LGR – Thief: The Dark Project – PC Game Review

February 3, 2020

[typing] With a reboot of Thief being released, imaginatively titled Thief, I figured it’s as good a time as any to take a look back at the game that inspired Eidos Montreal’s creation. And of course that is Thief: The Dark Project, developed by Looking Glass Studios and published by Eidos Interactive for the PC in 1998. And, man, when I saw this box in stores in the late-’90s, it really got my attention. Not just because of the awesome title and artwork, but the shape of the box itself. This is known to collectors as
the trapezoid-style Eidos box, and anything that had this shape
had me intrigued back then, and still does today. The front cover folds out into an hourglass shape, filled with lots of media blurbs that truthfully are not overstatements
in the case of this game. “Sneak… Stalk… Steal… Survive!” A large arsenal of weapons and twelve huge missions. Impressive, indeed. At least if you had this original release. It also came in a Gold version the following year featuring three more missions, five new enemies and some various updates. Gold is definitely the version to play and is the one we’ll be looking at during gameplay. But inside the original box, you get The Dark Project on an appropriately dark CD-ROM, and an extensive jewel case manual, covering everything from the installation to the HUD, to the background of each weapon, to the key bindings, all topped with a crisp, literary aroma. [sniffs deeply] Aahhh! Smells like fonts. Thief begins with a rather fantastically
late-’90s ambiguous intro video, which doesn’t tell you a thing, but I love it. [industrial rock music] Then you’re dropped into the main menu and you start to get a bit of a hint that there’s some steampunk-ish stuff going on in Thief. Check the controls and such in the options menu, because there are some weird bindings, but once you do,
it’s a good idea to start the tutorial if you’ve never played. Not only does it teach you stuff, it serves as the introduction to the protagonist, Garrett. He grew up as a poor street kid, stealing to survive. ALADDIN [singing]:
Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat– LGR:
But one day, he picked the pocket of a dude that ended up being part of a secretive organization known as the Keepers. Noting his natural skill,
the dude took Garrett in and trained him in their ways. But Garrett not only had natural skill but natural greed, and left the order, becoming a master thief, and making all sorts of enemies along the way. You start the game off in a city known as the City, just outside the manor of one Lord Bafford. Well, just about, since first you get an intro to the mission narrated by Garrett, some mission objectives that can be changed, depending on the difficulty
you choose before the mission, and a quick stop at the equipment shop where you can purchase additional ammo, consumables, and the like using any money you’ve saved up. Anyway, once you’re done here,
you’re dropped into the world, and it’s a good idea to check
your map to get your bearings. It’s crude and imprecise,
but it’s certainly better than nothing. The most important part of the gameplay revolves around paying attention to your own body, keeping constantly self-aware. You can be seen by guards in the light, as well as heard, depending on what type of surface
you’re on or what you’re doing. That little indicator at the bottom-middle of the screen is your lifesaver, so… making sure you’re in a place that you’re not seen or heard is crucial to surviving. Most of the time, just walking slowly, crouching and peeking around corners and
staying in the shadows will do the trick. But other times you’ll have an area you can’t pass because of light, sound, or the fact that a plump guard is blocking the way. So while the crux of the gameplay is passive stealth, defensive interaction and combat is also a huge part. You can complete the entire
game without killing anyone, and in fact, if you play it on
Expert mode, that’s just part of it. But chances are you’ll find it easier to just take a life rather than waste a bunch of time waiting around, or maybe you’ll just blow your cover
and have to defend yourself. The simplest and weakest weapon is the blackjack. a stick made for bopping someone on the
back of the head and knocking them out. It doesn’t kill anyone, so it’s not only less messy, but it’s absolutely essential on higher difficulties. But be careful, as leaving bodies around will alert anyone passing by so it’s a good idea to pick up the corpse and hide it somewhere dark or off the beaten path. You also have a sword at your disposal, which is effective at close range, but you’re not a swordsman, you’re a thief. So I can take a few heavy strikes, or many light strikes, to take down an armored foe. Which is, like, all of ’em. You also have a bow with many types of arrows, one of which is the broadhead arrow. This is your basic arrow, and while it works well at range, it’s very weak against armor, and is even pretty weak when
skewering people in the face. So you’ll have to catch enemies by surprise,
or else you’ll just make them angry. Fire arrows and gas arrows are basically missiles which propel forward and explode on impact, either into fire or gas, respectively, so make sure you’re a fair
distance away before using them. Water arrows are useless against pretty much anything, but are perfect for dousing torches, as well as infusing with holy water to take down the undead in
quite the spectacular fashion. [splat] Moss arrows are useful for coating any surface that would normally be too loud to walk on, covering them with soft, green moss blobs. Noisemaker arrows are used to distract
enemies from your current location, at least if you shoot them from far away enough. And rope arrows act like grappling hooks, shooting into any wooden surface and dropping down a rope for you to climb. It’s amazing how much versatility one weapon has when you give it creative ammo types and this is one of the single-best
uses of this concept I’ve ever seen. Especially the rope arrows, which really give you a feeling
of control over your environment, that’s not often seen in first-person games. You’ve also got some other items to find or buy, like speed potions, tasty-looking apples and cheese, flash bombs and land mines. And later on, you get lock picks for when you just can’t be bothered with a key. This of course takes more
time and doesn’t always work, but it goes one step further in really making you feel like you’re stealing away ownership
of these guarded places right from beneath the owner’s nose. So, Thief takes place in the first-person, obviously, and you have some pretty typical
FPS-style controls to work with. Your four directions, mouse for looking and action, buttons for inventory and all that stuff. There’s a fair amount of jumping, too, but don’t let that scare you off. While it can be a bit awkward climbing ladders and traversing the odd platform, it’s quite surprising how good it feels overall, especially for a game of this age. There’s even a ledge-grabbing mantling
move you can pull off effortlessly, and this was the first time I’d
seen that in a first-person game. Doing all this complex stuff from Garrett’s perspective really made Thief stand out from the crowd. It never leaves this perspective during gameplay. You don’t have any moving into
third-person when hiding behind cover or knocking dudes out. And this is critical, because one of
the most impressive things about Thief is its atmosphere, and never leaving first-person
takes immersion to the max. Darkness pervades every nook and cranny of this game. Now you’re a thief, and thieves do their thieving
at night, so that makes sense, but it doesn’t stop there. It takes place in somewhat of a Dark Age time period but with a bit of steampunk
and fantasy thrown in as well. You’ll come across historically anachronistic
devices and machinery all through the experience, as well as events, objects and creatures that could only be described as supernatural. Then there’s the ambient sounds and music, which are nothing short of foreboding. What I’m trying to say is even
without the burglary and swordplay, this game sinks its teeth into you right from the get-go. Which only makes the burglary and swordplay that much more intense when they come into play. Most of the time, though,
you’ll just be sneaking around in the shadows, tiptoeing around guards and trying your best not to alert anyone to your presence
while you check off your objectives. More often than not,
this involves stealing something of value, like a unique object or a certain amount of gold, but other times you may have to do
something like free a man from prison, or disguise yourself as a member of a religious cult. Things start off simply enough. You’re a thief and you have to pay the rent. But before long, the story starts getting more complex and actually downright strange, with you coming across a mythical
gemstone known as the Eye, dealing with all sorts of undead
and paranormal creatures, handling the Hammerites and
other weird groups of people, and dealing with the main
antagonist known as the Trickster, who’s pretty much Satan. Yeah, I honestly could have dealt
without zombies, ghosts and… dinosaur things in my kleptomaniacal fantasy, and the levels that feature these
are easily my least favorite. For me, the game is at its best when I’m sneaking around some
rich aristocrat’s castle or manor, like some twist of Robin Hood and Solid Snake. When it starts delving into the territory of Resident Evil, I kind of get a bit bored. That said, I really only have TWO major complaints. One, the level design is kind of infuriating at times. They take about 40 minutes to
an hour or longer to complete, but a lot of that time will be spent just
trying to navigate the frigging things. This is ’90s maze-like level design at its best AND worst. And the design of a lot of these places
barely follow any kind of real-world logic. While this can lead to a lot of creative spaces, it also leads to a lot of backtracking
and straight-up wasted time trying to find the next obscure door or passageway. And this wouldn’t be so bad if it
weren’t for my other major complaint, which is the enemies and the combat. If you have solid combat and enemies, massive complex levels can be a lot of fun. Just look at Doom or Duke 3D. But here, the combat is slow and awkward, and the enemies are massively overpowering. And I know this is a stealth game,
so this stuff is supposed to be challenging, and honestly, it’s pretty great when
you’re dealing with guards in a mansion. But, when you’re dealing with hoards of the undead swarming you in a dark, labyrinthine cavern, it’s another matter entirely, and there are just far too many such areas for my taste. But this does not in any way stop
me from recommending the game. Oh-ho-ho, no. In fact, Thief: The Dark Project
remains one of the best stealth games and one of my favorite games, period. Granted, the sequel improved on just about everything, so, you know, there’s that,
but it’s still worth checking this one out, at least until you start getting pissed at
all the Scooby-Doo monsters everywhere. You can grab the game on or Steam for a very fair price. And if you do, make sure to get the TFix patch, so you can run it perfectly on modern systems and even improve a lot on the technical side of things. And while you’re at it, be sure to check out
the modding scene for the game as well, since not only did it come with a level editor on the CD, but there’s texture and level packs
and all sorts of other things made by the community that are just awesome. So, if you’re interested in the reboot
and want to see where the series started, or just want a first-person game with
a bit of thinking and finesse involved, just go ahead and give Thief: The Dark Project a look. You will not regret it. If you enjoyed this video and
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