Thief Deadly Shadows Review

Thief Deadly Shadows is the latest installment in a three part series, beginning in 1998 with Thief Dark Project, and following two years later with Thief Metal Age in 2000. It helps to have at least played a bit of Thief before, but it’s not really necessarily. In any case, I highly recommend the other two Thief games as well (but this review isn’t about those, so I won’t really go into that further unless someone requests me to), if you can somehow find them for retail somewhere.

Thief Deadly Shadows (DS) was developed by Ion Storm, with many of the same team members from the original developers, the now defunct Looking Glass Studios. Now if you remember, Ion Storm was also in charge of Deus Ex Invisible War, Deadly Shadow’s “technical predecessor” in many ways, since it utilizes the same engine in was developed in a similar manner in that both the X-Box version as well as the PC version were developed and release simultaneously.

Note: This isn’t meant to be a comparison between DX and DS, but parts end up being just that since both games are made by the same people and are in a similar genre. Don’t get me wrong, I really did thoroughly enjoy DX. It just provides a good point of reference to go by.

I’m always skeptical when game companies develop both the console as well as the PC version in parallel, because I somehow can’t quite shake the nasty feeling that the effort was being split between two versions, rather than focusing on making a solid PC game, then releasing a solid console version later when it’s good and ready. Not meaning to pick on DX:IW or anything, but it is a prime example of where dual development went wrong. Although I really truly enjoyed this game, it had many flaws and was far from living up to the original Deus Ex. Much of the residual DX skepticism carried over to DS for this very reason, but rest assured: Though DS is not a perfect game, it is very very satisfying and well worthy of the Thief title.

Gripe: This game also inherited one of DX’s annoying inability to ALT+TAB gracefully. Instead of blatantly crashing the game as in DX, it seems that they have disabled this completely. It’s just a minor thing, but annoying nonetheless. Am I the only one who carries on conversations in between sections of game play?

Game play
Thief is often hailed as the first game of it’s kind. Amidst a plethora of first person shooter derivatives, Thief offered a revolutionary type of game play, relatively unfound in most other games at the time. For those unfamiliar with the series, you play the anti-hero and master thief of the night, Garrett, who is by all means very good at what he does.

One of the most unique aspects of Thief is the game play, which was quite new at the time. Rather than being stealth-action like the Metal Gear or Splinter Cell series, Thief is almost exclusively stealth. Even though Garrett is equipped with a dagger and a plethora of deadly items, he’s a relatively slow runner and is not all that great of a warrior in any way. He can hold his own against one guard, maybe even two if you are skilled, but if any more than that arrive, count yourself as a dead man. This style of play forces players to find more cleaver and subtle way of solving mission goals. One of the beauties of Thief is the ability to finish the entire game without killing or harming anything.

Much of the same equipment found in the other Thief games has transferred over to DS, minus the rope arrow, which has been replaced by the climbing gloves. Garrett’s bow acts as his all purpose Swiss Army Knife. It can douse torches, dampen the sound of a fall, set things on fire, and so on, depending on which arrow you have equipped. Supplies are generally pretty scarce in the game, so players will want to think twice about needlessly wasting arrows or other items.

One of the largest changes made in DS is the addition of the city. Basically, there are now two parts of the game: The main missions, where most of the story and “meat” are, and the city, an in between area where Garrett free to explore, fence his goods, and find information leads regarding his next mission. The city is has a beautifully crafted atmosphere, though feels small at times since it is broken up into loading zones based on district. Moving between districts becomes somewhat cumbersome, especially later in the game, as more people seem to be after Garrett’s head. Trying to get from one end of the city all the way to the other got tedious. The city does though give the player a chance to further explore the and absorb the atmosphere Thief world, as well as to line pockets with extra cash and goods.

Each level is broken up into around 3 or 4 different loading sections. In my opinion, the sections seem a bit too small. It doesn’t take all that long to cross from one section to another. It’s fine when there is business to be done in one particular area, but it gets rather tedious when you have to fill objectives between different city districts and such, since the loading time isn’t all that short.

As mentioned above, DS uses the same engine as Deus Ex: Invisible war. Even though it looks and performs a bit better than DX, it certainly is not free of problems found in it’s technical predecessor. In general, the DX engine is adequate, but hardly more than that, especially for the amount of resources that it requires. The game textures in DS are pretty good, but could be better. Upon a closer look they appear to be rather fuzzy and not as detailed as they could have been. The graphics in general a great looking, but they aren’t as great as say, Splinter Cell, which ran smoother and looked more detailed in my opinion. On the other hand, the graphics for the Thief series has NEVER exactly been top notch. I don’t play Thief because it’s a super pretty game, I play it because it is a fun game.

DS also unfortunately inherited the oddities found in DX’s physical engine. Even though entire couches and tables won’t fly at the slightest tap as in DX (makes for good humor but poor stealth), item movement seems to exaggerated. The way things feel when they fall or when you toss them into the air for example does not feel right. Whether you are tossing a small cup, or a huge crate for example, the physics seem to light. The way bodies fall is particularly bad, since more times than not they will fall in an impossibly contorted position. Character movements also could have been more fluid, especially Garrett, being a master thief and all. The variety of motions and transitions for the guards and such weren’t all that varied.

The sound in this game is absolutely beautiful, which is a good thing since it is such an important aspect of the game play. The sound engine is rather good, as to be expected of a game from the Thief series. Footstep sounds travel around the level realistically, and vary according to how fast you are moving on what surface. Special care must be taken when traveling over something noisy like metal as opposed to carpet, which dampens your movement for the most part. In addition, players might want to remember to close doors behind them, since open doors allow more sound to travel outward, in addition to raising the AI’s suspicion.

The music in DS is very subtle and limited to mostly ambient tracks which are just enough to enhance the mood, without becoming intrusive and interfering with game play. It should also be noted that the voice acting in this series is excellent, which is a rarity among games (nothing is worse than a good game spoiled by horrid voice acting). Stephen Russel, the voice actor for Garrett is particularly good. Not overdone and not bland, just the way I like it. Make sure to eaves drop in on some of the hilarious conversations between NPCs.

The story and atmosphere in DS, keeping with the series’ tradition are great, and really draw you into the game. The plot unfolds as you play, and is interesting enough to keep you wanting more. The story line in DS is connected to the other two games in many ways, but is separate enough to be enjoyable to new players. One of the greatest achievements of the Thief series is the atmosphere it presents. From the industrial feeling medieval city, to the haunt filled ghost ship, it’s all there.

Though loading zones are relatively small, the claustrophobic feeling lends itself well to the flow of the game. Sneaking through narrow corridors actually worked pretty well for Thief, especially since the a relatively small amount of ground is covered in a short period of time compared to DX, or any other game (since there’s no run and gun). This is one of the chief differences between DX and DS. This style of game play works well with Thief where it is just annoying in DX.

If you haven’t already, go pick up this game. Now.

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