Note: Game reviewed on PC. Experience may differ from XBox presentation.
Platform: PC & XBox
ESRB: M for Mature
Developer: Ion Storm
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
A creeping in the night. A guard set to the ground, a growing bump on the back of his head. Torches doused from distances, no sound save the sssssssss... of water mixing with fire. Your eye catches a shadow over by the door. Another near the chest you keep your valuables in. Another whooshing past you (the slight wind displacement flaps your skirts slightly). You've been robbed. Your small stacks of gold coins, your heirloom necklaces, your fine china. All jingling away, far beyond your reach, to be sold to a fence back in The City. Garrett is back, stealing from the rich and giving to himself, and he's got a whole bunch of new toys.
It's been years since the triumphant release of Thief II: The Metal Age, and unlike what happened with some game sequels, Ion Storm has produced a remarkable third installment of a cherished premise, without sacrificing story or complexity. While simultaneously balancing interesting and complex gameplay with a well-developed story, Thief: Deadly Shadows is meant for the obsessive-compulsive gamer who does not mind sitting in the shadows for a while, listening to the walking patterns of a guard who cannot been seen. Do you enjoy forgetting to blink for long periods of time? Do you enjoy smoking compulsively while trying to figure out the walking pattern of some guard? This game will appeal to you.
As I mentioned above, the gameplay is continuously intense, just as the previous games. The game begins, just as the last did, with a training mission that plays more like the last level of most first-person games. "So, there's this mansion, with lots of loot. And guards. So, go steal stuff and learn the techniques of sneaking." This also introduces the new lockpicking concepts of the game. Previously, lockpicking was a relatively simple thing to do. Now, you are given a series of concentric circle lock spindles, on which you seek the "sweet spots" of each circle, spinning the picks in your left and right hands to find them.
Of course, it's never quite that easy; even the scraping sounds of your tiny metal lockpicks could alert a guard on the other side. Thankfully, you can hear through doors, if you're pressed up against them.
Anyone who dumped hours into the previous game remembers the stress of not having enough arrows when starting a new mission. One of the changes implemented in this new game was the creation of black market dealings. Which means, finally, all that loot you've collected can be used in-game, by selling it first to a fence (though different fences buy different things, and the more rare loot is harder to unload) and then finding a merchant's door, marked with a red hand, to stock up on supplies (though different merchants sell different things).
Many of the weapons remain the same, however. The blackjack, for stealthy attacks on guards with their backs to you, rendering them unconscious with the least amount of noise possible. A dagger, rather than a sword, for killing enemies who have spotted you. The broadhead arrow, for when you need to pick off someone distant--however a death scream is quite likely, even with a head shot, so caution is required. The noisemaker arrow has been improved, turned into a firecracker of sorts, causing noise in the opposite direction you wish to go, causing guards to run that way giving you an open road. The moss arrow, which never made much sense, that sets moss down on loud floors (marble, for example) so you can walk on it more quietly. (An interesting change in this game: you can shoot a water arrow on moss to make the moss expand for more coverage.) The water arrow, the single most useful thing in the game, able to extinguish torches from great distances (if your aim is true). And the fire arrow, an explosive arrow that re-lights torches and guards equally well.
New stuff: Climbing gloves, which allow you to climb walls you would normally stare at slack-jawed. In the first game, Thief: the Dark Project, lost an eye, and so had it replaced, in Thief II, with a mechanical eye installed in his right eye socket, used then to interface with a scouting orb which could be thrown down a hall, but, much as in Thief II, you have the amazingly useful skill of zooming in on whatever you want, a grainy, 1960s-like picture displayed, and it works much better in this edition than in the previous. A slightly less useful item is the explosive mine, which is far too loud to be used in any stealthy way.
Garrett: Of course, you play Garrett, the greatest of all thieves. His voice is one of the best in games today, the same as was used in the last, a great mixture of irony and sarcasm that makes him a joy to play--an unfortunate hero.
The Keepers: To begin the game, the Keepers enlist Garrett's help in recovering two items, one from the Hammerites, and one from the Pagans. The payment for this mission is the right to hear prophecy just as the Keepers read it. These are the clerics of The City, in charge of keeping the two factions of Hammerites and Pagans in balance, neither gaining too much power (as the Keepers dislike competition...) They are led by First Keeper Orland, who only reluctantly hires Garrett to help the Keepers reach their goals.
The Keepers get their power through the reading of powerful Glyphs, which aid in the formulation of prophecy, and that makes the two most powerful Keepers Interpreter Caduca, a wizened, blind woman who reads the eerie Glyphs, and Translator Gamall, who takes what Caduca writes and turns it into understandable prophecy.
The Hammers: Fanatical followers of The Builder, these men worship their deity by building and with technology. They all carry large, two-handed hammers which inflict massive amounts of damage (should you be hit by one, that is), and speak with a nearly quaint medieval style of language. Very, very rich, however, and they keep their cathedrals well stocked with shiny bits.
The Pagans: In direct opposition and competition to the Hammerites are the Pagans, nature-loving primitives who follow the god of chaos, the Trickster. Shamen, beast-men, and warriors make up this grouping of strange people. They are eager to return The City to the old, primeval state, rather than the sprawl it has become.
Everyone else: Throughout the missions, you'll interact with civilians (whose purses are all too ready to be lifted), listen in on conversations between Hammerite leaders and their flock, take quiet breaths while a drunken guard sways and hiccups on his patrol, and listen to the throaty moaning of the undead and beast-men. Each one has a unique character and way of wandering about and muttering. Barmaids aplenty, drunks galore, The City is full of all kinds of interesting folk.
First and foremost, if you're not running one of the high-end video cards of the day (the game is optimized for ATI Radeon 8500 and ATI Radeon 9 [9000, 9200, 9600, 9800] Series, as well as the nVidia GeForce 3TI, 4TI, FX and 6 series, though the nVidia GeForce 4MX, 4 GO, NForce2 & NForce3 are not supported), you're not even going to be able to play this game. The pixel-shadowing alone will utterly destroy any card this game is not specifically designed for. Granted, this limits its playability in some respects, as even the lower-end of the supported cards must run the game in a relatively low resolution to even allow for modest visual effects (which are deeply important for the ambiance of the game). (Note: Game plays on an ATI Radeon 9200 at 800x600 resolution more-or-less flawlessly)
The game itself will take up around 3GB of space, is only supported for Windows 2000 and XP (95/98/ME/NT not supported), on an Intel Pentium 4 1.5GHz or AMD Athlon XP equivalent processor. A 100% DirectX 9 sound card is required (sound placement while hiding in the shadows is one of the strongest tools you have while sneaking in a place in which you don't belong).
The back of the box
Thanks, mat catastrophe for the zoom-related correction.