In 1998 the sadly demised Looking Glass Studios released a new kind of game to the claws of eager fans Thief: The Dark Project which heralded the advent of First Person Sneaker. Never before had a dark fantasy environment been so richly detailed, brought to life and brought with it a new gameplay mechanic - light and shadow.
Stealth was the key in the first game and if you couldn't sneak, you could always try and fight, usually you ended up very dead however. It was best to use the bow and arrow from a distance, employ careful circumnavigation of the game's many enemies and generally stay out of sight and out of mind.
It was brilliant, but it also brought to the hearts and minds of many gamers a new kind of hero, the anti hero, Garrett - a thief with very few redeeming features and an avaricious mind.
March 2000 saw Garrett return in the continuation, Thief 2: The Metal Age, which boasted even bigger levels, better design and refined gameplay - still the shadows remained a core element in the game, Garrett's trick arrows and of course the 'mechanical' eye.
Looking Glass are no more but thanks to the talents of Ion Storm Garrett has risen again in 2004 and he's back, better than ever.
And yes, I can say this, I was a fan of the first two games and I was seriously worried that the third may not stay close to the franchise-roots of the originals. I was thankfully proven seriously wrong.
The Master Thief, Garrett is back and he's still stealing from the rich and giving to himself. Staying one step ahead of guards and villains alike, always watched by the mysterious Keepers - a group of shadowy figures that he has no real love for.
The City lies before him and there's one job he can't resist, this draws him into the shadows of the successor to Thief.
Thief: Deadly Shadows aka Thief 3.
I won't spoil the story at all by going any deeper, rest assured it's just as dark and twisted as the originals and should provide new fans and old alike with enough 'Thief' Lovin to satisfy.
This is the XBox version of the game and the controls have been set up for ease of use, there are very few problems with the controller and the game's reaction time, so right from the get-go you can get used to Garrett's sneaking as the game's tutorial walks you though the core abilities that you will need.
This is not an action game and it's not a combat game, Thief 3 is a sneaker and the welcome return of the good old light-gem that allows you to determine how well you're hidden helps immensely with positioning your character for that all important 'Sap' move.
Learn to move quietly, stick to shadows and memorise your controller configuration, knowing which buttons to press and when will save you a lot of hassle early on. Don't expect to win a fight with one guard, let alone two or more. You're best to hurl a flashbomb and run like hell until you can find a safe place to hide.
Thief 3 is a mix of shadowy stealth and nerve-tingling action when the guards find out where you are, their shouts and screams not to mention insults will draw the attention of other people close at hand, some will ignore you but a number of rivals will engage Garrett as well.
So the key is to learn how to deal with guards quietly, the Sap is the most effective weapon, it's powerful enough to knock out most enemies from behind and leaves no blood. Garrett's dagger on the other hand is messy and will leave blood, as will normal arrows.
You'll spend most of your time in Thief 3 crouched in the shadows waiting for that all important moment to let fly with a water-arrow to douse a nearby torch or two, aiming is done in first person and it takes some getting used to, as the arrows are weighted and all have different flight arcs.
There are also numerous routes to take through the game levels, some yield better results than others and can lead to unexpected confrontations, or rewards, explore alternate pathways and methods as often as possible, from interactive scenery to hidden doorways.
Garrett can douse candles and small lights by activating them, known in the first two games as 'Frobbing' them, a wonderful word if you ask me. Something that can be frobbed will glow or stand out when you're close enough to it, from the normal dark shadows of the thief world, loot shimmers and so forth.
Lockpicking is an integral part of the game and is handled in a similar way to the Splinter Cell games, except the locks are more complex and can be picked in stages. Garrett is capable of turning his head, to keep an eye on the left and right of himself, if you see a guard coming you can drop a few cylinders and then find a place to hide.
Wait for the guard to pass and then continue where you left off, this really does add an element of strategy to the game and provides some wonderful tension building moments.
Numerous other gameplay additions have entered the Thief world, the inclusion of the much maligned third person camera has upset a majority of fans across the globe and so forth, but it's a toggle people - it can be ignored and turned off, I had to check it out of course and I can report since it is a toggle, it's not going to break the game. Thief purists can simply never use it and the game remains the pure virginal Thief experience it should be.
Rope Arrows were another feature that Ion Storm couldn't put into the game, because they had problems getting them to work correctly. So they included a pair of Climbing Gloves in exchange.
Add to this that the game now plays with a City Hub and mission locations, allowing you to sneak around the City and trade with various merchants and Fences, Fence some stolen loot to get some 'Shine' and then buy some toys, repeat as desired.
It's also littered with little in-jokes, clues and tidbits of information if you want to spend time looking for it. Journals and letters galore tell many a fine crafted story, but only if you take the time to pick certain locks and discover hidden passages.
Garrett's 'Mechanical' eye is back and can be used as a limited kind of night vision as well as zooming in on distant locations, perfect to scout someone's 'Gaff' for a quick break-in.
To put it in a nutshell, Thief 3 does justice to the first two games and stays true to the great gameplay that addicted me in the first place to First Person games, especially sneakers.
The game uses transitions from one section to the next, with reasonable load times, you can see these transitions as they appear as a blue fog. You can usually pass freely back and forth, so the game in that respect is highly open.
Garrett can also press himself to a wall now and become even more hidden in dark shadowy alcoves.
Thief 3 uses a very modified version of the Unreal Engine and employs numerous enhancements to the dynamic lighting engine and physics systems., pixel and vertex shaders - as you know, I'm not really a tech-head so let's just say that the power behind the curtains is more than enough.
Visually Thief 3 brings to life the dark City and shadows of Garrett's world perfectly, the atmospheric lighting (Don't you dare turn up the brightness Taffer!) is key to the game itself and anyone who turns up the brightness will spoil a lot of the gameplay and ruin the graphical effects.
The texturing is dark and gritty, run down in places in the City and gorgeously decadent in the mansions and private estates of the rich and famous.
Highly effective level design brings the Thief world to life with stunning architecture and enthralling Gothic-styled locations. The developers responsible for this area should give themselves a serious pat on the back, they have managed to create the feel of a sprawling Cityscape without making you feel as though it's too open, or too enclosed.
Each of the key environments has a definite architectural style and theme about it, from the mechanically minded Builders to the psychopathic nature orientated Pagans with their underground lairs, dilapidated buildings and glowing strange caverns.
Thief 3 is full of varying textures and artistic flair, from the depths of the sewers and their stench-laden bricks, to the tall magnificent Clock-tower of the City itself, bricks picked out with an artists eye for flair and design. I really can't pick faults with the texturing in Thief 3 and it lives up to everything that I was looking for and more.
The textures on the models themselves, creatures, guards and other denizens are perfectly placed. This is a true work of art, I can say this because I know a number of non-game artists that also have said the same thing, it's akin to a Noir Dark-Fantasy and gorgeous to look at.
Garrett's one eye glows with a magnificent glittering green light and provides some frame of reference in third person, a little like the three green lights of Sam Fisher's night goggles in Splinter Cell
Models and Animations
Garrett and the various enemies/allies/civilian targets you'll encounter throughout the game are nicely modelled, I'm not going to go into Poly-Counts and stats here, suffice it to say that they look the part, from the strangely psychotic Pagans to the City Guard, each has been painstakingly made and animated with a great deal of care.
The AI in Thief 3 has been suitably tweaked and tuned from the first games and will actively call for help, hunt you down and run away depending on what's going on and who they are. It's quite something to trigger a pursuit of several guards and then attempt to lose them in the shadows, at one point I made a mistake and doused the lights but made too much noise - next thing I know the guard ran off, came back with two friends and a torch bearer - sneaky bugger.
There are several AI systems in the game, and creature AI differs it seems to NPC (Non Player Character) AI. The AI will sometimes get stuck and go off onto peculiar pathways, it's far from perfect, but it does its job and that's something I can't grumble about.
Music, Sound and Voices
The Music is suitably dark and atmospheric, the Sound is beautifully done with many spot effects and some very nifty sonics. Especially later on, there's one truly nightmarish scary level that I won't say the name of, for fear of drawing its attention - trust me though, it's one of the best things I've played in a long time.
Steven Russel returns to voice Garrett and that's good enough for me, the rest of the voice cast and the dialogue itself is excellent, with more madness and spot dialogues that made the first two games so entertaining.
Ask anyone that has played thief about the 'Bear Pits' scene and they'll tell you the same as me, it was awesome for the time and extremely funny.
Problems and Glitches
There have been a couple of times when things didn't go the way that I planned them, some of those were down to me and others were down to the controls. There have also been the odd glitches and problems with the graphics, I managed to die at one point and I still have no clue how it happened.
Sometimes the AI seems to see you even in the shadows, this was a problem with the original Thief games however and it doesn't happen too often in the XBox version.
The game could also do with being a little longer, while the main story is excellent, I would have preferred to be able to skulk the rooftops of the City and break into several more homes that were just there, nothing to do with anything.
That said, Thief 3 is still a solid contender and is certainly one of my favourite games of 2004.
Garrett is back Taffer and he's brought some new toys.