Thief: Gold (Windows)

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Written by  :  Ola Sverre Bauge (241)
Written on  :  Nov 04, 2004
Rating  :  4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars

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A revolution-in-a-box yet to be matched.

The Good

My favorite bit of Wolfenstein 3D wasn't gunning down hordes of people, nor running around like a lab rat on speed.

It was the suspense.

In finding my way around, the only warning signs I had were doors opening and closing - once I heard someone shouting, I knew I was busted. Since my sound card was mono and all the doors sounded alike, there wasn't much more I could do than count how many doors I had opened and count down when they closed.

Of course, I'd eventually lose count, or a door would catch me off guard, and I'd become more and more frantic, up to the point where I'd finally lose it and run around firing wildly at the furniture. Not to mention those zombie soldiers that didn't shout at all. Turned me into a nervous wreck.

Doom had it too, to some degree, although the feeling was more fighting an uphill battle than sneaking around. By the time Quake hit, the magic was gone for me, and I shied away from first-person shooters for some time. I'm supposed to be reviewing a game? Oh, yeah. That.

Thief put the suspense back where it belongs, quietly revolutionizing first-person 3D games. Naturally, everyone was too busy having LAN parties at the time to notice.

There were of course the external trappings, the ingenious industrial-mediaeval age with a modest sprinkling of magic, which got you gas/electricity-arc streetlights, magic crystal arrows which turn into water on impact, heavy-duty mining machinery operated by people in chain mail armor right alongside well houses, drawbridges and archers... Not to mention Garrett, the coolest videogame hero of the late nineties simply because he was the only one of them who dared to be established exclusively by his voice and a few elusive hand-drawn images when he wasn't under the player's control.

There was the sound, the lovely, luscious sound of footsteps on all sorts of materials as you strained your ears to the limit for clues on the opposition; this was the first game to do surround sound and environmental reverbs right. In fact, still one of the few games to really do anything at all with it. (The current trend towards releasing on six consoles and then maybe the PC isn't exactly helping things either, as most of the effort goes into making the soundtrack loud enough to be distinguishable coming out of the crummy stereo speakers on the TV set of Joe Average. Muttergrumble.)

And the difficulty levels, the absolute stunning genius of demanding that you kill fewer things as the difficulty goes up, and then actually making it not suck! The likes of this we may never see again.

The first level is an excellent introduction; there are way more guards than you can overcome, and you start off on the street, which will teach you not to draw your weapons until you need them. Going unnoticed is not simply beneficial, it's an absolute necessity. You quickly learn where it's at: Sneaking in the back, knocking people over the head, peering around corners, hiding unconscious guards...

(Interestingly, Thief delivers what was promised in an electronic Apogee advertisement for Wolf3D, the ability to drag bodies out of the way. Makes you wonder if it was ever in the design, or if it was just a misunderstanding.)

The way you have to concentrate on nuances of light and sound means that this game winds up seriously warping your reality - you may find yourself moving into shadows instinctively, or listening to the sound of your own footsteps like you never have before.

The third level is a strange detour, though; after training five years of Doom conditioning out of players they suddenly throw them into an entire level of killing things and running around subterranean mazes. It's like they were feeling insecure.

The Bad

For a game where shadows are extremely important, it's very bright, and doesn't play half as much with silhouettes and shading as I'd like. The reason for this is probably the Quake 1-style blocky edges on diagonal shadows, which would have ruined a lot of them. Not that there aren't areas that shine in this respect, but there could have been so many more.

To enforce stealth, you're always out of luck when spotted; this makes for rather a lot of saving and loading, and can possibly land you in unwinnable states, forcing you to go waay back in the level. Which can be painful, considering the slow pace of the game. Me, I didn't mind so much, but I grew up back in The Day(tm), when we didn't have them fancy things like F12 keys. Of course, I played with an onion taped to my monitor, as was the style at the time...

Oh yeah, and the way you purchase equipment before missions is a bit flawed; it would have been better to just dictate you a base pack of gear as a sort of "par for the course" and letting you top it off, or at least make a few recommendations. The way you sometimes have to half-complete a mission, then restart and buy gear from what you've learned is the only real flaw in this gem.

The Bottom Line

Going on six years and still worth playing. Still worth getting quadrophonic speakers for, in fact.