Earlier this week Looking Glass dropped by our offices with the latest build of Thief 2: The Metal Age in tow. The sequel to one of last year's most-talked-about first-person games boasts a number of enhancements to the original's unique gameplay and improvements to its admittedly tired 3D engine.
The story takes place a year after the events in Thief and focuses on the Mechanists, a faction that has recently split from the game's original antagonists - the Hammerites - and Garrett's attempts at infiltrating the Mechanists' ranks. While the Mechanists retain the fanaticism of their old kinsmen, they've accepted and excelled in technological innovation. As a result, they're looked up to by the citizens of the city, who can now benefit from steam power, electricity and other modern-day niceties. The Hammerites have also been supplying the city's corrupt sheriff, Gorman Truart, with sophisticated law enforcement devices like steam-powered walkers, security cameras, and automated cannons - all of which put a damper on Garrett's thieving abilities.
To compensate for the increased security throughout the city, Looking Glass has given players numerous tools designed to make Garrett a better thief. "We wanted to stay true to Thief 2's roots", Thief 2 project director Steve Pearsall told GameSpot. "So we're making Garrett a much better thief, not a better fighter." As a result, Looking Glass won't be adding any weapons to Garrett's already anemic arsenal. He still retains his trusty blackjack, his sword and his collection of various arrows. And as in the original, Garrett will also be able to pick up a few different types of concussion or flash grenades as well. But as far as weapons go, that's it. Players will find a wide assortment of new items, however. One such item is what Pearsall lovingly refers to as the "camera grenade." This little contraption is actually Garrett's mechanical eyeball, which players will be able to remove and use as a remote camera for peeping around corners or through tight areas.
Other enhancements in the game include the graphics engine, which will now make the jump from an abysmal 8-bit color palette to a more acceptable 16bpp. Expect the textures in the sequel to carry more detail and be free of the granular look of the original. As part of Looking Glass' quest to infuse Thief 2 with realism, enemy AI and pathfinding techniques have also been completely reworked. For example, guards will now stray from their predetermined patrol paths if they spot something suspicious or out of place, like an open door or a dropped arrow. Sentries that spot Garrett but can't get to him will call for additional help, like archers, instead of simply getting frustrated, as they did in the original.
Arguably the best feature of Thief 2 is the fact that it takes place almost entirely within the confines of the city. While the original was an enjoyable experience through and through, the general consensus is that the gameplay went downhill after Garrett left the city and started sneaking around in caves and dungeons. Unfortunately, Looking Glass has no plans to implement any multiplayer capabilities into Thief 2, and has instead focused all its energies into making a complete and enjoyable single player. All you frag junkies aren't out of luck though. Pearsall just happened to mention that a future project, which for argument's sake we'll call Thief 3, will most likely be a multiplayer-only title. Until then, you can look forward to the release of Thief 2, which is planned for Q1 2000. In the meantime, enjoy the attached screenshots.