THIEF: THE DARK PROJECT
By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on July 3, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm back! Yes, it's your old friend Sadhonker, back from his treatment at the world renowned 'No one behind the wheel Institution for the criminally insane'. Don't worry, the doctors said I was okay now. I have a certificate to prove it and they even gave me a complementary color-changing mug with a picture of a cute squirrel and the text "go nuts!" on it.
As you may expect, I did a thorough inspection of the entire facility when I got back. I must say that everything looked better than I expected it to look after my absence. The only thing I needed to change back was the new color my office walls had magically turned to. You see, I like my office neat and tidy. No vibrant colors or fluffy carpets, just black, white and fifty shades of gr... Let's just say that I was shocked, to say the least, when upon my return I went into my office and discovered it had been turned into a pink cocoon of fluffiness and twinkling lights. But that issue has since been addressed, so I'm fine now.
So on to more pressing matters. I have sent my brave crew to once again face the temporal displacement fields of time and travel towards the year 1998. And yes, that is the year where things went horribly wrong with me, but my doctor assures me that confronting my fears is the only way to rid myself of the nagging voices in my head. So off we go, back to a time when a new category of game saw the light of day: The First-Person Sneaker.
As already mentioned, the year is 1998 and the game we're currently looking into is probably responsible for the birth of an entire category of games. I am talking, of course, about Thief: The Dark Project. It is the grand-daddy of stealth gaming and inspired games like the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and The Hitman series. Developed by Looking Glass Studios and published by Eidos Interactive, Thief: The Dark Project had been in development for over two years and went through a lot of changes before it ended up as it eventually did and let me tell you, I'm glad it did. Not that the original premise (Better Red than Undead; a fifties zombie first-person sword fighting game) didn't sound like a lot of fun, but when taking into account the legacy Thief left and the sheer number of games that followed in its footsteps, I can only be glad it changed as much as it did.
In Thief: The Dark Project you assume control of Garrett, a homeless orphan turned master thief by one of three factions ruling a giant metropolis simply called 'the City'. These three factions struggle to gain influence over the City and assert themselves in this medieval, steampunk world. The neutral Keepers try to keep balance in all things while the other two factions, the Hammerites and the pagans are each other's opposites and are constantly trying to one-up the other faction. Garrett is caught in the middle of this conflict and tries to stay alive while doing what he does best; going on dangerous missions and robbing people blind.
Unlike any other first-person game at the time, Thief focused heavily on stealth. Where other games let you run right at the enemy and start swinging your sword like a marching girl in heat twirls her baton. Thief, however, took a different approach to the art of dispatching your enemies. Instead of bluntly chopping your enemies to pieces (which can also be fun. Take Shadow Warrior, for example) Thief opted to work stealthily from the shadows and kill (or just incapacitate) your enemies with style and finesse. This decision lead to a completely different style of playing and forced us to focus more on strategy than button-bashing.
To pull off this kind of gameplay, you were provided with a blackjack and a sword, different types of arrows that were tailored to one specific end like, for example water arrows to extinguish torches or rope arrows to provide the player with alternative routes to traverse the levels, as well as various potions and items. You, as the player, were constantly challenged to think outside the box and stay hidden while dispatching your enemies. It even went so far as to letting you finish a level without killing any of the guards lurking about, if you were so inclined. an enemy awareness meter was embedded in your heads up display, constantly telling you how aware certain guards were of your presence. The AI in this game was absolutely brilliant! Guards were able to pick up movement and sound, and responded accordingly. This made the game that much more involving and thrilling, because of the fact that you were constantly trying to make as little sound as possible, while at the same time covering distances without being spotted. If you were spotted, your best bet was to run away and hide, because although you had a sword, you'd almost certainly find your death when engaging in open combat with these highly trained guards.
Visually, Thief was a feast for the eyes. The beautifully crafted world of 'the City' was filled with shadows and detail. These details were also reflected in sound and gameplay; if you walk on tile floors, you'd make a lot of noise, while if you crouched down and moved slowly on a carpeted surface, you'd make next to no noise and didn't risk discovery by patrolling guards. The objective of each level was basically to steal a certain item and with said object in your possession, make your escape.
What struck me most while playing Thief for the first time, was the attention to detail that went into creating this game. From the story that unfolds while playing to the guards ability to pick up sounds or visual cues , everything was just spot on. Thief was a game well worth playing multiple times. I, at least, found myself trying to surpass my previous attempts the game in order to stay totally hidden and undetected throughout the entire game (which I failed at miserably, by the way... but hey, at least I tried!) The story, the stealth mechanics and the detailed world that I was presented with just had me coming back for more. Thief: The Dark Project spawned a couple of sequels: Thief II: The Metal Age (2000), Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004) and Thief (2014), the last two sadly no longer developed by Looking Glass Studios but by Ion Storm and Eidos Montreal. Looking Glass Studios closed up shop after Thief II, never to be heard from again... They are still dearly missed.
So yes, Thief: The Dark Project is a very good game that almost singlehandedly provided gamers with a completely new type of first person game. It introduced stealth into a genre that was mostly known for the head on approach to killing enemies, usually resulting in gallons and gallons of blood that dripping from your screen while playing. And as much as I can appreciate that approach, it was good to see someone try something completely different and utterly succeed at it! Thief: The Dark Project was a truly brilliant game, that still holds sway over the minds and hearts of countless gamers of mine and other generations.
Now, if you'd excuse me, there is an exceptionally large gemstone just begging to be stolen by the master thief of this age... me! And always remember the golden rule: If you see me, it's already too late... (sneaks away silently and vanishes into the shadows)
THIEF: THE DARK PROJECT
Looking Glass Studios & Eidos