Thief: The Dark Project
Sneak into castles and knock guards comatose.
Stealth really took off as a popular gaming concept with Thief: The Dark Project, a ‘first-person sneaker’ set in a dark fantasy world. You wear the hood of master kleptomaniac Garrett, a guy with a cynical personality and a knack for pilfering valuable goods. Much of the game takes place in and around a dense urban environment known only as the City, but your night-bound journeys eventually take you to even less savory areas – tombs, catacombs or haunted mines. The game world is an entertaining mix of medieval, fantasy and steampunk themes, with electrical lighting coexisting alongside steam machinery and broadswords.
The levels are varied, with locations ranging from manors, prisons, cathedrals, tombs, city streets and much more. Each and every level is brimming with detail and scope, and they range from straightforward robbery to more obscure assignments, like shadowing a group of thugs through the dark city streets without getting noticed. Levels are scripted and dynamic, with objectives sometimes changing on the fly.
As before, Thief is stealth-oriented, and as such encourages (but never forces) its players to use cunning in favor of direct confrontation. Avoiding detection by hiding in the dark and making as little noise as possible around enemies is often the best way to go. The AI is revolutionary, allowing guards to react to both how visible and audible you are around them. Their alertness range from mild suspicion to alarm and finally full blown combat should they find you. Fortunately, they’re keen on commenting their surroundings, making it easy to gauge their level of alertness.
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With some noticeable shortcomings, the AI performs admirably. The pathfinding is magnificent in most instances – a guard can spot you one floor down, manage to run through the hallways and up the main stairs, and find the exact room where he’d spotted you minutes earlier. And once they have you zeroed in, they’re incredibly hard to shake off on foot. The alarm sounds off, other guards join in, and eventually you’re cornered and chop-sueyed. But alas, the AI does have limits as to where it can follow you – jump into a river, climb a ladder or rope, or really climb past any obstacle that can’t be navigated around on foot will hopelessly block the AI pathfinding – which isn’t always a problem since they may be packing longbows. If you do choose to stand your ground then guards make decent sparring partners – you can swing your sword or block their swings, though with a bit of practice it becomes quite easy to chop enemies down to size.
The game hands over an assortment of specialized gear. There’s a broadsword for those bloody close encounters, a blackjack to silently club unwary opponents unconscious, and a very useful bow that can be combined with 7 different arrows. Out of the three weapons, the bow is by far the most versatile. A few interesting selections include water arrows that douse torches, moss arrows to cover loud surfaces, noisemaker arrows that distract enemies or rope arrows that allow access to new areas. Inventory items complete this armory, with a range of potions (healing, speed, etc), mines, grenades or holy water to sprinkle on restless zombies.
Garret himself is pretty agile; he can climb ledges, swim underwater, carry bodies or lean around corners to get a better view of things without exposing himself, and indeed a greater part of the game can be played without relying too much on equipment. Yet the stuff you will use cost money, which is why meticulous thieving is so important in this game. Unspent loot isn’t kept for subsequent missions, encouraging players to find every treasure so they can can afford the best gear for the follow-up mission. Every bit of this game is awesome, and I highly recommend playing it. Be sure to install this Thief Fix if you have trouble running this game on a modern OS or anything that doesn’t use a single-core processor.
System Requirements: 100 Mhz CPU, 16 MB RAM, 50 MB HDD, Win 95/98