perfect, as ever. Another bright spot here is the absence of the old fantastically loud clip-clop sounds when Garrett moves across tiles - he seems to have left his faithful stilettos at home in this instalment.

Story? I hardly noticed, which can only mean it's not as good as it used to be. Dark Project's story was minimal but players were fooled into believing it wasn't by the sheer wealth of lore packed into every level. Thief 2 did the same thing but enhanced it by introducing more and interesting characters and locations. Karras owns ye; he also owns the villain of Deadly Shadows, whose name I can't even presently bring to mind. Begins with a G... The basis is that the Keepers are incompetent and need your help, so get on with it., otherwise they won't stop bugging you. The designers could have done much better here.

There is no multiplayer - no great disappointment there - so replayability will be based totally on how much you enjoyed playing the game through the first time. Given how easy it is and how quickly you can fully explore many of the early levels, this enjoyment might not be as great as you had hoped. Personally I only play Thief 3 now because I want to get through to the Shalebridge Cradle again (if I'm not too scared to go inside when I finally get there). I don't look forward to being forced to explore the city or the Keeper HQ multiple times, I can't be bothered toiling through a few of the early missions, and I see little point in playing beyond the museum level. It's the least replayable of the three games, because the other two had so many places you wanted to revisit. Return To The Haunted Cathedral may be the second best mission in the Thief games but actually getting to it via all the other Thief missions is far more fun than getting to Cradle via Deadly Shadows's missions. Best to make to the Cradle and then make an archive save so you can just go straight there next time you reinstall the game. This sounds a bit drastic and I am exaggerating, but I'm sure you'll start to see what I mean once you've played the game through even three or four times.

Before I finish, one or two other things. Garrett can no longer swim - touch water and you die, which means more mission design possibilities closed off. Lockpicking is no longer a case of vaguely right-clicking within three feet of a chest while you have a lockpick selected; in DS it's almost a mini-game, an annoying and time-consuming one. You may end up being put off looking for treasure in locked boxes because you can't face another session of flicking your little lockpick randomly around the compass points until the sodding thing opens. No more rope arrows; now you have climbing gloves. Less fun than rope arrows but still kinda fun. You can ally with the Pagans or the Hammers by performing various tasks in the city streets; this makes life easier as they will be less likely to attack you on sight.

Ultimately my criticisms are based on disappointments DS gave me after having loved Thief 1 and 2 so much. It could deservedly be called an excellent game, even an excellent Thief game, but it's problems can't be ignored. Hopefully there will be a fourth game, and whoever designs and builds that one will learn from DS both what does belong in a great Thief game and, more importantly, what doesn't. View-bob, this means you.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/17/07

Game Release: Thief: Deadly Shadows (EU, 06/11/04)

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