Thief is another game from Looking Glass Studios and was influential enough to create a whole new genre – the sneak-em up. Warren Spector is often credited as being the driving force for this game but only actually worked on it for the middle year of its 3 year development. A lot of the familiar names from Looking Glass were involved though and that should have been enough to get me playing it years back.
As ever I’m going into this game knowing very little about it which is always the best way to approach a game. I’m going to be playing Thief Gold here which was a later re-release with some extra levels. This game uses the same engine as System Shock 2 which means the same patches all work allowing me to play it in 1920×1080 widescreen on Windows 7.
Thief starts off with the usual FMV intro. A young boy called Garret (my character in the game) notices someone moving through a crowd unseen by all except him. He goes after the man with the idea of stealing from him but is caught instead. The man instead sees his talent in being able to spot a keeper who is trying not to be seen and recruits him to the order. I’ve no idea at this stage what a keeper is – I don’t have a manual for this game and should probably have a look on replacementdocs for it later.
The game starts with my keeper training. This is the usual training level that seems to have been compulsory in FPS games since Half-Life.
This is a bit different though as this game concentrates on remaining unseen and unheard. For the first of these I’m put in a dark room with shadows zig-zagging across the floor. I have to remain in the shadows and approach a guard unseen.
The second room is a similar idea but with sound this time. The room is carpeted in some areas which quietens my footsteps and I have to approach a guard with his back to me unheard.
Next I get a couple of weapons. This is a fantasy/medieval game so its longbows and swords.
The control system for these is simple enough. If I hold attack down long enough then I get a more powerful shot, it’s not that far off what we saw in the Underworld games. I get to spar a bit – there is also a block move here although if it’s like other games I’ll rarely use it preferring to step out of the way and get my next blow in where possible.
There are brief instructions after this on object use also. This game does have a simple inventory but I don’t expect it will be much more complex than use this key on this door, etc…
To end the training there is a short assault course where I get to learn the basics of jumping and climbing. Thats the extent of the training level. The controls are simple and intuitive enough. Graphically the game is possibly a little ahead of Half Life but its on the same sort of order. In high resolution, the graphics don’t really look all that bad. As in System Shock 2, its the sound where the game really shines with excellent use of 3D sound and the sound reacting well to the environment I’m in at the time. This is crucial to a game like this – you have to be able to hear the noise you are making and hear other people moving around.
There is another cutscene between levels. Garret has decided not to use his keeper training as intended and is instead using it to make a bit of money on the side. A local Lord is away for the night along with his Captain of the Guard, leaving his house ripe for a little breaking and entering. I have to enter the house and try to steal a valuable sceptre.
The cutscene provides me with a couple of options on how to enter. I could go through the well guarded main gate or alternatively take the back entrance. I start on the street outside near the front of the house. I can watch and listen to some of the guards talking. There are three of them here and I don’t fancy taking them on. The back entrance is clearly the way to go.
I sneak through the shadows to the back of the house and find the guard here is very drunk. I tiptoe around him and grab the key off his belt. He is so drunk he doesn’t notice me opening the door behind him. I jump in the well in the here and swim through into the basement.
Exploring the house is where this game really starts to come into it’s own. The guards all follow patrols but if I make too much noise they come and investigate. There are plenty of shadows to hide in and I sneak my way through the rooms trying to get to the sceptre. I do my best to avoid any combat but I can blackjack a guard and knock him out from behind with a single blow. I then get to carry the body to a quiet spot to try and avoid being spotted.
As I mentioned earlier, its the sound that really draws you into the game. If I’m hiding out of sight or about to enter a new room, I often can’t see where the guards are but I can hear their footsteps and attempt to place them through this. This is what creates the immersion. The graphics may be dated but the gameplay and sound are what count in this case.
I find a book which mentions delivery of a false bottomed chest. This is a bonus theft by the looks of it which I’ll need to keep an eye out for.
At least one of the castle guards has a key. I end up resorting to fighting him with a sword. This is easier than I might have expected considering that the game is more about sneaking. I reckon with a bit of practice I could take these guys out instead of sneaking but it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the game. Besides which I’m sure there is tougher to come.
I find the throne room and grab the sceptre. I’m expecting to have to escape from the house and was going to look for more treasure on the way, but instead this instantly ends the level.
There is another cutscene showing my fence being captured by the Hammerites (a guild of blacksmiths?) before I can get to him with the goods. I’m therefore going to go and rescue him by sneaking in through some abandoned mines which are rumored to be haunted. This puts me in mind of something I have heard about this game alternating between theft levels and zombie levels, with a lot of complaining about the zombie levels. A bit of variety doesn’t sound like such a bad thing to me but I’ll have to see for myself.
It’s a promising start to the game. I can’t think of that many stealth titles off the top of my head but they seem to be something I enjoy playing. It’s incorporated to some extent into a lot of FPS games now but its always optional so I just go in all guns blazing. I enjoyed the Splinter Cell series though and this is quite similar in many ways and was clearly a big influence.
I’ll veer off topic at this point and (fairly) briefly discuss a couple of the other games I’ve been playing since my last post. First off was the new Monkey Island game from Telltale. I was a bit sceptical about this before I played it but it was a lot better than I expected. It’s more along the lines of Monkey Island 3 than 1/2 but hugely better its predecessor. The usual Monkey Island humour is there but what impressed me most was the way that it used themes from the earlier games without actually retreading old ground. The game was possibly a little short but the whole series is the price of a single game so I can’t complain about value for money. With all of Telltales other series the first game has typically been the worst one which bodes very well for the rest of the series. My only real complaint would be the graphics for the game are really quite dated and wouldn’t have looked out of place 5 years ago.
I said I wasn’t going to buy it but in the end I got the Monkey Island 1 remake on Steam. The price was a lot less than I was expecting which is what made the difference. The price point is about right but I wasn’t too impressed with the remake itself. I found the voice acting to often be quite flat and wooden even from the main actors who did such a good job in other MI games. The supporting cast was a mixed bag with some reasonable performances mixed in with a few that were truly dire.
The graphics are the same story. Some of the new backgrounds were fantastic but I didn’t like most of the character art at all. A lot of the animation also looked worse than in VGA as the high resolution showed up the lack of frames. The music was of a more consistent level, although I still like the MT-32 soundtrack more than the CD one you get when you swap back to the old MI. Speaking of swapping versions, this was a neat idea but the graphics in the old game look far worse than through an HQ3x filter in scummVM or DosBox which just isn’t good enough.
All in all, I think I’d rather have replayed the original game. The remake felt to me like a well made fan game rather than something turned out by professionals. If you don’t own the original, it’s well worth the money. Add in nostalgia for an old time fan like myself and the original version wins hands down.
I’ve carried on watching all the Warren Spector lectures which I mentioned a month or two back and have nearly seen them all now. I just have 30 minutes of the last one left. They have been well worth watching with the guest speakers bringing a very broad range of views and experience from across game development. The final speaker touches on EA’s version of what went on at Origin which was something I’d not heard before. He’s quite critical of Richard Garriot and even moreso Chris Roberts. Its hard to say who’s version of events is correct, no doubt the truth is somewhere inbetween. As interesting as these lectures have been, I probably know as much about game development now as I want to. Definitely enough to know its not an industry that I’d especially like to work in myself.