It is so refreshing to find a 3D shooter that offers something different. Sure, Unreal and Half-Life are great games that have collectively sucked a lot of time away from my busy schedule. But at their core, they are all about getting to the biggest gun first and then blowing away anything that moves.
Looking Glass Studios’ newest offering Thief: The Dark Project is different. If you try to play Thief the way you normally play Unreal, you are going to die quicky and painfully. After all, you are playing a thief in this game, so you better act like it.
The game takes place in a medieval fantasy world, which is also a refreshing change to the normal modern-day or futuristic genre of 3D shooters. You play a master thief in his quest to acquire all the wonderful items that rest in other peoples’ homes. You eventually get tangled up in a much larger plot, though some of most fun parts of the game involve you just trying to get loot for yourself. Playing the bad guy of sorts is a lot of fun, and it’s too bad Looking Glass had to make you begin to turn good as the game went on.
As a master thief, you have certain abilities that normal men don’t. These are the things that will keep you alive as you meander through abandoned cities and merchant strongholds in search of coinage and other booty.
For one, you can hide in shadows. This makes you very aware of the various light sources placed throughout a level. They are more than pretty backgrounds. If you get caught standing near a lantern, you are going to be killed. So you best slide around the light along the opposite wall, or under the lantern where the metal base provides some dark shadowing. You can also put out the light using a special water arrow, but you never seem to have enough of them. Players can tell how hidden they are by watching a special gem at the bottom of the screen. The brighter the gem, the more visible you are.
If you are able to find a dark corner, guards that could normally cut you to pieces will literally just pass you by.
But it’s not just sight that you have to worry about. If you move to quickly or over tile or stone floors, you are going to make a lot of noise. Guards can hear you too, though if you quickly hide and stop moving, they are apt to blame the disturbance on rats and move on. Carpet, a rarity in medieval society, is nonetheless your very good friend if you can find it.
Which brings us to your second special ability. You can knock out unaware opponents in one shot with your blackjack. Just sneak up behind someone or stay hidden as they pass. Then raise your blackjack and crack them on the back of the skull. Even the mightiest warrior will fall to your attack, as long as they don’t hear or see you coming. But then there is the problem of the limp unconscious body lying around. You will have to hide your prey in dark halls, back rooms or the city sewer. I’ve even hidden people in bathtubs. If someone finds one of your bodies, you can bet the alarm will be raised, making future knockouts all but impossible.
You can also kill your opponents using your bow and arrow, which is sort of like the sniper rifle found in most 3D shooter-type games. Unaware opponents take more damage from your shot, and you can often kill them in one shot. If they know you are there, it may take several to bring down an armored warrior, and by that time, they are most likely in your face.
You can fight using a sword too, but most of the guards are far better, and more heavily armored than you. So if you get into a standup fight, one of the best things to do is run away and live to fight another day.
One of my fondest memories of this game came when I was robbing a noble’s house and ended up hiding behind the bar in a brightly lit room. Every time I tried to leave, a guard would come through the room. As I was sitting there, I found a small cabinet in the bar, opened it up and stole some good wine and a few golden goblets. I could even hide inside the cabinet if I had too, though it never came to that. I doused a light in the corner of the room, and was able to slide out the door between patrols.
The interesting plots and clever use of a 3D engine remind me of one of my favorite games of all time, Gremlin’s Realms of the Haunting. But where Realms came out years ago and did not have to have a multiplayer component, Thief’s lack of one is a big negative.
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could sneak around a noble’s mansion, trying to steal a valuable item before other player-controlled thieves could get to it? And if other players get in your way, there could be thief battles that might summon the NPC guards. How about shooting a noise arrow at another players position to summon the guards? Or what about team games, with a group of thieves working together to crack a seemingly impossible keep? Ah, what could have been.
As it stands, the gameplay in Thief ends far to quickly. I solved the game in about a week of heavy play. This is not too bad, but a multiplayer component would have really added to the life of the game. As it stands, Thief will sneak its way into your heart, but may leave you hungry for more. It gets 4 GiN Gems out of 5, and a personal plea to build a multiplayer interface.