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Thief fans can rest easy, Ion Storm have created a title worthy of the tagline...
Thief should need no introduction, the fact that we finally have a third and concluding chapter in the trilogy should be reason enough for fans to start hiding in the shadows and preparing for the release right away.
Despite being originally released in the same year as Metal Gear Solid and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, Thief: The Dark Project arguably became the trendsetter for the stealth genre and one that fanatics cared most for.
Fast forward to 2004 and we finally have Thief: Deadly Shadows, having been in development at the capable hands of Ion Storm and under the guidance of Thief stalwart Randy Smith for the last couple of years, the game bears a striking familiarity to previous titles in the series, maintaining its legacy of suspense, immersion and .
For those that havenâ??t had the chance to sample the delights of the series so far, Thief stars the legendary Garrett, a master-thief with good looks, a gruff voice and the sole task of stealing from the wealthy to give to himself - everybody likes Garrett. The story featured within Dark Shadows focuses on an impending Dark Age, and Garrettâ??s struggle to prevent it but inadvertently rousing an ancient evil in the process â?“ rest assured Deadly Shadows has it all, the Keepers, Hammerite and Pagan factions, a dark and foreboding city and
The gameplay largely revolves around carrying out a series of risky thefts from a variety of highly-guarded locations; whilst other titles in the genre are very much slanted towards the action angle Thief places heavy emphasis on stealth, as such you rarely want to find yourself getting into fights but instead lurking in the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to strike down your opponent without him noticing.
Naturally a master thief has a number of tools-of-the-trade at his disposal, including lockpicks, flashbombs, daggers and of course Garrettâ??s traditional bow-and-arrow complete with a range of different arrows such as the Water Arrow to extinguish light emitting flames or the Moss Arrow to cover up the sound of your footsteps.
Being set in medieval times Garrett canâ??t count on a radar like certain other impostors in the genre, however he does have a very handy light-gem to help to determine when heâ??s visible and when heâ??s concealed in the shadows, whilst the on-screen compass proves to be a god-send thanks to the complete inadequacy of the maps that Garrett holds. However this does have the effect of placing emphasis on exploring the city, getting to know every little nook and cranny, and not playing simply by the map.
Thief: Deadly Shadows employs an open-ended structure to the gameplay, as such a large amount of secondary quests are gleaned from listening into secret conversations taking place in the city and using that information to carry out a variety of missions that arenâ??t based around the main quest. Youâ??re completely free to explore the city after the first couple of missions, picking the pockets or mugging innocent civilians, breaking into buildings and just generally sneaking about.
Ion Storm have done a particularly excellent job of implementing the main storyline, as to begin with you donâ??t really notice what it is, and find yourself constantly surprised when the main storyline becomes evident and twists and turns throughout the course of the game.
Occasionally particularly after a bungled attempt youâ??ll find yourself having to square off against a foe in open combat, and itâ??s here that you realise that Garrett isnâ??t the greatest fighter out there. To be honest the combat aspect is extremely weak and simply revolves around thrusting your dagger without any degree of accuracy until either you win or loose; the true technique for when you get discovered is not to fight however, but to set off for the nearest shadows and hide yourself or make use of the handy flashbombs to blind your opponent and either make off or kill your opponent before he knows it.
Thankfully the proper technique to killing or knocking out an opponent is executed with far greater success, as Garret automatically raises his blackjack or dagger when youâ??re close enough to the victim and a simple press of the button will carry out the action.
Garret is a particularly nimble chap as youâ??d expect from a master thief, and as such whenever you find yourself being chased by the city guards youâ??ll always have the advantage, being able to nip over banisters, hop into a window arch and sit quietly or lift yourself up onto higher ledges.
Itâ??s a good job that Garrett is more agile then a bunny in spring, as the level of enemy AI featured in Thief: Deadly Shadows is some of the best weâ??ve seen and certainly proves to be one of the games strongest aspects. Guards will keep a lookout and listen for you on their patrols and chase after you when theyâ??ve seen you, simple enough; however they do a surprisingly good job of handling elevation, imagine our surprise when we thought weâ??d safely lifted ourselves to higher ground, but seeing the guards enter the castle, run up the steps and tracked us down in our supposed safe location. Guards will notice such things as open doors, or if youâ??ve taken down a fellow guard youâ??ll hear them asking why no guard is on patrol; theyâ??ll call out for support from other guards when they discover something is wrong. The whole level of AI creates a thoroughly engaging gaming experience, and is quite frankly the best weâ??ve seen in a stealth game to date.
Another of Dark Shadows main strengths comes from the sheer level of attention and thought paid to creating a believable world. In the most this stems from the ludicrous number of lines recorded for use in the game, it seems that thereâ??s always chatter and surprisingly it rarely seems to repeat â?“ something that either makes or breaks the illusion of being in a living world. As weâ??ve said before the speech featured within the game is absolutely crucial to the experience, as you learn of secondary missions, valuable information and be able to determine what level of awareness the guards are at simply by keeping your ears open. Sound is often a second thought in game development, so itâ??s nice to play a game where itâ??s actually built in as a crucial component.
Whilst Ion Storm have paid caution to ensuring that Thief: Deadly Shadows maintains the same look and feel of its legendary predecessors, the team have incorporated a number of new ideas, particularly that of introducing a new third-person camera to the series. Thief: Deadly Shadows does a particularly good job of offering you a responsive camera/control setup, to ease any frustrations and ensures Garrett almost always does what you want him to do. The first-person perspective has also been slightly remodelled to allow you to view your entire body when youâ??re looking around, something that we wish was used more often in first-person-shooters â?“ it may not add that much however it just lends to the authenticity of the overall experience.
The game also introduces the concept of selling your loot that youâ??ve stolen in order to buy items from the variety of shops featured within the city, naturally those marked with a red handprint and thus deemed illegal are the only ones likely to open their doors to Garrett. This whole issue appears to be the most irksome when compared to previous titles in the series, as it changes the dynamic considerably from using everything at your disposal in the previous games to that of hording as much as you can when you get the chance to buy. Itâ??s certainly the biggest aspect that will cause doubt amongst hardcore Thief fans, and to be honest weâ??d tend to agree that the change in balance upsets the game slightly.
Whilst weâ??re on the subject of gripes the lockpicking is largely disappointing; utilising a similar technique to Splinter Cell players have to revolve the thumbstick until you feel a vibration and then hit a button, but sadly thereâ??s no degree of skill needed as these usually just manifest in either holding the thumbstick up, down, left or right, thereâ??s no degree in between in which youâ??ve got to discover the lock position with any finesse.
Finally the overall presentation of the game seems a little rough around the edges, menu/inventory screens have very little impact and look basic, whilst there is no auto-save feature whatsoever â?“ you even have to save manually after completing a mission, which can be a little frustrating when you forget to.
Being based on the same game engine as Deus Ex: Invisible War, Thief: Deadly Shadows suffers from the same problem of splitting the environment into small chunks and featuring some pretty monotonous loading times whenever you travel between the locations. To be fair each area is meticulously detailed, with virtually every building accurately modelled so that you can break in and explore the interior, whilst thereâ??s a good degree of elevation to the locations, allowing you to explore the streets below or lift yourself up onto the rooftops; however missions that see you moving from one end of the city to the other can begin to frustrate, particularly when you make a mistake because of the unhelpful map.
Although the engine definitely has its limitations, its fantastic use of light and shadows however cannot be overstated, quite simply it creates a superbly atmospheric experience and grants the overall look one of convincing realism. In large the visuals featured in Thief: Deadly Shadows are impressive, character models look natural (although slightly waxwork) and benefit from featuring lip synching on all models. The environment is varied which certainly helps to encourage exploration, whilst the incorporation of the Havok physics engine is implemented well and ensures youâ??ve got to keep a careful eye out to make sure you donâ??t knock any obstacles over and attract attention.
However Ion Storm has come up trumps with Thief: Deadly Shadows and can rest easy in the knowledge that they’ve created a final chapter that even Looking Glass Studios would have been proud of, and is worthy of the legendary Thief tagline.
Remember to check back with TVG tomorrow for a chance to win yourself a copy....