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SummaryAn excellent game which defined a genre.
The GoodBeing sneaky was not generally a priority in early first-person games. The famous "Doomguy" from the Doom games readily mowed down rooms packed with hell monsters with a double-barrelled shotgun and probably did not think much about trying to quietly evade them instead. Good thing, too. Who would want that in Doom? But game designers, somewhere along the way, realized that it could be fun to create a first-person environment in which the player would actually want to avoid direct combat. The result was the "first-person sneaker". And one of the earliest and best games of the genre, one which would influence the whole genre ever since, was Thief: The Dark Project.
When Thief came out, it was different than anything I had ever played. I remember getting it on a demo disc from Eidos. The first time I tried it, I was blown away. It was an experience which opened new possibilities of gaming for me.
Thief casts the player as expert rogue Garrett in a fantasy steam-punk world which resembles in many ways the middle ages. Although the world's mythology was not well fleshed out in The Dark Project, there was certainly enough information to provide distinct character. Whether reading a secret letter from a noble or listening in on a guard conversation laced with fantasy slang terms, there is a good sense of place in the game.
As a "sneaker", Thief is appropriately centered around stealth. The action is by no means fast. Rather, being slow and careful with bursts of speed at key moments tends to pay off. Garrett is not very good at direct combat, despite carrying a sword in case it should be required. If you do need to remove someone, a carefully aimed arrow or a swift smack with a blackjack is a far better way. Then quickly drag the body away before someone notices. Vanish into the shadows once again, using the interface's light indicator to show you how visible you are, to return to your business.
Atmosphere is heavy in Thief. The constant threat of being caught keeps things interesting. While observing guard routes carefully can put you ahead, longer or more complex patrols can be more difficult to predict. As a result, the game is constantly tense. Even when traversing ground already travelled, the player thinks twice about leaving the shadows.
Environments in Thief are rich and detailed, especially for their time. Exploration itself is a pleasure. The most impressive levels, perhaps, were the noble's castle with its grand decor and the magician's home with its insane design. In both cases, the player feels driven forward by the desire to see more.
A good thief will use sound to his advantage, whether by silencing himself or listening to his enemy's movements. The sound in Thief is great for its time. Certainly, it serves the purpose wonderfully.
Garrett carries a variety of tools with him to slant things to his advantage. Gadgets such as water arrows to douse lights and moss arrows to soften footsteps enhance gameplay options. There is definitely a variety of ways to achieve objectives and this keeps the game fresh throughout.
The BadOne thing that can kill any "sneaker" game is thrusting the player into direct combat. Later in Thief, missions involving areas full of undead were frustrating and an unwelcome break in the otherwise brilliant gameplay.
Additionally, some objectives or puzzles are obscure and frustrating. This is common of older games. Nonetheless, it is a pain.