Thief – The Dark Mod
The Dark Mod is the community-sponsored de facto Thief sequel – in that it attempts to bring back the moody steampunk atmosphere and gameplay of the first three games but leaves out the actual story, characters and factions (this had to be done because of copyright concerns). Be that as it may, the Thief feel is definitely here, and any fan that enjoyed the classics should give this a look. The project initially started off as a Doom 3 modification but has since morphed into a proper standalone release after v2.0 – you simply download and play. For those in hurry, download at www.thedarkmod.com or also at moddb.
Rather than having a story-driven campaign, The Dark Mod is completely fan-sourced, acting as a customizable blank slate that you can use to run (and also create) numerous custom missions. By itself, all you get is a tutorial and a demo mission (more on that later), but an in-built downloader lets you grab and install missions straight from the menu interface.
This ability to draw custom content from the community pool is sort of a good thing. It worked wonderfully with Thief and Thief II (not so much with Deadly Shadows), but the system comes at the cost of cohesion. Other than the game engine they run on, there’s not much tying the custom missions together, and the lack of quality control means that you get all sorts of maps on offer, both excellent and somewhat pointless. There’s also an interesting third category that warrants further insight.
It’s worth pointing out that some of the people working on these missions are hardened mappers – guys who’ve been building fan missions since DromeEd (the first Thief level editor). As such, a good portion of these maps aren’t the sort of stuff you would find in mainstream stealth games – they’re really strenuous affairs that combine either hard stealth, complex key hunts or tricky navigation. They require that you clean-sweep the level and spot even the most enigmatic of clues. Some contain a soul-crushing amount of puzzles that sap the fun out of the game.
The sample mission bundled with the game, ‘Tears of St, Lucia’, is just such an exercise, completely ill-conceived to suit amateur players who are just trying to learn the ropes and have a good time. I have no doubt that some got scared off by ‘Tears’. And yes, I’m impatient nowadays – guilty as charged. Perhaps it’s the countless hours spent with Thief II fan missions, but I just don’t have the tolerance to endlessly roam a level for that one obscure key or switch that I must find to advance. Fortunately, there are plenty of high quality maps that beginners can also play. Here are some of the best ones I’ve found thus far:
- Crown of Penitence
- Fiasco at Fauchard Street
- No Honor Among Thieves
- House of Theo
- Return to the City
- Lords & Legacy
- In Remembrance of Him -Download Here-
- Anything made by Springheel
Oh, and before playing, make sure your game installation folder is called ‘darkmod‘, or you’ll get errors.
Odds and Ends of Adequate Thievery
Having finally chosen a mission, we can now delve deeper into the actual gameplay, which, in the right setting, is quite entertaining. You’ll find that The Dark Mod plays a lot like the original Thief plus a few extra enhancements. The most important technical upgrade is offered by the engine itself, which not only looks good, but also comes packing a solid physics model that, among many other things, allows you to manipulate objects with greater precision. You can grab small pieces of clutter and rotate them both vertically or horizontally. Likewise, you can throw an object to distract a guard or place it down delicately. Dead bodies have to be dragged away into dark corners (or else they’ll arouse suspicion) and the ragdoll physics holding them together is quite good. Much better than Deadly Shadows ever was, in fact.
Both the interface and controls are responsive. The game’s a pretty complex first-person experience by any means, but nothing you can’t pick up in an hour or so. Although strictly a first-person game, you get a fantastic control of your surroundings; you can lean around corners or climb hard-to-reach areas with the responsive mantle ability, or by using the extremely useful rope arrow. Yeah, they’re back, together with most of what was the original Thief armory – your trusty blackjack for knocking unwary opponents comatose, a dagger that’s good for backstabbing but little else, and a bow that fires several arrow types.
Most of the tools are back as well, including a new and extremely useful spyglass that works as a binocular and a lantern that you can shine to reveal dark areas. The new lockpicking system is preposterously wonderful in its simplicity. Instead of having a full-blown minigame, you pick locks by listening to sound cues and click in appropriate moments. Get your timing just right and the lock snaps open. It doesn’t detract from your surroundings, as you can quickly drop the process and look around for danger. Its only shortcoming is that it relies on sound to work – place a locked door near loud machinery and the system becomes broken.
A Pox Upon Your Vile Typeface
Curiously enough, legibility might pose a problem for some players. The onscreen interface doesn’t shift in size according to which resolution you use, making extremely low res gameplay (640×480) all but unplayable because of the washed out typeface. Even on higher resolutions, neither the fonts nor the health bar (that microscopic thing tucked next to the visibility gem) are easily readable. The many notes and books scattered across the world present a different issue. Depending on how well you can decipher calligraphic script, they may incur anything from mild headaches to homicidal rage.
A few minor technical issues also present themselves. Besides the aforementioned ‘darkmod’ limitation, a few horrid framerate drops were experienced on a couple of levels, but these were in the greater minority and don’t reflect a general fault with the engine, but rather curious level design quirks. The greatest challenge seems to be finding enjoyable missions for the average player, but the above list should help for now, and expect the amount of fan-made levels to increase with time (as was the case with Thief II). It’s most definitely worth keeping an eye out for fresh mission releases, as The Dark Mod is brimming with potential. Anyone with even a passing fancy for stealth gameplay should give it a look.
System Requirements: 1.5 Ghz CPU, 2GB RAM, 3GB HDD, 64 MB Video, Win 2000/XP/Vista/7