Review by Conskill
"Thief goes away from the typical FPS frag-fest, but doesn't go far enough."
The realm of First Person Shooters have often been a bit of a no-brainer exercise. Pick up rocket launcher, aim at random bad guy (distinqishable by the fact that he exists on the level), pull trigger. Repeat as needed.
In comes Looking Glasses' "Thief: The Dark Project" to try and change the scene a bit. For the most part, they succeeded.
Thief casts you into the role of Garrett; ex-acoyte of an mysterious organization called the Keepers. Garrett, through contact with his fence Cutty, attempts to make a living as an independant thief in a dark, near gothic world filled with magic, rising technology, and the constant zealot-kept order of the Hammerites.
At least, that's how it starts. Like most games with a decent plot, plans go wildly uncontrolled, plot twists occur, etc the typical. The end result is a surprizingly good plot for a game of this genra. One warning:
The gameplay is very entertaining, but not excellent. Promoted as a "First Person Sneaker", it tries to lean the player towards silently picking his battles, knocking out the guards quietly, and other acts that your typical "Unreal" fan hasn't heard of before. However, it never seems to go quite far enough. Despite all the hype, the end result is still the same: Your objective is to take down anyone in the way between you and your objective. Instead of using a shotgun, you have to quietly use a blackjack; but when everything is said and done, there is still not much difference. The game play ends up being more "Thug: The Whomping Project" then "Thief: The Dark Project".
Also sabatoging the efforts is the fact that guards have a simply poor AI. While they are high-IQ geniuses compared to the mindless fodder of most FPS games, in this new level they still don't seem to hold water. Nobody minds it if they're buddies suddenly don't return from patrols. Even if they saw you murder someone they'll forget after a few minutes. If they're in conversation, they seem to lose all agressive tendancies. One happening in Mission 4 was that I ended up hiding mere feet from two chatting guards. From that posistion, I knocked out another one (which was in broad torch-light), less then 3 feet from them. They kept on chatting. It seems the guards are programmed to respond to you, not changes in their enviroment. Fire a water arrow at a torch less then a meter from them and they won't flinch. Never mind the fact that the tiles of the once clear hallway is now cluttered with nice, soft, noise-filtering moss...
The undead also tend to bring down the mood. Levels that have our decease-yet-still-parting breathren tend to turn even farther into the action games that Looking Glass seemed to have wanted to avoid. Certin levels (Mission 3 pops to mind as I write this) feel more a recreation of old cheesy horror flicks then anything eles. While the fright value at first is quite high, by the time you reach "The Haunted Cathedral", you'll probably be ready to trade in your Water Arrow/Holy Water combination for a good old fashion flamethrower.
Despite all this, the times the AI works, and in the levels that zombies don't happen to be a cheap alternative to termites are impressive. The physics of the game is quite impressive; drop something, it'll cause a noise. If a guard is close enough, they will hear. Run around on hard tile will attract much more attention then carefully slinking around carpetted areas, having Garrett wait for his chance to enact his fantasy of being a mugger. While I railed on the faults of the attempt of a "First Person Sneaker" in the above paragraphs, the level of thought and sneakyness required is still a much refreshing breath compared to your average "Wolfinstein 3D" clone. Puzzles and traps ranging from "How do I knock out the guard that's on the other side of a bright room?" to things that obviously hail from Indiana Jones are, unlike most FPS puzzles, well intigrated and make sense in their enviroments. Not to mention most of them also tend to be fun.
The graphics are very well done. Not the absolute best done in gaming history, but on my system are nicely detailed, don't stutter my system one bit. Take heed: They call this "The Dark Project" for a good reason; a great deal of the game is done in a myriad of various shades, from dark to pitch black. Good (manual) gamma correction will probably be required.
The sound quality is exceptional. While I don't have to hardware to try out the 3D sound offered, the effect was still grand enough. Hear the clomping about of the guards, the moans of the undead, etc. On my system, there was a little problem trying to figure out just where some sounds were coming from, causing me to have to swing Garrett left and right to get a "fix" on which way the sound seems louder. Guards do everything from mumble to themselves, have conversations about furry bears, to (in the Hammerite varity), muttering on about the Builder. Voice acting is typically well done, with everything from Garrett's dry comments at certin parts of the game (and in introduction sequences), to Hammerite guards yelling "The Builder shall guide my hand!" when trying to find you out.
Thief also has the bonus of added replayability beyond most of the FPS genra. As you bump up the diffaculty, you get different and varied mission objectives. What at first was simply an mission to steal the Great Magic Toothpick turns into an task to also find the instruction manual, find enough loot to pay your costs, get out of the Funhouse alive, and keep your pacifist tendancies alive by not killing anyone on your way in or out.
Overall, Thief is a very well done game, though like most things could have been done better. This first real attempt to devorce from the "Kill 'um all" atmosphere of the FPS genra wasn't totally successful, but gave us an nicely original game in the processes. It is hoped that in the rumored sequal, "Thief 2", that Looking Glass can continue to take the spotlight away from combat, and focus more on avoiding guards, sneaking around, and doing various thieving things instead of thievy ways of getting through guards. If that can occur, Looking Glass might have finally found it's "First Person Sneaker".
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 11/01/99, Updated 11/01/99
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