Thief: The Dark Project
First posted on 04 June 2000. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
If you ask role-playing fans which is the best character class to play, very few answer the "Thief" class. As a thief, you are neither a fighter nor a mage and can neither bash nor burn your foes. You play a thief because in a game the loot often lies behind locked doors or in locked chests which you can pick, but for god's sake no one otherwise ever wants to play the thief. Why? Just because a thief is useless unless the quest items are heavily guarded.
Ironically, in Thief: The Dark Project, it is your skills as a thief that is going to win the day. There is no "Paladin" behind you to kill the enemies or heal your wounds. This is a game of stealth and shadows, where you must be smart and silent. Go into the house, find the loot, and leave the scene unseen! You are the thief!
When Garrett is a child, he has no family and no home, and he soon learns that he has to take what he needs to survive. One day he tries to steal from a Keeper and gets caught. Strangely, the Keeper, who is a member of a sacred medieval order, is not at all angry with Garrett stealing his purse but is rather impressed by his skill. He recruits Garrett as an apprentice, and teaches him a better understanding of how to keep himself unseen. Garrett, who never intends to live his life as a Keeper, uses his training instead to become a better thief.
As Garrett, you eventually meet a woman named Victoria, who wants you to steal a magical sword from a rich but an eccentric nobleman named Constantine. Instead of rewarding you after a successful mission, Victoria tells you that stealing the sword is only a test, and that Constantine, from whom you have just stolen, has a much more lucrative offer for you. He wants you to steal a valuable jewel called "The Eye" that is guarded in a cathedral in a section of the town that has been sealed off after a great magical disaster. However, you soon discover that a more sinister plot lies behind your troubles. In the end, you must keep the evil Trickster from spreading chaos over the world.
Thief: The Dark Project is developed by Looking Glass Studios, which is also developer of System Shock and Ultima Underworld. As with these earlier titles, Thief: The Dark Project too shows an excellent use of state-of-the-art first person 3D perspective. The game uses the Dark Engine that is developed in-house. With this engine, you have full control of Garrett's point of view, his movement, and his action. With that amount of data the engine has to deal in real-time, I have expected numerous graphic glitches or a very slow game. Yet, Garrett moves and turns as quick as you can command.
Remember the suspense you feel sneaking around in System Shock? In this game that feeling is much more realistic. Rather than relying only on high resolution imagery as in many ego shooters, this game uses audio feedbacks, such as the loudness of footsteps, to give you an unparalleled sense of the environment around you. The sound effect is so realistic that you not only can hear where the guards are but also know if they are moving, how fast they are moving, and so on. Even the difference between stone walls and open spaces can be heard.
The game environment is very dark. Although the manual suggests that you should play the game in a brightly lit room, the light source should be far enough away to not bring on any disturbing reflection on screen. The feeling of the game is destroyed if you have to turn up the brightness. After all, as a thief who hides in the shadows you cannot expect to see every loose brick in the wall!
Garrett's movement is controlled using the keyboard which can be remapped, while his view is controlled using the mouse. The ranges of movements include forward, backward, sidestep, leaning, turning, crouching, sneaking, swimming, and jumping. This sounds complicated at first, but the interface is very intuitive.
Handling the inventory and interacting with the environment are very easy. You have a relative large hotspot in the middle of your screen. If you can take or use anything, such as open a door or press a button, the object is automatically highlighted. So, searching for that special book that opens the secret passage behind the bookcase simply requires a quick look over the stack of books and the secret should reveal itself.
The most unique weaponry in this game is the bow, with which you use your arrows. As a thief, your archery skill is excellent. By holding the mouse button longer before the shot, you can concentrate and zoom in on your target. Garrett is also equipped with special arrows to douse torches, to create a carpet of moss for silent stepping, or to knock out foes whom you cannot sneak behind their backs. There are 7 types of arrows (broadhead, water, fire, moss, gas, rope, noisemaker) available. Garrett also carries a sword and a blackjack. The latter only allows an overhead swing to knock out the enemies. Lockpicks, bombs, and mines are other items in Garrett's arsenal. Thus, choosing the right weaponry is among the most interesting parts of this game.
There are 12 missions in total. The first mission is an optional training mission at the Keeper's camp where you are taught how to walk unnoticed, how to fight, and how to interact with the game world. I highly recommend everyone new to the game to play through this mission. Each mission can be played at 3 levels of difficulty (Normal, Hard, and Expert). The major difference between these levels is the selection of sub quests. For example, in missions with human encounters the Expert level orders you not to kill anyone, in others it demands that you have to get much more loot or steal some additional special objects in order to complete your mission objectives.
Thief: The Dark Project is a complete new kind of game. In a game market that is flooded with action adventures that only differ in how you kill your enemies or who is killing them (can we say Indy or Lara?), it feels good to know that there are still games that want you to use your brain, not your trigger finger. This game also gives a more realistic feeling of being in the game world than any other games I have played. The levels follow each other in a logical order. In fact, listening to conversations within the game you can hear people talking about events that have happened in previous missions, such as the Hammerites enforcing their patrols because you have just freed a friend from their prison.
There are a number of annoyances when playing this game. The first annoyance is that the story behind the game develops chiefly between separate missions, so the game as whole feels sometimes a bit interrupted. Another annoyance is that sometimes it seems as if the guards have a simultaneous 360° field of view and can hear a fly among a swarm of bees. You often find yourself having to reload your game whenever the guards catch you (remember, in expert level no killing is allowed). The last annoyance is that there are a few absurd placements of loot or quest items that make the game unnecessarily difficult. Although some minor graphic glitches are seen, such as doors that vanish when open or guards who just stop during their patrol and turn (and turn and turn), there is nothing that cannot be fixed with a gas arrow or a reload!
Overall, Thief: The Dark Project is among the best action adventure games released lately. It not only offers a portal to a gaming world that is unique and well designed, it also sticks out from all other games by not being just another ego shooter. If you think you have seen all that action adventure games can offer, then be prepared for a brand new experience.