(image from wikipedia)
You are in the shadow. You see the guard coming towards your direction. He mumbles as he patrols the premise, and he is armed. The guard comes very close and you can see his face clearly. He turns in front of you, oblivious to your existence. After all, you are the expert thief who mastered the art of stealth. As the guard turns you grab his wallet and walks out from the shadow silently. The idiotic guard does not realize that he is few hundred golds poorer now. He does not even know who stole his wallet. You move onto the next part of the building where more loots wait for you.
Thief series is THE classic in stealth game genre. Not only it was the one of the critically acclaimed stealth game, it was the most influential. Thief introduced the concept of light and darkness to the stealth which added more depth to the game play. The guards cannot see you in the complete darkness so you can observe, attack, and sneak past behind safely. The concept of light and darkness was passed onto The Splinter Cell, then to many other games like Dishonored or Mark of the Ninja. Of course there are many dangers and obstacles lurking in dungeons or rich men’s mansions so you have to be careful while you are stealing. The floor may cause loud noise as you walk, the brightly lit torch will give away your locations. But you have many tools to help you overcome these obstacles. You can shoot moss arrow to muffle the sound of your footsteps, or shoot water arrow to the torch to create shadows. Even if you want to fight (which is not recommended since the game discourages direct confrontation. Two or three strikes from even the common guards can cripple you in this game. And the guards usually call for backups so it is pretty difficult to survive the direct confrontations unless you run away), the game gives you more advantage if you use more sneaky approach. Nice blackjack on the unsuspecting guard’s head can knock him out for the rest of the mission, and you can steal without disturbance.
Thief: Dark Project initially started as fantasy RPG developed by Looking Glass; it was about Mordred fighting tyrannical King Arthur and stealing the Holy Grail. But the game developers switched their direction to more sneaky type of game play. The game was influenced by Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, according to the developers. In the third installation of the series, you get to sneak into the secret organization’s library. The development was difficult for the team. First of all, there were not many stealth games around that time. Castle Wolfenstein, the original of Caslte Wolfenstein 3D, involved the disguise mechanism to help you sneak around the Nazi soldiers, and Metal Gear made you sneak around the guards instead of fighting them out front. But overall, stealth game was almost non-existent in late 90’s when Thief: Dark Project was being developed. The developers were not certain whether their game would be fun. It was the era of Quake and other adrenaline-rushing FPS games. The idea of FPS where you are to avoid direct confrontation would be unpopular.
But the team gained hope as the time passed by. Two games that involved stealth as the main gameplay mechanic, The Commandos, and Metal Gear Solid, proved to be extremely successful. The success of these two games encouraged the developers to continue working on their game, and Thief: Dark Project was released. It turned out to be the most commercially successful franchise from the Looking Glass.
Thief: Dark Project was unusual in many aspects. As I have already stated, this game was all about avoiding the enemy while the most, no, all of the FPS games at the time rewarded you for killing every living thing in your path. The game manual and the game itself tell you that violence is for the amateurs. The game tells you that avoiding violence was professional in this game. Playing this game required different kind of strategy from other FPS. The main character, Garrett, is noticeably weak compared to other video game characters. Yes, he does wield his sword alright but he cannot overpower his enemies. Few hits from a lowly guard will kill him. In addition to this, he was a criminal without many evidence of humanity. He was trained by the mysterious organization called the Keepers, but decided to use their stealth skill for the life of crime. When Garrett breaks into the heavily guarded prison to save a fellow criminal, he does it not for the friendship, but for the sex with the fellow criminal’s sister. Garrett does not have any family, and he steals for himself. He never distributes his loots to the poor population. He steals from the riches, and gives to himself. This was clearly no ordinary main character. Yes, he does save the world in the end. But Garrett does it for personal revenge and his own life. Do not expect any act of sacrifice or courageous confrontation from this guy. He solves every problem by tricks and robbery. Garrett’s cynical voice worked well in the world where the nobles are corrupted, the gods are evil, and the religious are zealous.
The success of Thief: Dark Project ensured the sequel. Thief 2: the Metal Age, considered to be the best in the series introduced more modernistic environments (now you have to bypass the security camera and patrolling steam punk robots), and complex game design. Garrett had to sneak into the heavily guarded bank, police stations, or building in the middle of the City. New obstacles offered challenges to the veterans of Dark Project, and the fans developed their fan missions filled with new challenges. One of such fan expansions, titled Thief 2X: The shadow of Metal Age, was praised to be the great work by fans; it offered new story, new protagonist, as well as new equipments. When Looking Glass studio was bankrupt, the series was sold to Ion Storm. Ion Storm developed the sequel, Thief: Deadly Shadow, which was the first Thief game to be released in console as well. Deadly Shadow was not taken well by the series’ hardcore fans, but regardless it was a quality stealth game (compared to many others).
I have known this game even before I played it. The PC game magazines talked about Thief, praising its creativity and innovations. When Thief series was made available on GOG.com, I bought them without second thought and I was blown away. First person perspective did made stealth experience different. Unlike many other stealth games in 3rd person perspective, your view is limited. In Metal Gear or Tenchu, you can see the location of your character as well the enemies. You can watch the enemies walking by as you hide behind the crates, and if the enemy approaches you can see him coming. That is not the case in Thief. Garrett’s view is limited to his own eyes and you cannot see what is around the corner. You have to listen carefully to your environment to locate possible enemy patrolling nearby and this raises the tension in the gameplay. Listening to the footsteps approaching while hiding in the shadow without any visual on the enemies can be frightening. When the game introduces supernatural elements it becomes really good horror game as you sneak carefully while listening to the moans and groans of zombies lurking in the forgotten city.
The story was another appeal of Thief series. Garrett does not care about justice or social equality. The game manual states that Garrett wants to be left alone so he can steal in peace. The manual also states that Garrett wants to steal enough to prepare for an early retirement. Garrett steals for living, not for challenges. In this aspect, he is a petty criminal. But Garrett always finds himself in the middle of conspiracies because of his skill as a thief. He wants to steal in peace but the world will not let him. The way this selfish thief interacts with the supernaturals and conspiracy hooked me instantly. There was a huge catharsis produced by the fact that horrific creatures are tricked and the world is saved by a thief who happened to be really good at his job. That irony makes Thief very unique, even today.
Overall, Thief is a connoisseur’s game; it provides unique fun which is an antithesis to many games out there. Its distinctive charm comes from being the opposite from many popular games, and playing it gives you singular experience. This is the must-play game for stealth game fans. Plus, it is the best way to bring out your inner thief without getting yourself busted.