I remember my cousin handing me his copy of Thief back in 1999 and he said “You've never played anything like this before”. From promos it looked like it belonged in the same genre as say Quake or Doom. After installing and playing I didn't find myself running around blasting monsters but avoiding that and keeping myself confined to the shadows. The problem was playing such a game at a young age brought a lot of tension and alas I found myself too scared to continue this game. So it's safe to say that I've never actually experienced a Thief game except for the start of the first one. I'm aware of this game's influence and pioneering of the stealth genre and I've even played Looking Glass Studio's magnum opus “System Shock 2”. That's why in 2009 I've decided to swallow in some courage and face my fear, play a Thief game.
I decided to start from the latest and possible final release and that being Deadly Shadows. It's a shame that Looking Glass closed it's doors before production of this game due to bankruptcy. Ion Storm picked up some of the development team and decided to make the third installment together. Being a fan of Deus Ex, a game directly influenced by Looking Glass Studio's System Shock 2, the idea of these 2 working together would seem like a good idea. Besides Warren Spector worked in both these companies and on both the above mentioned titles. So failure would most likely be equal to John Romero making you his bitch.
Thief 3 Deadly Shadows is my first real experience of this series. The game is powered by the Unreal Engine 2 this time instead of the usual Dark Engine and with havok physics added under the hood. Surprisingly I liked this game's visuals more than any other Unreal 2 powered game. It utilizes Dynamic Shadows and this has been integrated into the gameplay as I found that I could hide behind an opened door's shadow or push the a box from it's stack and be discovered as the box shadow only covers half my body. The physics are pretty good for it's time, ragdoll physics are obviously present and essential for this game.
The game follows it's traditional style of gameplay but this time they've added in the city which you're free to roam as long as you confine yourself in the shadows as a city guard or enemy is just about to brush his shoulders against you. Not to mention an optional third person perspective to complement the game's trademark first person view. You have an indicator notifying you of how hidden you are, just like the original. The levels follows a procedure of “Days/Mission/Rinse Repeat”. You'll start off at day 1 then you will head towards your mission. After the mission is complete starts day 2 and so on. These days basically take place in the city at night and have no time limit whatsoever allowing you to roam it freely to purchase equipment, loot people and places, sell loot and complete side-missions.
Storyline may also develop during these city levels. Speaking of equipments you have an impressive arsenal of them. Water arrows, oil flasks, moss arrows, flash bombs, climbing gloves to scale walls, the essential blackjack and many more. Some of them have more than one purpose for e.g. The water arrows can take out small fires and put out torches at the same time remove any blood spills and even expand the moss patches created by the moss arrows. It's obvious that the thief series has some awesome thought process going on in the designing stage.
And to further backup the above statement the A.I seems to have a lot of realism put into it. They notice torches put out, noise created by footsteps or bumping into objects, missing comrades and missing loot. The sound is simply perfect and of the highest quality. It's the major driving force behind the atmosphere of the game which is simply brilliant. The world seems to be alive, with people stopping for conversations, greeting each other and eavesdropping on conversations can even lead to a side mission or clue. There are notes laid out here and there not to mention books and journals. These can help you discover hidden loot around the city or discover side missions. Side missions can reward you with maps to a future mission's location or even the benefit of an ally.
Yes there are two factions in the city, the Hammerites and the Pagans. Somewhere in the middle of the game both sides give you a side mission & performing either one will anger one faction as well as please the other. Being an ally to these factions will benefit you in certain parts of the game adding a non linear element to the game.
The main missions which are around 9 are pretty diverse in location and length. Takes place in locations like a church, zombie infested ship, insane asylum/orphanage hybrid, mansion etc. All of them follow a rather standard blueprint. Break into location, steal a certain percentage of loot depending on difficulty level selected, find main object and leave. But this is not always the case, some missions like the insanely awesome mission “Robbing the Cradle” have some mind blowing concepts behind them.
“Robbing the Cradle” is the main reason you should play this game especially if you're not a fan of the Thief games. I may have been afraid of the first Thief game because of the tension it creates but this is just way beyond that. At the age of 21 in broad daylight in an apartment filtered with traffic noise, I almost wanted to wet my pants in the most bone chilling atmospheric level I've ever witnessed. I'd be bold enough to say that this even kicks Silent Hill's arse. So what's so great about this level? Well everything, at this point Garret the protagonist is clueless and has no lead on the lady who tried to attack him in the Hall of Statues so he seeks out an Inspector who's tracking down the hag. He is advised to visit the Shalebridge Cradle, an Orphanage which then turned into an Insane Asylum then for a short while ran as both!!!! Before being abandoned due to a fire breaking out. I won't ruin the rest but in the words of the protagonist Garrett “If there's a way to cram more misery into one building's history, I can't think of it.”
The storyline is often conveyed with cut-scenes, pre and post mission narrations by Garrett and two types of FMV. One using the in game engine and one having a kickass art direction to it. The Storyline itself is interesting although at first it may seem a bit confusing but that's probably the fact that I've not played the first 2 games. The protagonist Garrett is just awesome, they've managed to portray him well without overdoing things and just like most of the characters in the game he is voiced perfectly. There are other characters who are presented in a rather subtle manner but still manage to be memorable.
The game is rather lengthy, gameplay time can be from 25-30 hours or even more and the slow pace of a stealth game is not the major factor here. 9 city levels and 8 missions won't take a weekend and maybe not even a week.
When I have to look at the negative aspects of the game, it lies in the more experimental parts. The movements try to recreate a very realistic feel. In first person perspective you'll notice some very natural head bobbing not to forget the fact that you can see your entire body from first person and this game does it the best, even better than F.E.A.R's attempt. If you look right you'll see your weapon, basically your head is the only thing moving when you turn your mouse. Very realistic but very annoying, takes a lot of time to get used to and very distracting. And for those you get nauseous at the sight of head-bobbing then it's your unlucky day as the game doesn't have an option out of the box to turn it off. The third person works better but really makes the game a whole lot easier allowing you to look around corners by just swinging the camera.
To make things worst the game has very clunky movement and clumsy collision detection. I often found myself stuck in the games environment between boxes and even a weird bug where i jumped against a wall and the animation got stuck but i could still move.
I mentioned the realistic A.I before and still think it's impressive but when you got such a good thing going on why leave a loophole in it? I often found that I could bonk a guard with a blackjack “BONK” he lets out a “UHHHH” and then his sword falls “CLANG TANG THISH” and the guard which is just few feet away will act like nothing just happened. Meanwhile I brush against a box which goes “TICK” and the guard which is around 8 feet away will go “I think I heard something”.
The game would be a lot better if the city didn't need me to maintain stealth and instead leave that factor to the actual missions. To make things worst the city resets itself after a mission so you may have to bonk that same guards head around 20 times. At the start it was all good sneaking by the city guard to head to the next area but after a few missions I found it frustrating but still enjoyed it in the actual missions.
Each section of the city is split into various areas like South quarter, Docks etc. All of these are joint by loading zones and the load times are pretty long. So the city missions which require you to travel a lot can get a bit annoying.
The hud and G.U.I is just bad and unattractive. You can call this a console port from the main menu itself. The text in the pre-mission dialog screen is unnecessarily large. Not to forget that you'll be scrolling a lot to see your goals and notes as that screen has no real sorting options whatsoever. The completed tasks will stay at the top while your current tasks will be at the bottom. I found myself scrolling just to read 5-8 lines of text thanks to the super huge font. If someone was so visually impaired why would they play a game that's practically taking place in the darkness?
Lastly the character models aren't too impressive except for maybe Garrett and the puppets in Shalebridge. Most of them follow a rather similar skeletal structure. It's hard to tell the difference between a Hammerite and a City Guard from a distance or a Pagan from a Thug.
The Bottom Line
I cannot say whether Deadly Shadows is a disappointment as compared to the previous two as this is my first experience of a thief game but I can say it's definably true to the stealth genre the series help pioneer and it's probably my favorite stealth game so far and this is coming from someone who's played Splinter Cell and Metal Gear. Those games went strong in certain area, Splinter Cell had good gameplay but a uninteresting story while Metal Gear had a good story but really limited gameplay as 90% of that game is dialogs and cut scenes. Despite the mentioned flaws Thief 3: Deadly Shadows is balanced well in gameplay as well as story which has an interesting plot and a rather epic ending. And with missions such as “Robbing the Cradle” you can recommend it to your horror loving friends looking for a scare trip and I'm sure they'll thank you for it.