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SummaryAn utterly unique game in a world a copycats
The GoodAlthough a number of stealth games came out around the same time, Metal Gear most notably, this was the one that really focused on Not Being Seen. Yes you could take out your enemies with arrows or your sword but doing so was no guarantee, and a direct violation of the level goals if you were playing on hard mode. The most points, and satisfaction, was had through not even being seen on your way through a mission, which was very, very hard.
The game engine was built from the ground up to make sound propagation and shadows an integral part of the game world and it shows. In no other game do I remember standing in one location for five minutes hidden in shadows, palms sweaty, listening to the local sounds, waiting for my moment to reach out and snatch a key from an oblivious guard as he walked by humming while I prayed he didn't notice me. It's an impressive game that can make standing absolutely still for minutes tense and enjoyable.
The game is honestly scary. Not since System Shock had a game actually installed a sense of fear in me, but this one did, and I don't scare easily. It's ability to create an atmosphere, and back that atmosphere up with game-play, is amazing.
Add to that a unique story well told with good voice acting and strong art direction and you've got a sleeper hit. Many of it's levels were huge, sprawling affairs with multiple (and sometimes changing) goals and hidden areas galore with multiple ways of doing any given thing. It was a game you could get lost in and not mind it. A game you could finish and then play again and have a different experience and then play again because you KNOW you missed something. And because they released an excellent level editor there are fans making some fantastic new levels (and even new story lines) to this day (for Thief II mostly).
It and it's sequels are unique games, like no others before or after them, and it's not very often you can say that these days.
The BadEven at the time it was released the graphics were dated. Unreal and Quake were both out by then and the dark blocky graphics, low polygon models and limited special effects found in Thief just didn't measure up.
It had REALLY long load times, which was bad for a game in which you tended to die a lot.
The designers weren't sure of how their new 'sneaker' game-play would go over so they tried to hedge their bets by including a number of fight based levels and monsters which negated much of your sneaking skills. These are often sited as being the worst levels in the game.
It was hard, even at it's easiest level the learning curve for this new stealth game-play was quite steep in Thief and many people gave up playing after dieing numerous times. There is a reason the game came with 'normal', 'hard' and 'harder' difficultly level settings. And dedicating yourself to finishing all levels at the hardest setting while completing each objective and stealing every available piece of loot without ever being SEEN was a life time achievement. It's possible, and some have claimed to have done it, and all I can say is WOW.
The Bottom LineIts a different game, and not for everyone. It's game-play is tricky and hard, even for Splinter Cell masters, and the story and art direction are unique with it's steam punk atmosphere, rock soundtrack and dark single City at night setting. But if you play it and like it, you'll never forget it.
Splinter Cell is now the crown jewel of stealth games, and justifiably so, but nothing feels like Thief. It's a dark gem, gleaming just outside the light ring of a guttering street lamp.